By David Oliver
The 13th edition of Aero India was held from 3 to 5 February 2021 at Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bangalore, Karnataka. The show was inaugurated by the Indian Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh while the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind was in attendance.
With few foreign aircraft taking part in the static and flying displays there were multiple flypasts by Indian aircraft although the first day of the show was marked by the flypast of a USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer with a HAL Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The nuclear bomber had flown all the way from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota in 26 hours. A USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress from the 23rd Bomb Squadron based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota also made a single Aero India flypast.
There was a joint display by Dhruv helicopters of the Sarang team and Hawks of the Surya Kiran aerobatic team and a trio of newly delivered Indian Air Force Dassault Rafales also appeared for the first time in public.
The organisers stated that despite the COVID-19 challenges, Aero India was successful in attracting 16,000 visitors and 540 companies including 78 from overseas. With 28 exhibiting companies, France was the strongest foreign representation at Aero India. Companies present at the France Pavillion included Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Faure Herman, Liebherr Aerospace, MBDA, Rafaut Group, Safran, Thales and UUDS Magnum Aero.
Leading US defence companies, including Aerospace Quality Research & Development LLC, Airborn Inc., Boeing, IEH Corporation, GE Aviation, General Atomics, L3Harris, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Trakka Systems participated in what was touted as the world’s first-ever hybrid aero and defence show.
Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are among the major aerospace manufacturers that are competing for the Indian Air Force’s long-standing requirement for 114 medium multirole fighter aircraft. Another contender for the US$17 billion contract is Saab which decided not to attend Aero India due the COVID-19 restrictions.
Airbus did sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Indian Flytech Aviation Academy at Aero India to explore collaboration opportunities in drone training. The European aircraft manufacturer said that some 500,000 drone pilots will need to be trained in India in the next 5 years. This was one of the few international agreements to be announced at Aero India 2021.
BrahMos, the Indian government owned joint venture between Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroeyenia, showcased the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile in the coastal defence role. The Indian Navy is going to induct the missile as part of India’s Next Generation Maritime Marine Coastal Defence battery role where they will be operated as a cluster of Surface-to-Surface missile (SSM) complex along with a Command & Guidance mobile unit..
Tata Aerospace & Defence displayed the Rakshak quadrotor VTOL, a fully autonomous vertical takeoff and landing UAV. Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited, a joint venture between Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics established in 2010, manufactures C-130J Hercules empennage assemblies that include the aircraft’s horizontal and vertical stabilizers.
It was reported that Tata may manufacture the Grob G180 SPn business jet in India for military applications. The G180 SPn is a twin-engined composite corporate jet designed and built by German manufacturer Grob Aerospace. Development was suspended during 2008 in response to the Grob’s insolvency since when, multiple efforts have been made to re-launch the programme. The Tata Group has acquired all intellectual property rights for the G180 SPn which is currently being tested in Germany and could fulfill multiple missions from border surveillance to intelligence. It would be the first time a private company could make a full grade military aircraft in India.
Although the contract with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was confirmed at Aero India 2021, it was not exactly breaking news. The Indian Cabinet Committee on Security under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had previously approved the procurement of 73 Tejas Mk-1A fighter aircraft and 10 Tejas Mk-1 trainer aircraft to be delivered by 2030.
What was new was the unveiling of HAL’s Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) family of ‘loyal wingmen’ or ‘manned-unmanned warriors’, with mock-ups showcased at Aero India 2021. HAL announced that it has earmarked US53.5 million to the CATS project that will have a mother ship, Tejas LCA or Jaguar Darin III fighter aircraft operating from faraway, the Warrior drone armed four CATS Hunter autonomous munitions including air-to-ground missiles or mini-cruise missiles such as the MBDA Select Precision Effects At Range (SPEAR).
The CATS Warrior, powered by a 3.73 kN thrust PTAE-7 turbojet engine which powers the indigenous DRDO Lakhanpur unmanned high speed target drone, will be capable of carrying out strike stealthily at up to 350 kilometres inside enemy territory.