(Picture Credits: Ranjit Rai of IDC)

New Delhi, 12 Feb 2001

India's LCA with DRDO's 3D Radar in background at Aero India 2001


(Click on pictures to enlarge)


The Aero India 2001, which was a DRDO cum HAL cum MOD show, will go down memory lane as the first exhibition that showed DRDO and HAL flush with orders. Though not perfect they have done yeoman service as the first results of their hard work are visible only now. You can go broke gambling and regret it –– wining, dining, drinking and womanizing, it will be with pleasure –– but in technology you will go broke anyway, but in the long term the results WILL bring benefits. The Services need to support Indian technology sincerely and with prudence. We should not just criticize but would do well to audit DRDO programmes. This will help them scrap projects, which are not feasible or viable. Of course, the ‘import’ lobby will remain so long as it has sway over the decision-making. Yet to bring about transparency to the extent possible Agents must be legalized. Many we know as Agents were at the Show. IDC were heartened to recognise that the software boom in India has given DRDO confidence. They may not have fully succeeded in making weapons like TRISHUL and AKASH for the time being, because of the lack of cutting edge technology, but they have successes now in many other fields like sonars and radars, whose technologies may now be passed on to the private sector industries, leaving the DRDO more space to concentrate on futuristic needs. DRDO has a massive set up and so do TATAs, Birlas and Reliance. The veil of secrecy must be shed for national gain. Larsen and Tubro are already making the ISRO cyrogenic engine parts. Indian defence technology is certainly now at a take- off stage.

Some Achievements

The following are some of their achievements which most of us may not know of:

(a)     The solid fuel AGNI-II based on the ISRO models of PSLV and other technologies is a weapon India can be proud of and costs very much less than the foreign equivalents. With the added software, CEP and guidance it can be vastly improved. It is transportable and can carry a payload of 1 ton –– a nuclear capability for sure.

(b)     The Prithvi is good but we made a mistake. We allowed the missile to be designed with liquid fuel just to keep the people employed in the DRDL with jobs. It should have been with solid fuel but did the Army and the Air Force cry out? No, so lets live with it as the Navy has lived with liquid fuel missiles. They need very great care and training.

(c)     All the SONARS in the Indian built ships and all future ships to be built, will be made by BEL in India and designed by DRDO –– a capability started by a Naval officer Paul Raj, now at Stanford in USA and followed up by Dr V K Aatre. They may not be as great as the latest Western counterparts, but compare well and their software for tracking submarines are improving by the day. With marketing finesse we can export them but for that we need self-confidence and good Agents.

(d)     The LCA flies (4 flights already with Wheels up) with Indian designed FCS and many ADE and ADA built equipment, which is almost 60%. India is the third country in the world to develop a dual digital FCS, which is being improved by the day. Hearing the Test pilots Wing Cdrs Rajiv Kothial and Nambiar, who have flown Mirages and MiGs, tell you about this is sheer music to the ears.

(e)     The SU-30 Mk (India) which came to Aero-India flew with DRDO mission computer and multifunctional display processor and many other Indian inputs. It performed a Cobra superbly. The SU-30 project started wrong. For some reasons which only the politicians and IAF bosses know, we signed the deal with Irkutsk Aviation which was in poor shape for the old SU-27 Trainers and not KNAAPO ready models. Both manufacture Sukhois designed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau. But that is spilt milk. It can be a great machine and the Air chief flew a sortie at the Aero-India show.

(f)       The ARJUN MBT(15 prototypes) is heavy but it is the most heavily tested tank in the world. Some tanks have done 600 hours and performed at 70% hit probability on the move. The Army wants a Le Lerc or an Abrams M1A1. Should we not accept some (124 are on order) but our manufacturing rate is pathetic so the import of T-90s becomes unavoidable.

(g)     The TRISHUL has had 54 flights and has to point to the target. The Akash will be tried soon may be this month itself. Even the world’s leader the USA is struggling with Anti- Ballistic Missiles. So we need not have red faces if there are miles to go.

(h)     PTA Lakshya has been inducted into the Services and in the long run can be India’s cruise missile. The modest UAV Nishant is to follow.

(i)       The ADE has made RWR i.e. radar warning receiver, IFF, self-protection jammers and processors for the SU-30s, which have succeeded.

(j)       DRDO scientists tried out the Pinaka in the Kargil war with moderate success.

