AERO INDIA 2003 –– Aviations' Centenary Year

An IDC Report 


New Delhi, 26 February 2003

Aero India 2003

Part II –– India’s Defence Air Show

By Ranjit Rai

IL 76 at Aero India 2003

Indian Defence and Civil Agencies expect to spend over $20 billion on aviation in the next five years. Some of the on going projects amounting to almost $4 billion include the SU-30 MK I, Brahmos, MiG upgrades, MI and Kamov helicopters, ALH and LCA. Therefore anyone who aspired to be part of the action or was already part of it, had to show their presence with a Booth, Chalet or attending in person at “Aero India, 2003” held from 5th to 9th February. The show was held at Yelahanka, a former British wartime airfield, now used by IAF for Transport and Helicopter Flying training.

This year the show was almost one-third the size of Asian Aerospace, Asia’s premier show held bi annually at Singapore, which is due to be held again in 2004. The only difference is that the larger show at Singapore includes civil aviation agencies, airport services and several airlines take part along with Space agencies. In the case of Aero India 2003 however, civilian agencies were conspicuous by their absence. Many attributed it to the confusion that prevails in the privatisation and expansion plans of Air India and Indian Air Lines, and even the Minister of Civil Aviation did not attend.

The Department of Defence Production and Supplies, Ministry of Defence in association with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd organised the show, which attracted foreigners and PSUs to take part. Media reported the MOD had advanced Rs 8 crores for the show. Profit has never been a motive for MOD and the "show balance sheet" is never made public. The show was a great success since the Armed Forces (IAF and DGQA) and HAL, which are resource rich agencies, conducted the Exposition. Every one was full of praise for the arrangements and the hospitality including the spirits offered. They were as Indian hospitality is –– warm and generous. The bonhomie left the media and the guests in good humour and in some cases the effects could be seen the next day, a confirmation that it was a good show. The Air Chief camped at Bangalore before the show and took pains to see all arrangements were checked out.

The fillip to the show came partly from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and India’s Defence Budget of over $14 .7 billion which has large allocations for aviation. Generous advances had been made by the Armed Forces to Hindustan Aircraft Ltd (HAL), which is cash rich and full of orders.

Foreign and Indian participants occupied a total of 8572 sq m of indoor space and 1874 sq m of outdoor space. 176 international companies and sub companies from 22 countries (Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine Republic, UK and USA) and 75 Indian Companies participated in Aero India 2003. A wide spectrum of activities encompassing aviation were covered including basic aircraft materials, systems manufacture, systems integration as well as major civil and military engine and aircraft integration, including DRDO’s latest missiles (Brahmos and Prithvi) and four impressive radars.

The Indian Air Force was in full strength and Aviation wings of Army and Navy with one Dornier 228 also participated. The Ordnance Factory Board and all Defence Public Sector Undertakings except Shipyards participated, in addition to the DRDO and Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA). Between them they displayed the vast range of design capabilities, technologies, equipment and services offered in Indian aviation and allied sectors. The IAF aircraft that took part in flying displays and were on the tarmac included SU-30 MKIs, MiG-21 Bis, Mirages 2000H, Mi-35 upgrade, MI 17s and the full range of ALH.

LCA TD1 which was laid up and converted to Variable Gain Flying control laws, flew from Bangalore to Yelahanka just a few days before the show and was parked with the weapons it may carry five years from today when it is operational. The LCA is a challenge and a new team had replaced the old team of test pilots. World-class flying displays were executed daily by the Indian Air Force’s Surya Kiran show team and 48 other planes. The Kiran team’s “Charlie formation” in memory of the 7 Columbia astronauts who perished including Indian born Kalpana Chawla, and the aerobatics of SU-30 MKI were showstoppers.

