India’s space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) put 104 satellites into orbit on February 15, 2017, which is the most in history. The workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carried nanosatellites from seven countries when it took off at 9:28am from Sriharikota. These include 88 from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc. as well as others built by companies and universities in Israel, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
For India, it was not about setting a world record, but a consolidation of its well known technological prowess in its space programme. The small-satellite launch market is growing at an astonishing pace and the launch is indicative of India’s ability to respond toemerging-market demands. 88 of the satellites launched belonged to Planet M, a US private imaging company.
The PSLV rocket’s main purpose was to launch India’s Cartosat 2 Series satellite. It also carried two Indian nano satellites, the INS-1A and INS-1B, both high-resolution earth observation satellites. In addition, the rocket had enough room to carry the 88 NANO satellites from Planet M, eight satellites from the US and one each from Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands and UAE. A truly stupendous achievement for ISRO and a feather in the cap for India.
SAAB or LOCKHEED?
In statement on February 10, 2017, Sweden’s Saab offered to build the world’s most modern fighter aircraft factory in India. Saab’s pitch for its Gripen E aircraft comes a day after Lockheed said it is pushing ahead with its proposal to transfer the production line of its F-16 fighter to India, even though it understands that President Donald Trump’s administration may want to take a fresh look at such plans.
The race to supply the Indian Air Force with an estimated 200 to 250 fighter planes over the next decade has narrowed to Saab and Lockheed after the Indian defence ministry floated an initial request for a single-engine combat plane in October last year.
Lockheed has offered to build the F-16 Block 70 in India which it said was the newest and most advanced version of the plane that is flying with the air forces of 25 countries around the world. It said the proposed Indian facility for making the F-16s would be the only one in the world as the existing plant in Fort Worth, Texas switches to producing the fifth generation F-35 for the US Air Force.
On the other hand, Kent-Ake Molin, Gripen’s product sales director, told reporters that Saab has offered to set up the world’s most modern (aerospace) ecosystem and facility in India to manufacture the Gripen for India and the global market. Saab was already in talks with nearly 100 aerospace and defence firms in India to provide components for the production of the plane which would lay the industrial base for India to design, develop and build future fighters.”What we are offering is a futuristic, new generation plane and not one that is reaching the end of its life and is being replaced by air forces around the world,” he said, in an apparent dig at the F-16.
The decision as to which aircraft India will go in for will be decided by the MoD sometime this year, to meet the urgent needs of the Air Force. The process, as of now is at an early stage. Past experience indicates that defence procurements take an inordinately long time in India. With the Prime Minister’s thrust on the Make in India programme, it is hoped that decision making would be expedited.