Air shows are ideal venues where latest military and civil aviation technology is show cased. Aircraft, allied wares and weaponry are flaunted and business is transacted. New contacts are made and the old ones revived. India’s third air show modestly achieved just that, though the exhibitors and the visitors were predominantly from the military. Those who participated are already partaking in the US$ 5 billion worth of aviation orders that will materialize in the next seven years. India’s partial open skies and disinvestment policies being implemented for the government owned Air India, Indian Airlines and ITDC are harbingers for more investment and greater air travel, but civil content except for Pawan Hans and the small companies was lacking. The show was mainly military.

The Surya Kirans aerobatics were superb and their tight flying equal to the best in the world. IAF’s top pilots are equal to the best in the world.

AERO-INDIA 2001 held from 7 to 11 February, 2001 at IAF’s Transport Training Base Yelahanka near Bangalore, the "Silicon Garden City of India", was a modest show by world standards, but the quality and range of products, aircraft, weaponry, technology especially software related systems from India and abroad and the air displays were world class.

This year the 12000 sq metres of the space occupied by 100 companies in the three hangars air-conditioned at a cost of over $250,000 was an example of attention to detail. Last time temperatures soared to 40 degrees. The 57,000 sq mtrs of open space housed 47 aircraft and helicopters which included the SU-30 Mk India, carrier capable MIG-29 K, two Tornadoes GRI, Hawk MK 100, Nimrod, IL76, C-130J (Curly Props), IL76, Jaguars, Polish Skytruck and civil aircraft including the Falcon 2000, TU-214, AN 38-4 , ATR42/500 and seven helicopters including the Israeli MI-17 converted to Peak.

The Dornier-328 did not make it and many exhibitors were on their way to Melbourne for the larger Australian Air Show on 13 Feb. Daily air displays were given by the IAF show team, the Surya Kirans and others and six visiting Air Chiefs and 10 delegations remarked they had seldom seen such tight flying manoeuvres by a stick of 9 which included loops, barrel rolls, swift formation changes and diagonal cross overs. The IAF pilots were all qualified instructors with thousands of hours on MIGs, Jaguars or Mirages.


The ‘prima donna’ of the show was of course India’s LCA, steered by the Aeronautical Development Authority of the DRDO, which made its fourth debut in the air at the show itself by W/Cdr Rajiv Kothiyal. This test pilot successfully flew the maiden 18-minute flight on 4 Jan 2001 at Bangalore. The project, which was earlier maligned for its delay and cost over-runs, has now brought about cheer and hope. The indigenous technologies of the TDI which included Co-cured, Co-bonded composites for the wings, under carriage, twin digital flight control system and logic, and seventy two locally produced parts which support the GE F404 J32 engine, now has a bright future if the engineers and scientists can execute the tasks of manouvering and weaponisation, in the coming years as many components are nearly ready. The Kaveri engine, which is slated to replace the GE, is being tried out in the TU-16 under contract with the Gromov Flight Research Center.

The 5-ton ALH, painted red and gleaming in the sun also displayed limited manoeuvres daily. With a judicious mix of local and imported technology, this helicopter which has completed 600 hours of accident free flying is now in the final stages of delivery to the Armed Forces and Certification. The challenge is certification, as we know the IAF’s MI-17s are not yet certified for VVIP flying and the President has to use the MI-8.

The SU 30 MK I (Indian)

The IAF has staked its future for its fighter and ground attack tasks by going in whole hog for 190 of the powerful twin-engined SU-30, derived from the SU-27 trainer designed by the world famous Sukhoi Design Bureau. Currently the Bureau is testing the futuristic SU-37 "Berkut". At the show the first upgraded model of the 50 SU-30 Mk–I that the IAF will receive with thrust vectoring nozzles on the AL FP31 engines with DRDO (ADE/ADA) supplied mission computer and display processor, made an impressive debut and performed aerobatics. It was the star attraction at the show where its weaponry the KH31, 35, RU73 and 77 (See Photos) were displayed along side.


The DRDO UAV Nishant has the latest electronics EL/M 2055 Synthetic aperture radar, powerful cameras and data link. The Indian Army has need for it in the upper reaches to augment the older Hunter Searcher UAVs.

Also on display was Indian Navy’s Dornier- 228 fitted out with ELTA 2022/ELM radar dome and Tamams FLIR. In fact, Israel has become a large supplier of sophisticated weaponry and assistance by way of collaborations like EL OP with BEL and Ramta with Goa Shipyard, alongside IAI which will now supply Barak with Rafael’s help and UAVs Seacher 11.

