Aero India 2021 was attended by over 600 exhibitors physically and another 108 in virtual mode. Representatives from 63 foreign countries attended the event during which about 3,000 Business-2-Business meetings were conducted. Think tanks from different parts of the world also participated in the event.
This was the 13th edition of Aero India in its 25thyear and was organised amidst the Wuhan virus/ COVID-19 challenges as the world’s first-ever hybrid defence and aerospace exhibition with no public days and a concurrent virtual exhibition in which companies showcased their capabilities, latest technologies, solutions, products and services. Bengaluru was selected and prepared as the venue for the world’s first Hybrid Aerospace and Defence Exhibition, Aero India-21, for which a mobile app was launched. The theme for this event was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s considered aim and buzzword, Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India).
Aero-India 2021 and COVID-19 challenge
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Defence Ministers’ Conclave held on February 04, 2021, was attended by ambassadors, high, commissioners, ministers and senior officials from 26 IOR countries physically or in virtual mode. A conclave of Chiefs of Air Staff was also organised to pursue the objectives of collaborative security for the region and beyond.
Outlining the agenda, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that as the largest nation in the IOR region with a vast coastline of 7500 km, India has an active role to play for the peaceful and prosperous coexistence of all countries. He stressed that the Indian Ocean is a shared asset with its major sea-lanes being a lifeline for international trade and transport including half of the world’s container ships, one-third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments.
Referring to SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region- as the theme of Indian Ocean Policy as outlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, Mr. Singh stated that in line with this, the IOR conclave should focus on security, commerce, connectivity, fight against terrorism and inter-cultural exchanges.
He identified areas such as deepening economic and security cooperation in the littorals, enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories, working towards sustainable regional development, Blue Economy, including sustainable and regulated fishing and promoting collective action to deal with non-traditional threats like natural disasters, piracy, terrorism, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing etc. as inter-related elements of SAGAR. He said IOR faces a number of challenges such as piracy, smuggling of drugs/people and arms, humanitarian and disaster relief, and Search & Rescue (SAR) which can be met through maritime co-operation.
The Defence Minister identified maritime resources as the key to sustained growth and development of IOR nations in the 21st century. He said that the negative impact of conflicting claims in some maritime areas of the world highlighted the need to ensure peace in the IOR region. Speaking about various policy initiatives of the government to promote trade and tourism among IOR countries through sea link Sagarmala, Project Mausam, Asia Africa Growth Corridor etc, he emphasised the need to take economic, trade, naval cooperation and collaboration further in the region.
An R & D hub
On India’s growing Aerospace & Defence sector and its emergence as a global R&D hub with one of the world’s largest start up ecosystems, the Defence Minister said IOR countries can leverage these sectors for mutual benefit.He lauded the recent order from the Indian Air Force to buy 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-1A from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a milestone in India’s indigenisation of defence manufacturing capabilities.
Considered as the biggest ever deal in the indigenous military aviation sector, it was a long haul to develop the Tejas as a single-engine and highly agile multi-role supersonic fighter aircraft capable of operating in high-threat air environments and on which all state of art weapon systems like on any other sophisticated military aircraft, can be mounted.
Mr Singh informed at the conclave that India is ready to supply various types of weapons systems to IOR countries and added that in consonance with PM Modi’s vision of SAGAR, Neighbourhood First and Act East policies, India has adopted a cooperative approach through capacity-building assistance in partner countries. This was reflected in India’s supply of Indian made ships, maritime aircraft and the setting-up of Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems.
The Defence Minister said India was developing a comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness picture in the IOR, which has resulted in the signing of Technical Agreements for sharing of ‘White Shipping Information’. He added that Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO), and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations are important and highlighted India’s swift response during the cyclones in Mozambique and Madagascar and reaching out to countries through medical teams, medicines such as hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir and paracetamol tablets, diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies through Operation-Sagar-I during COVID times. He further said that Op-SAGAR-II saw over 300 metric tons of humanitarian aid being delivered to 4 nations in the IOR.
Vaccine supplies under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles have already highlighted India’s commitment to protect humanity from COVID-19. He said that India was conducting training programmes for immunisation managers, cold chain officers, communications officers and data managers of the recipient countries before delivery of the vaccines. He highlighted the development of an effective response mechanism to a humanitarian crisis and natural disasters in the IOR region as one of the most visible elements of India’s Indian Ocean strategy.
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) exhibited its latest defence technologies and demonstrated many systems. The ‘Bandhan’ ceremony was held on February 05, 2021, to enhance cooperation and synergy between industry and government organisations. DRDO handed over Licensing Agreements for ToT (LAToT) for 14 DRDO developed technologies to 20 industries. The technologies transferred are from the area of electronics, laser technology, armaments, life sciences, materials science, combat vehicles, naval systems, aeronautics, sensors, etc.
The product technologies transferred are Low-Level Transportable Radar (LLTR), Inertial Navigation System for Ship Application (INS-SA), Long Range Optical Target Locator (OTL 1500), Hand Held Through Wall Imaging Radar (HH-TWIR) and Commander TI (Thermal Imager) Sight for T-72 Tank are the sensor technologies transferred to various industries. NMRL-Fuel Cell based Air Independent Propulsion Technology for Naval Submarines named NMFCAIP is a unique capability developed by DRDO and now transferred to the industry. Multi Agent Robotic System (MARS) will be produced by Indian industry based on DRDO design.
