The Security Committee of the Government of New Delhi has officially announced the purchase of 56 Spanish-designed and developed Airbus C-295MW transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force, a mega contract with an estimated value of 1,640 million euros, which to a large extent directly benefits the Spanish aeronautical industry.
The Indian authorities have specified that, of the total of 56 aircraft, the first 16 units will be built in Spain, at the Airbus factory in Seville, and will be delivered "in flying condition within 48 months of signing the contract".
It is not unlikely that the Indian government's decision was announced to the Spanish government on Tuesday, 7 September, the day before it was announced in New Delhi. On that date, the French Director General of Armaments, Joël Barre - who maintains a close relationship with the CEO of Airbus, also French, Guillaume Faury - arrived in Madrid to meet with the Secretary of State for Defence, Esperanza Casteleiro, to discuss "matters of military-technical cooperation", according to a statement from the Ministry of Defence.
If the 16 aircraft of the first batch are manufactured in Spain, the remaining 40 units of the C-295 will be manufactured in the Asian country by Tata Advanced Systems, a company of the privately owned Indian industrial group Tata, associated with Airbus. This is a requirement of the "Make in India" policy promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is complemented by the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, which in English means Self-Sufficient India. Both initiatives aim to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers, especially in the field of defence procurement, and to make it easier for India's private sector to take an active role in its aerospace industry.
Pending formalisation of the contract in the near future, Airbus said it "welcomes the decision (...) and looks forward to signing and executing the contract together with Tata Group". The European corporation has also committed to establishing a Maintenance Centre in India for future C-295MWs and other C-295s in the region, and hopes to market more C-295s in Asia and even in India.
Shri Rajnath Singh's defence ministry has confirmed that this is the "first project of its kind in which a private Indian company will manufacture a military aircraft for the Indian Air Force". Prime Minister Narendra Modi is confident that the contract will generate 600 direct high-skilled jobs and more than 3,000 indirect jobs. A large number of components and structures of the Spanish-designed aircraft will be manufactured on Indian soil, boosting India's aerospace and defence ecosystem. For example, the electronic warfare system will be a contribution from domestic industry.
The international competition for a new military transport aircraft dates back to 2012, during the tenure of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and its final decision is long overdue. The proposal for the Spanish C-295MW aircraft was declared the winner in 2015 in terms of technical, financial, economic and industrial aspects, and the main terms of the contract with the Indian government were finalised some six years ago.
The European manufacturer's commercial negotiating team was led by Spaniard Fernando Varela, now head of Airbus Space Systems in Spain, the space arm of Airbus. But the formalisation of the acquisition has been delayed for various reasons. On the one hand, due to the long and complex administrative process that the Indian government follows in its purchases of military equipment. On the other hand, due to the lack of financing, as the purchase of the C-295 has been relegated to the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from the French company Dassault Aviation. The Rafale fighter deal was supported by the President of the Republic himself, then François Hollande, and materialised in September 2016, amounting to nearly 8 billion euros.
The Airbus C-295MW is a twin-engine tactical transport aircraft of all-Spanish design, development and manufacture. It can carry up to 7 tonnes at a cruising speed of 480 km/h thanks to its powerful Pratt & Whitney PW127G turboprop engines. It is built and assembled at the Airbus plant in Seville, where its big brother, the four-engine Airbus A400M, which Germany, France and Spain have used to rescue Afghans who have collaborated with European troops to try to pacify the country, is assembled.
More than 30 countries have more than two hundred C-295s in their fleets. The latest to roll off the assembly line at the Seville factory was the 200th aircraft, which was delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force on 9 July. The ceremony was attended by the President of Airbus Spain, Alberto Gutiérrez, and the President of the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Juan Manuel Moreno.
The aircraft chosen by India is renowned for its versatility and robustness, its ability to lift off and descend on short, unprepared runways, which has made it a world leader in its class. Built by Construcciones Aeronáuticas (CASA) prior to its integration into Airbus, one of the features that sets it apart from some of its competitors for the Indian contract - Italy's Alenia's C-27J Spartan, Sweden's Saab 340/2000 and Russia's Antonov An-148 and Iliushin Il-114 - is that it has a rear ramp to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo onto pallets. It also allows for the rapid entry and exit of up to 71 soldiers and the jumping of 50 paratroopers.
The C-295 assembly line is currently in full swing and will need to be reinforced to meet deadlines. It is now busy with aircraft in various stages of production for the Irish, Burkina Faso and Canadian Air Forces. The North American nation will soon receive a new aircraft, one of 16 it acquired in December 2016 for its Search and Rescue (SAR) service.
New Delhi has military aircraft from a wide range of sources, mainly Russian, North American and European. The Indian Air Force's main tactical transport fleet led by Air Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria is very old and consists of 50 or so outdated twin-engine British-made Avro HS 748 turboprops. Those that remain in service were manufactured more than three decades ago in India under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, are highly inefficient and can only accommodate 48 paratroopers or six tonnes of cargo.
All are to be replaced by the new Airbus C-295s, whose use is focused on operations in mountainous or inaccessible areas, especially along the border with China. The missions to be carried out by the Spanish-designed aircraft are different from those that can be performed by the large, heavy strategic transport aircraft, which in India consist of more than twenty four-jet aircraft, including the American Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and the Russian Iliushin Il-76.
Andalusia's aerospace fabric is centred in Seville, occupies the top positions in exports in the Autonomous Community and is one of the main aeronautical poles in Europe. It has more than 140 manufacturing companies and Research, Development and Innovation (R&D&I) institutions with a turnover of around 3,000 million euros and around 14,500 stable jobs.