The British team at the show was large as it was on its way to the Australian Air Show with their mouths watering for the $1 billion order of the 66 AJT, which may come in 2002. With another MIG-21 crash near Bhuj, six months ago when this site started, we had recommended lease of French Alpha Jets and still do. The Defence Minister George Fernandes who inaugurated the show confirmed that the final price negotiations were on for the 66 AJT Hawk –115, based on the Canadian induction and this deal could be finalized soon. Agusta Westland confirmed they were now in a position to supply spares for the 35 Seakings and with the SBAC with BAe and Rolls Royce and Chemering and others they were all there, but Navy is rightly angry with the Westalnds.

The Exhibition –– Foreign and Indian Stalls

In the foreign line up most suppliers to the Indian Armed Forces were present except for Boeing. Even Pratt and Whitney came under the British banner. The largest stalls were taken up by the Rosvoorozhenie / Rosboromaxport masthead and Avia Export of Russia. It was interesting to see KNAAPO and Irkutsk both manufacturers of SU-30 side by side with Sukhoi Design Bureau, the Kamov Company, Indo-Russian Aviation. China had bought its SU-27s and SU-30s from the KNAAPO so deliveries are fast .

Radar Supplier Phazdtron-NIIR, MIG MAPO and SOKOL which makes the MIG-21 bis upgrades and 14 other companies were there. The upgrade of the 123 MIG bis with French Sextant and other Indian equipment has begun at Nasik, where we believe the two upgraded MIGs have arrived from SOKOL. The third largest area to be taken up was by GIFAS and Dassault of France that includes Scenma, Sextant, Sagem and ten other suppliers. Israel under SIBAT had an impressive showing with Israeli Aircraft Industries showcasing the Barak, EL 2022 radar and Litning pod which India has and the new Python missiles, radars and a whole array. The Israelis now recognize all our top brass better than IDC can and why not that’s liberalisation.

Amongst the publications Janes, Parade, Air Fleet and Aviation Week were the prominent foreign participants. Stalls were also put up by Guide Publications, Indian Aviation and Vayu, from India,.

The Top brass of the Armed forces were all there. Two dinner functions –– one by Mr Subir Datta the Secretary Defence Production and the other by Dr V K Atre were well organized. There were some 6 Chiefs of Air Forces and many Foreign Delegations at the show. But we made a BIG mistake. The Liaison Officers for the Foreign Officers were HAL staff in their Brown Blazers with little clue on protocol and could not recognize the senior Indian officers who were in lounge suits so kept them isolated. This was glaringly evident.

The Business Prospects –– $5 Billion at Stake

No air show report can be complete unless the business issues and leads that were announced or heard around are not mentioned. The 190 SU-30 deal and the 123 MIG 21bis upgrades now being executed at the MIG Complex Nasik, are major deals already in Russia’s pockets. The MIG upgrade will have video recorders from SFIM France. All this is around $ 3 billion over the next 10 years with many advances paid in dollars. France’s Dassault already has the $ 370 million 10 Mirage 2000H deal sealed with advances.

Israel’s Rafael will supply 5 Barak missile systems to the Indian Navy for the Bramhaputra Class and INS VIRAAT while IAI would supply the fire control radar and the acquisition radar. The deal is worth $ 300 million. Israel’s Mala of IAI has also been nominated for the order for Searcher 2, which has the powerful AR–68-1000 engine for long endurance (12 hours) high altitude (17,000 feet).

Kamaov is due to supply 5 Ka-31 AEW machines and Kazan is supplying 40 MI-17s.

The Gorshkov deal will have India buying over 2 dozen MIG-29Ks. There are only two in the whole world and one has seen a lot of show flying and trials so the only other one came to the show and showed off. Of course the IAF commentator did not explain the folded wings, the extra epoxy coating or the hook which the pilot showed off when he flew low over the runaway, as if he was landing because that is how carrier based pilots land at flying speed and get hooked to the deck. This deal could be $ 1 billion.

Small Indian companies will get orders but it is HAL which is flush with over $ 2 billion of orders by way of the 200 ALHs, more Dorniers ,123 MIG-21bis upgrade, 140 SU-30s, Lancers some already supplied to the Army, the Intermediate Jet Trainer due in 2002 and the AJT production. HAL is a PSU so it is slow yet Dr Krishnadas Nair has done a yeoman job and we hear he retires in August and his No 2 takes over. The order books are full.

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