By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Feb 14
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Bengaluru next Wednesday to inaugurate the five-day Aero India 2015, America will be for the first time the largest foreign presence at India’s premier air exhibition.
Although the Indian Air Force (IAF) flies predominantly Russian aircraft, and Moscow has traditionally made a splash at previous Aero India shows, Russia is sending no military aircraft to Bengaluru this year.
In a sign of changing times, seven of the eleven foreign military aircraft on display will be American --- two F-15C Eagles, two F-16C Fighting Falcons, one Boeing KC-135 tanker, one C-17 Globemaster III and a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft. The IAF flies the C-17, while the navy operates an Indian version of the P-8A, called the P-8I.
Besides these American aircraft, three French Rafale fighters --- shortlisted for acquisition by the IAF --- will fly aerobatics displays. In addition, there will be one Brazilian Embraer EMB-145 jet.
American companies will similarly dominate the exhibition area. Of 328 defence companies from 33 countries participating in Aero India 2015, America will have the largest representation with 64 companies. Following the US will be France (58 companies), the UK (48), Russia (41) and Israel (25).
According to defence analysis group IHS Jane’s, the US supplanted Russia in 2013 as India’s biggest source of weaponry, supplying $1.9 billion out of the $5.9 billion worth of equipment imported that year, almost 30 per cent of arms imports. The figures for 2014 have not yet been released.
The number of foreign companies participating has risen sharply from 212 in Aero India 2013 to 328 this year. Similarly, Indian participation has risen from 156 companies in the last air show to 266 this year.
These defence companies are hoping to benefit from the prime minister’s “Make in India” programme, which is the theme of Aero India 2015. Besides defence manufacturing, the exhibition will also include airport infrastructure and civil aviation.
For the first time there will be participation from three states that wish to promote defence industry --- Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.
Like always, the Aero India show has been organised in the massive Yelahanka Air Force Base, just outside Bengaluru. On 2,50,000 square metres of display area on the sprawling Yelahanka tarmac, a total of 72 aircraft --- including non-military aircraft like business jets --- will be displayed.
Inside the massive hangars, the DEO has created 24,403 square metres of indoor display area, where foreign exhibitors are paying the equivalent of Rs 50,000 per square metre to display their products (Indian companies pay about Rs 35,000 per square metre).
For modest hospitality chalets alongside the runway, where foreign companies can ply important visitors with food and drinks while they watch air displays, rents range from Rs 28-56 lakhs.
Four foreign aerobatics teams will fly twice-daily displays, including the acclaimed Flying Bulls from the Czech Republic. An American team from its Special Forces will do parachuting displays.
India’s famed display team, Sarang, will perform aerobatics in Dhruv helicopters designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The IAF’s fixed-wing aerobatics team, the Surya Kirans, will not perform, as it is transitioning from its old Kiran Mark II aircraft to Hawk advanced jet trainers.
The steep rates have not deterred exhibitors, with every square metre of space already sold out. In 2010, India had overtaken China as the world’s biggest importer of defence equipment, says Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Aero India shows are organised by the Defence Exhibition Organisation (DEO), a defence ministry wing. Run biennially on odd years in Bengaluru, Aero India is the country’s premier air exhibition. On even years, the DEO runs the Defexpo exhibition in New Delhi, which focuses on land and naval systems.