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Prashanth Veer asked: What are the challenges facing India’s aerospace industry?

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  • Gp Capt (Dr.) Rajiv Kumar Narang (Retd.) replies: The Indian aerospace industry, which comprises manned and unmanned aeronautics, and the space industry, is passing through the most promising phase. India has set the goals of becoming the global drone hub by 2030 and achieving self-reliance (Atmanirbharta) in critical manned and unmanned aeronautics, as well as in space technologies. Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) have developed number of manned and unmanned systems that include Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) MK-1/1A/2, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) MK-I/II/III/IV, Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40), Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) Saras, Regional Transport Aircraft-70 (RTA-70) and Tactical Airborne Platform for Aerial Surveillance- Beyond Horizon-201 (TAPAS BH-201) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). Private sector drone companies have developed wide variety of indigenous drones for civil-military applications and a few of them have supplied drones to Indian defence forces by competing against global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

    In the commercial aircraft sector, Indian private sector airlines have placed orders for 1000 commercial aircraft in the last five months for an approximate (listed) cost of USD 100 billion in 2023 and 1000 more aircraft would be required in the forthcoming 15 years. This is an opportunity that can be leveraged to seek local manufacturing of commercial aircraft, sub-systems and establishing of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) in India.

    India has launched several satellites with wide ranging capabilities. It instituted reforms and allowed Non-Government Entities (NGEs) to undertake end-to-end activities in the space domain. This can provide level-playing field to NGEs. India’s Space Policy 2023 aims to take forward reforms in the space sector. India’s aeronautics and space sectors are evolving sectors. The non-availability of indigenous systems and capabilities, and other related challenges are enumerated below:

    1. Lack of indigenous turbojet, turbofan, turboprop, wankel and other aero-engines for manned and unmanned aircraft;
    2. Need high altitude testing facility for developing and testing aero-engine and other aeronautics technologies;
    3. Need dedicated testing sites for private sector to enhance its involvement in the design, development, testing and manufacturing of manned and unmanned aircraft;
    4. Need domestic manufacturing of critical electronics equipment, sensors, payloads and components to reduce vulnerabilities;
    5. Commercial aircraft manufacturing is at nascent stage in India and leveraging large commercial aircraft procurements for local manufacturing of commercial aircraft, sub-systems, aero-engines and establishing of MRO can contribute to self-reliance and civil-military integration in aeronautics technologies;
    6. Need civil drone R&D programs to develop enabling technologies to facilitate integration of drones and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the national airspace;
    7. In space sector, main challenge is to develop a launch vehicle which can carry 6 to 8 tons of payload into the geostationary orbit. Current capacity of GSLV Mk III vehicle is four tons.
    8. The Indian startup structure for space industry is evolving and will require major financial investments as well as technology support in niche fields like New Materials, AI, Additive Manufacturing and Quantum.

    Posted on July 19, 2023

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.