India’s Light Transport Competition: Follow Avros to ExitDec 09, 2012 17:02 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
India’s slow-motion force modernization has made significant progress within its aerial transport fleet. Their AN-32s are being modernized, stretched C-130J Hercules have been bought for their special forces, and the IAF’s high-end IL-76s will soon be joined by 10 Boeing C-17 heavy transports. Now, at the very bottom of India’s fixed-wing transport force, it’s time to replace the 6 tonne capacity of the IAF’s 30 or so surviving 748M Avros. The planes are currently used for troop transport, communications, and training.
The 2 leading contenders are a familiar pair, and would be more like western counterparts to the higher-performance AN-32s. A number of other makes and models have been floated, which could make for an interesting competition if enough of them respond.
RFP: Terms & Contenders
India has issued its RFP for up to 56 light cargo aircraft, with an estimated value of $2.5 – 3 billion. The winning firm will need an Indian partner, but it can’t be HAL because they’re over-committed. India would take delivery of the first 16 planes from the original manufacturer, then their chosen Indian partner would produce the other 40 under license. Planes #17 – 32 would also have 30% Indian content, and planes #33-56 would have 60% Indian content.
The 2 main contenders are the same pair of rear-ramp turboprops that dominate light tactical transport competitions around the world: Airbus Military’s C295, and Alenia Aermacchi’s C-27J Spartan. Each has won, and lost, its share of competitions.
The C295 is more cost-efficient to operate, which makes a big difference over its lifetime. It’s also closer to the Avro 748M conceptually, though its payload is 9.25 tonnes. Specialty variants include a gunship (Jordan), an airborne early warning variant that’s in development with Israel’s IAI, and a C295 ASW maritime patrol variant that is reportedly being offered for India’s medium maritime patrol aircraft needs.
The C-27J Spartan offers the width and floor strength to handle loads like vehicles and small helicopters, though it’s shorter than a C295 and will carry fewer cargo pallets. Maximum payload is 11.5 tonnes, and the Spartan shares some engine and avionics commonalities with India’s C-130 fleet. Specialty variants include an AC-27J gunship that’s in development with ATK.
Other contenders have been mentioned, but their odds are slimmer.
Antonov’s AN-148 regional passenger and cargo plane is the strongest “outside” contender. It’s high wing twin-jet design is unique in this field, and it can carry a mix of passengers and up to 9 tonnes of cargo. The plane has a number of other customers around the world, including countries with comparable climate variations and high altitude terrain. Indian airlines have reportedly ordered 18 of them, and there has been some talk of setting up some production facilities in country.
On the flip side, the AN-148 has been criticized for high operating costs, and the Russian carrier Rossiya has cited operating efficiency below its Boeing 737s. Those costs were reportedly a big reason why Aeroflot declined to expand its order, though the Russian carrier also cited reliability issues. Iran is the type’s largest customer, with over half of the estimated 250 planes in global service.
Then there’s Ilyushin’s IL-114. It’s used as a regional airliner in Uzbekistan, whose 14-plane order made them the IL-114′s only customer. Cargo capacity lists as 6.5 tonnes, and production has ended. That isn’t a hugely appealing combination, even if the manufacturer promised to move all future production to India.
Sweden’s Saab 340/2000 turboprops are also out of production, though military variants have been sold to Pakistan, the UAE, and other countries based on refurbished aircraft. Maximum cargo payload is around 6 tonnes, but it’s loaded through a side door, not a ramp. Saab’s regional turboprops have almost 500 models in service around the world, and are reportedly being offered as the base for India’s medium maritime patrol aircraft needs. Saab has been building Indian partnerships as part of its M-MRCA fighter bid. They could offer to restart turboprop production in India, with the intention of winning both Indian military contracts, and extending civilian sales in the region.
Contracts & Key Events
Nov 27/12: RFP. Aviation Week reports that India has issued its Request For Proposals, and expects to begin deliveries within 4-5 years:
“The Indian air force (IAF) is looking at several options including IL-114 variants from the Russian Ilyushin Aviation Complex, Ukrainian An-148 Antonov, the twin-turboprop European EADS Casa C-295 and Italian Alenia C-27J Spartan medium-sized military transport aircraft.”
Subsequent reports add Embraer and Lockheed Martin (C-130J) to the list. India already flies C-130Js for their special forces, but their 20t medium transport niche is expected to be filled by the Indo-Russian MRTA collaboration, which will become a rival to Embraer’s KC-390 and the C-130. Embraer does have smaller civilian ERJ/E-Jet airliners, but the KC-390 is their only military transport.
Sept 28/12: Industrial. StratPost reports that India’s plan to build most of its light tactical transports in India is hitting some financial roadblocks:
“After more than a year of discussion, it now appears that Indian industry has decided not to step up with bids to build the replacement aircraft, in partnership with foreign manufacturers, because of the financial infeasibility… The procurement was stipulated to have been under the ‘Buy and Make Indian’ channel under the Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP), for which only Indian companies could be the lead bidders, in collaboration with foreign manufacturers… [the problem is that] Indian industry has found the order to be too small to justify the capital expenditure…”
The estimated $200-250 million is a lot to invest in a project that ends at 56 aircraft. It’s probably a poor business decision, unless there’s a strong prospect of future sales beyond the IAF’s order, or of significant industrial offsets work from other IAF foreign aircraft buys. RP Defense.
July 27/12: Approval. The Ministry of Defense’s acquisition council gives the go-ahead for a global tender to replace the IAF’s 748M Avros, and sets out the terms of local manufacture: 1st 16 in India, 30% local content for the next 16 planes, then 60% local content for the final 24.
HAL won’t be participating, as they are: “already burdened with projects, such as the SU-30MKI production and upgrades of Indian air force’s aircraft fleet, including the Mirage, MiG 29 and Jaguar aircraft.”
That limitation will place the winner’s Indian partner in a unique position as a competing Indian aircraft builder. Larsen and Toubro, Mahindra and Mahindra, and Tata are all seen as potential partners for foreign competitors. UPI.
- DID – C-17s for India.
- DID – India Buys 6-12 C-130J-30 Hercules for Special Forces.
- DID – MRTA: HAL and Irkut’s Joint Tactical Transport Project. Will be a twin-jet C-130J competitor in the 20t medium cargo class, but the C-130J is carving out a strong special forces niche, and India needs planes now.
- DID – India Refurbishing its AN-32 Transport Fleet. Light tactical transports.