A Comptroller and Auditor General report has virtually castigated the multi-billion dollar Rafale combat aircraft deal for not providing enough benefits in terms of the offset stipulations. Four years after signing the deal, India has yet to benefit from the offsets that were due to be introduced into the defence manufacturing sector in the country, and which in the long run would benefit the industry, particularly the aviation sector. For, after all, this is the sector that demands the greatest attention, requires the maximum investment support, and has tremendous security as well as commercial rewards. India is on the cusp, and needs just that last bit of push.
Conventional knowledge dictates that India requires so many numbers of combat squadrons, which in turn, means an investment of X amount of thousands of crores, and after which the country is aerially secure. Conventional need not be the only route that India takes in order to make the country secure, in terms of national security as well as financial viability. That financial feasibility can only come from developing and manufacturing products that are practicable as well as commercially successful internationally. In a buyers’ market, the onus is on the manufacturer to make a product that provides the best bang for the buck.
The best bang for the buck comes from a design and development process that builds from what is already available domestically, with value addition from external sources to fit the missing bricks in the wall. Those last pieces are always the most difficult to find, or make, whichever maybe the process required. But there is no going back from the requirement, and which is where the offsets should have been put into place so as to propel the country’s aviation sector towards greater autonomy as well as financial viability.
Since the first domestic combat aircraft project, the HF-24 Marut, India has always suffered from failures at the engine development stage. Which is very strange given that an Indian designed and developed spacecraft can power its way to the moon, but an indigenously designed aircraft can’t find a suitable domestic power plant. This is not to claim that both share any technological similarities, far from it. But what they both share is the sheer diligence of scientific research and development and which ultimately produces a power plant which suffices. That power plant has remained a missing brick to complete the wall.
Tejas, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, is flying combat air patrol missions, but remains powered by an imported engine. In the long run that should be unacceptable if India wants to be truly independent of foreign dependency. Especially since there is still a massive requirement of combat aircraft, more than 100 flying machines at least. The offsets benefits must be extracted with a single minded focus on finding the technical inputs so that India finally cracks the missing pieces of engine technology. The advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, India’s long term aviation project can actually fly with an indigenous engine if the investments are made now. Offsets should be focused on that.