BRAHMOS has achieved historic milestones in the “Make in India” programme by successfully indigenising major sub-systems such as booster, nose cap, canister, fuel management system and other major non-metallic airframe components taking the Indian contribution to more than seventy per cent. All launcher systems for the weapon are also being manufactured domestically. 100% of ground support equipment for the weapon complex are also being made in India.
On 30 September 2019, both the BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile featuring Indian propulsion system, airframe, power supply and other major indigenous components and the BRAHMOS cruise missile featuring indigenous Booster and Airframe Section along with many other “Made in India” sub-systems were successfully flight tested It was one more major step in enhancing the indigenous content. The powerful BRAHMOS has, therefore, become a fine testimony of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
Adding another milestone to the Make in India initiative was added by the Indian Navy signing a contract for construction of five Diving Support Craft (DSC) with M/s Titagarh Wagons Ltd, Kolkata on 12 February 21. Once commissioned, the DSC will meet the mission needs of Command Clearance Diving Teams (CCDTs), which are involved in providing diving assistance to all ships inside and close to the harbour for underwater repair, maintenance and salvage.
Fitted with state of art diving equipment and tools for performing diving operations, Diving Support Craft will be a game-changer in conducting diving operations and will serve as an ideal platform for conducting training of the Indian Navy’s diving cadre.
Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) displayed about 30 products and systems developed as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat, including airborne missile electronics, receivers for EW systems, 2KW fuel cell, FO Gyro based sensor packaged unit, athermal laser transmitter, IR jammer, call manager and media gateway, C-band tropo power amplifier and IR seekers missiles. Other innovative solutions and artificial intelligence systems on display in the area of high-performance computing included RRO (software-based solution), secure video conferencing solution, generic networking system, imagery solution for defence and civilian application, automatic train supervision system for DMRC and maritime rescue coordination centre besides others.
BEL also presented its land and naval products and systems, comprising many radar systems, coastal surveillance system, combat vehicle, weapon control system, communication and laser-based products, including a modem for a troposcatter communication system, encryptors, frequency-modulated continuous-wave radar for fog vision and drone guard systems for railways, 4G secure phone and 5G tablet PC, high power fibre laser, Li-Fi high-speed communication system and software-defined radio under communication and electro-optics segments.
MoUs and more
Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) showcased its largest-ever range of products at Aero India, 2021. The product range included state-of-the-art anti-tank guided missiles, launchers, surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, underwater weapons and countermeasure systems. BDL also launched its two new underwater weapons named Garudastra and Dishani at the event. The company signed MoUs with foreign as well as Indian companies including start-ups.
At the International Conference on Critical and Strategic Materials in Aerospace and Defence organised by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Defence and HLS Committee at AERO INDIA 2021, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar informed that the Government aims to double the number of MSMEs from 8,000 in defence and aerospace sector to 16,000 in the next five years.
BAE Systems displayed a model of the Make in IndiaHawk advanced jet trainer, which is in service with the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. The low-cost, combat-provenAPKWS® Laser-Guided Rocket was also exhibited. The complete BAE Systems portfolio was available on audio/visual display, which includes a video of the theMk45 Mod 4 Naval Gun System. The 5-inch (127-mm) 62-calibre Mk 45 Mod 4 Naval Gun system is in U.S. Navy service and is ready to significantly enhance Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) and overall mission performance.
There also a video of the M777 Ultra-Lightweight Howitzer(ULH). Under an agreement between the U.S. and Indian governments, the 155mm M777A2 ULH systems are being assembled, integrated, and tested in India by Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd. (MDSL), as part of the Make in India programme. To date, BAE Systems has produced and delivered 41 guns to the Indian Army.
There was a flight display by ‘Surya Kiran’ aircraft and ‘Sarang’ helicopters. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) showcased the Atmanirbhar Formation Flight, comprising HAL’s LCA trainer (LIFT Trainer), HTT-40, IJT, Advanced Hawk Mk 132 and Civil Do-228 which flew in a special formation exhibiting the spectrum of trainers and signifying self-sufficiency in the trainer segment.
Russia’s state-run Rostec displayed its K-16 and K-17 Boomerang armoured personnel vehicles. Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport displayed a model of the Prima anti-stealth radar, P-18-2 Prima, a high-mobility 2D surveillance and acquisition radar, developed and manufactured by PJSC NITEL and PJSC NPO Almaz. The solid-state radar based on modern hardware components and digital signal processing is designed to detect, track, locate and identify air targets of various classes and types as friend or foe in both jamming and clutter environments, take the bearing of jammers and feed radar data to users’ automated command-and-control systems. A life-size export model of Russia’s first stealth fighter, the Su-57 was also displayed.
Don Heflin, U.S. Charge d’Affaires, led a high-level delegation of U.S. government officials and defence industry representatives. Another main highlight of the Aero India show was a B-1B Lancer heavy bomber, of the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, which performed a “fly-by.”
President Ram Nath Kovind said in his valedictory address that India is not just a market, but a land of immense opportunities for the whole world, including in the defence sector. He added that the government has taken a number of policy initiatives aimed at placing India among the top nations in the defence sector with twin objectives of self-reliance and export promotion.