The biggest weapons importer in the world, India, was again one of the cornerstones of the 52nd edition of the Paris Air Show, the world’s largest and oldest air show that concluded recently in the French capital.
As in the past several airshows in the last decade or so, India again remained a bright spot for aircraft and aviation products manufacturer and service providers as several deals were announced or inked by various Indian entities at the Paris Air Show, which was held at Le Bourget airport, in Paris from June 19-25, 2017.
India bagged the headlines on several occasions as its airlines bought aircraft, including 25 Bombardiers by SpiceJet, but the most crucial deals were made in the defence sector.
One such headline grabber was the news that Lockheed Martin, the American defence behemoth, had agreed to manufacture its famous F-16 fighter jet in India, in collaboration with Tata Advanced Systems, a defence company in the Tata conglomerate. The F-16s that could be manufactured in India is the Block 70, the latest version of the aircraft that has been the backbone of the air force of several countries.
“This unmatched US-Indian industry partnership directly supports India’s initiative to develop private aerospace and defence manufacturing capacity in India. It provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world’s most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter,” the company said in a communique issued at Le Bourget.
The deal would also create new manufacturing jobs in India, in the virgin defence sector, and positions Indian industry at the centre of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world. “This agreement builds on the already established joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Tata and underscores the relationship and commitment between the two companies,” said N Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons.
Skills at the Forefront
With India’s defence and aviation production picking up, the need for building a rich and vibrant skills ecosystem is vital for the proper development of aviation and defence in the country. With this in mind, the Europe India Foundation for Excellence (EIFE), in collaboration with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship as well as UIMM, the French manufacturing industry association, organised a day-long visit of the Air Show for a 70-member Indian skills delegation. As part of this visit, a half-day conference, focussed on mapping the skill development ecosystem in aviation industry, was organised. One of the key speakers on the occasion was Hubert Mongon, director general of UIMM, who spoke of the ongoing training of the first batch of Indian engineers in servicing, maintenance and manufacturing of combat aircraft, as part of the government-to-government contract signed during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France in 2015, under which India is purchasing 36 Rafale medium range, multi-role combat aircraft.
The first batch is being trained at Dassault’s facilities in France and would be deployed at Nagpur in a site that Dassault would develop in collaboration with the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence & Engineering Limited.
Mongon said UIMM has been conducting the training on behalf of Dassault and it plans to create Centres of Excellence for training in advanced manufacturing and defence manufacturing in India. The UIMM would be creating these centres in collaboration with the EIFE & NSDC and the three parties signed an MoU to this effect in Paris.
Joint Secretary of Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Rajesh Agarwal spoke of the rapid growth of the aviation industry and the urgent need for India to build up a worldclass, comprehensive skilling programme to cater to the demands of this industry. He welcomed the initiatives such as UIMM and EIFE to bring European expertise in this domain to India.
India’s sole aircraft maker, Bengaluru-based PSU, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), represented by Mrigendra Kumar, GM (coordination) shared its experience in building a skilled workforce and the challenges in keeping the skills of the workers and the trainers abreast with the rapid advances being made every year in the aviation industry. He also welcomed the lead taken by the European defence training and manufacturing companies in building a skills ecosystem in this key domain.
Another eye-opening presentation came from Russia, India’s oldest and largest defence partner, which has helped not only HAL but also several other PSUs in developing their manufacturing capabilities. Alina Doskanova of the Russian Ministry of Skills, explained how manufacturers like Sukhois keep themselves ahead of the curve in skilling their workforce and cater to the needs of tomorrow. She also spoke of the Russian readiness to help India in developing its capabilities in this domain, as it has always done.
Prakash Sharma of NSDC spoke of the focus that NSDC and the government had put on ensuring that a proper ecosystem for skill development in aviation and defence industry is built in India at the earliest as the industry has been booming, both on civil side where India is already the third largest market in terms of number of domestic fliers.
After the conference, a visit was also organised to the pavilions of various aviation-related training schools present at the air show.