Delegations and Seminar

Delegations from 26 countries attended the show and the DRDO had organized an International Seminar. The main theme of the Seminar was “Aerospace Technologies – Developments and Strategies.” The seminar with foreign speakers provided an ideal platform to intellectuals and professionals to share their views and experiences and take stock of the developments in aeronautics and demands for the future. The team from Grippen explained their experience and IDC recalls that it was Test Pilot Lars Raedstrom who crashed twice while testing the Grippen Prototype and because he survived both times he was able to explain the causes and the project succeeded.

The event also ensured that Service Officers who attended were able to familiarize themselves with the latest flying machines and equipment. Foreign and Indian participants at the air show were able to interact, which is not normally permitted for uniformed personnel without Intelligence permission. This enabled greater familiarity with the products and skills on display. The exhibition enhanced the knowledge of the Indian Air Force, service personnel and participants from HAL and Companies, and sellers were able to evaluate the needs of customers.

Export inquiries were few except for HAL in offset trade with Airbus, Rolls Royce, Israel and now Irkut for doors and sub assemblies. The Chairman of HAL, NR Mohanty, announced these at the show. HAL is full of orders and once the IJT and AJT get going they will have even more work. Secretary Defence Production N S Sisodia and the Defence Minister stated that exports at present hovering between $ 40–50 million, would be given a fillip.

Forty-six aircraft from the IAF and 16 from abroad participated. The important aircraft from abroad were the Embraer Legacy, FALCON 900 EX and FALCON 2000 CJ from France, AN 74, MiG 29 MCRA and MiG AT from Russia, HAWK ZJ 100 from UK, TRANSSALL C-160 from Germany and the Czech L 159B.

The TD2 Light Combat Aircraft flew displaying gentle climbs and below Mach passes. The other main aircraft participating from India were the MiG-21, Dornier 228, Jaguar Strike, MiG-21 Bis, SU-30 MK1 and Mirage-2000. The helicopters included Cheetah, ALH-PTA, ALH-PTN, ALH-PT2, ALH-PTC, ALH MOCK UP and MI-8. HAL showed off the ALH and indicated 34 more will be supplied to the Services.


  • HAL displayed a full scale mock up of ALH Gunship which to professionals looked immature but the Air Chief believes IAF can fund it and Chairman HAL said it will be ready in two years. Israel had contracted to assist the ALH project to improve the Thales flying controls, and even market the machine. Israel has good experience in fitting out gun ships.

  • The prototype Intermediate Jet Trainer HJT-36 with Lazarc 04 engine and Martin Baker tandem ejection seats and LED displays funded by the IAF, resembling the Alpha Jet, nearly made its maiden flight at the show, but prudence made HAL defer it to March. The Air Force is almost sure, if all is equal, it will take 200 pieces, to replace the Kiran jet trainers.

  • HAL made public its collaboration for a 14% higher horsepower engine called “Shakti” with Snecma/Turbomecca for the ALH, and small orders it has received from Rolls Royce, IAI , Irkut and Airbus for parts and sub assemblies .

  • The DRDO unveiled four of its new radars produced by LRDE Hyderabad. The Weapon Locating on Tatra chassis, the X band 3 D with the Polish Telecommunciations Antenna which had proved itself in Rajasthan, the small ground surveillance radar on tripods and the Super Vision 2000 radar for the Naval ALH. All looked promising and appeared to have been reverse engineered. Great interest was evinced in the Brahmos and Prithvi missiles manufactured by DRDO, which were due to enter service soon .

  • Missile maker Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) that had spare capacity, announced that it had signed an MOU with MBDA to produce the upgraded Milan 3. BDL could face competition from DRDO’s 4 km Nag, a fourth generation anti tank missile, which had cleared most trials, as DRDO claimed that it had a superior Imaging Infra Red Seeker. BDL is still a sub contractor to DRDO, which produces the Agni series of missiles at DRDL in Hyderabad .

  • HAL announced that they were due to supply 34 additional ALH helos and an unspecified number of Dornier 228s to the three services and Coast Guard in 2003.

  • A civil firm Azal Helicopters of Mumbai had agreed to take one ALH on trial for transportation to the offshore rigs. This could be a big breakthrough to popularize the ALH among civil agencies.

  • National Aeronautics Laboratory (NAL) rolled out its 16 seater Saras, India’s first civil passenger plane with two Pratt and Whitney turbo prop PT 66 engines, in push version, designed for low noise and comfort. The Saras is expected to fly very soon and could find a local market as indicated by Imperial College trained NAL Director Mr Pai, and the price tag will be very low.

Foreign Participation

  • Lord Bach, Minister for Defence Procurement UK was present.

  • Prime Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin and his Finance Minister Francis Mer spent a few hours at the show on 6th February. The French delegation included Thales CEO Denis Ranque, Dassault Group CEO Serge Dassault himself, Alstom CEO Pierre Bilger, Airbus CEO Noel Foregard and Snecma CEO, Jean-Louis Bechat. All have ongoing business interests in India and Indian Airlines have short-listed 23 Airbus planes for their expansion though the Cabinet is yet to consider the investment.

  • The Russian delegation was led by Mr Vos Koboymikov the First Deputy DG Russian Aviation and Space Agency. Besides large ongoing projects the major businesses that were indicated by the exhibitors were the sale of seven MI-171 helicopters to the Border Security Force (BSF) and offer of IL-214 and other planes with Western engines to Indian civil operators.

  • Honeywell which supplied the H423 Laser Inertial Navigation System for the LCA programme had offered to provide the latest SNU 764G Global INS and further support to the Indian Navy Sea Harrier, Sea King and LCA projects.

  • Alenia Aeronautica is looking to supply two ATR 42 MP to the Coast Guard and one that flew at the show.

  • Israel Aircraft Industries that had already supplied multiple squadrons of Searcher and Heron UAV’s to the three services and Rafael pods, and Barak SAM missiles to the Navy, show cased the Derby and Python air-to-air missiles. The IAF had shown interest. Heron flew at the show.

  • The ELTA maritime radar was being progressively fitted on Naval Dornier 228’s.

  • Agusta Westland and Bell Helicopters were present at the show, and Bell 407 was displayed to civilian and military customers at the nearby Deccan Aviation airfield.

  • Martin Baker the seat maker, offered crash worthy and ejection seats and was likely to make a common range of seats for the LCA, IJT and the Mirages.

  • Raytheon offered a range of products including the Phalanx SAM system along with the RAM missile, and Lockheed Martin offered to collaborate with HAL.

  • There were considerable inquiries for simulators and Lockheed Martin had tied up with Mahindra Information Systems to compete with Indian companies Macmet and TSL Technologies who were supplying simulators to the Indian Navy and Air Force.

  • The Russians indicated that there was slow progress on joint production plans of the 100 seats Military Transport Aircraft (MTA) with HAL, but the supply of Su-30 MKI and local production process of the SU-30s would be speeded up by the Irkut Corporation and Sukhoi.

  • The French group Thales already had a strong presence in avionics packages for MiG-21 and 27, Jaguar, Mirage 2000, Su 30 and HJT 36 aircraft as Sextant is now part of Thales, displayed C4I and other systems.

  • BAe systems indicated confidence that the IAF would choose the British Hawk-100 as the AJT and Defence Minister ducked questions on the subject indicating the matter lay before the cabinet


Aero India 2003 which coincided with the world wide centenary celebrations of the Wright Brothers’ first flight by man, was a well organized show There was realization that India was a growing market for military and civil aviation and companies who wished to succeed had to make their presence felt at shows like this. Air Shows were learning experiences and for networking which were well achieved. In India most decisions were taken in New Delhi by the Indian bureaucracy and so the only complaint was, that the civil aviation companies who had come to the show found they had no one to interact with except the media, who were there in strength and the IAF even flew down 40 journalists in an IL 76 for one day. In the Navy a ‘BRAVO ZULU’’ is given for a job well done and IDC bestows it to the organisers of Aero India 2003. Some100 media personnel were also made more knowledgeable about India's military aviation.

Picture credits: Ranjit Rai,

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