US F-21 Fighter Jet ‘Leads The Pack’, Russian Su-75 A ‘Darkhorse’: IAF Expert Summarizes Aero India 2023 Show

Aero India 2023 will become one of the most successful military extravaganzas under extreme global turmoil. No less than the Secretary General of the United Nations has openly expressed his fears of a highly probable and possible nuclear weapon use by Russia against Ukraine.

It is to the credit of India’s diplomacy that over 100 military hardware manufacturers from around the globe belonging to various groupings have gathered at a single location, sharing the same ground and sky above.

Global Participation

The most modern and latest operational flying machines were brought for display and actual performance to demonstrate their versatility. Most of the foreign defense agencies displayed weapons, pods, and other attachments viz external fuel drop tanks, etc.

The significance of Aero India 2023 is not as much for the most modern exhibits ranging from air superiority fighters to strategic bombers but for the number of exhibits running into maybe few thousand.

The mega show was not only for India but also for the rest of the world to witness the growing harmony of India with the nearly entire globe. One can never say, but perhaps during the next Aero India, even Turkiye might be invited to display its platforms.

Aero India 2023 is an excellent exhibition of acceptance of Indian stand on international issues. Be it India’s continuance to buy Russian crude despite sanctions imposed on Russia by the West or inviting adversaries USA and Russia on the same platform.

The US, in particular, has pulled out all stops and has come prepared to sell its modern platforms to India off the shelf virtually.

The repeated assurance to India for technology transfer and setting up manufacturing facilities in India has been India’s most important strategic victory. The roar of F-35s, F-21s, and B-1B strategic bombers of the USAF filled the skies during the Aero India show.

Russia has astoundingly made its presence by mentioning the Tu-160 (white swan) strategic bomber. It is perhaps the first time Russia has talked about its most advanced strategic weapon in an international event.

Russian offer of Su-75 might appear attractive, although the platform is unlikely to be available before 2027.

Aero India
Aero India 2023/Twitter

Swedish aviation giant Saab has not hesitated to bring Gripen, although its agreement with Adani is no longer valid. The presence of Russian defense equipment must not be seen in the light of the number and type of machines displayed.

It must be viewed in the context that despite Russia facing a US-led proxy war, Russia decided to participate in the event.

It is probably the first occasion that a foreign manufacturer has agreed to offer the most sensitive equipment in the form of operational AEW&C aircraft. Whether the deal would fructify is another matter. An important aspect is that forbidden technology is available in India.

Aero India 2023 has created a problem of an entirely different kind for India. The most unusual problem of ‘plenty’ will make the task of deciding on the platform quite difficult. Political rather than machine performance agendas invariably govern multi-billion dollar defense deals.

India’s Capability

Manufacturing entities are facing shortages of bulk orders, causing them huge losses. India’s military is essentially foreign-equipped. The situation is unlikely to change for the better in the foreseeable future. Although the ‘Make in India’ impetus has created a favorable position.

But a genuinely world-class platform in large numbers would be available around 2030.

Tejas Mk 1 is still dependent on foreign collaboration. LCA, erstwhile nomenclature of Tejas Mk 1, was called ‘Liaison, Co-operation, and Agreement.’ If it fructifies, the partnership with foreign giants to manufacture aero engines would be a significant step towards filling up a void.

India’s private sector has marked its presence in Aero India in a big way by displaying ‘yet to be operational’ equipment ranging from a Jet Jump Suit, AI, cyber security, and drones to stealth UAV designs. It is a highly positive development that would undoubtedly help India.

Role Of DRDO In Promoting Private Entrepreneurs

The growth/entry of private entrepreneurs in the defense equipment sector is slow/restricted for two reasons. The first reason is DRDO’s attitude towards private entrepreneurs.

DRDO advises, instead insists, that private entrepreneurs promote their inventions through prominent business houses. That is why as of date, not a single invention/development of world-class technology by a private entity has become operationally available.

The second reason is our nearly insane approach toward secrecy. For instance, how can a private player develop a platform/equipment to counter the enemy’s SAM unless operational frequencies, which are required to be jammed, are known to the developer?

This approach of DRDO is the biggest impediment to private players’ development of ECM/ECCM systems.

DRDO is yet to develop an operational ECM/ECCM pod. A crying need in modern warfare, where electronic mapping and the ability to blind adversary’s systems viz radars, SAMs, etc., is essential to winning an air war.

Airbus And Boeing Deal

The noise made by modern fighters and the aerobatic display of the IAF aerobatic team ‘Surya Kiran’ has all but masked the most important deal in the history of world civil aviation.

India has agreed with civil aviation giants Boeing and Airbus to purchase more than 450 wide-body jets in the next two decades, a deal running into billions of USD.

Three countries involved in the multi-billion dollar deal are France (Airbus), the UK (Rolls Royce Engines and Spares for Boeing), and the USA (Boeing). Currently, the economies of these three nations add up to about USD 35 trillion. The comments from respective heads of state of these nations prove their acceptance that India has arrived.

Airbus and Boeing deal was concluded by no less than the Indian PM video chatting with French president Macron and POTUS Joe Biden. This seemingly innocuous deal highlights the power of non-alignment practiced by India. UK PM Rishi Sunak tweeted his happiness over the agreement.

Future Perspective

The brighter side of weapons acquisition in the form of platforms is only half the story.

India has to take giant strides in producing in-house ECM/ECCM pods, Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), Beyond Visual Range Missiles (BVRs), Force Multipliers viz Air to Air refuellers, AEW&C platforms, strategic lift capable transport aircraft, to name a few.

The three variants of helicopters manufactured by HAL are a giant step towards filling the yawning gap concerning the availability of multi-utility and attack helicopters. Hopefully, the production line and product support by HAL will rise to the occasion and meet the requirements of each service.

The long overdue decisions to acquire strike elements from foreign vendors can no longer be postponed in the more significant interest of overall national security.

F-21 appears to be leading the pack. However, the US presidential election due next year, for which the process has already commenced, might impede signing the deal. The Russian Su-75, yet to be operationally proven, might be a dark horse.

File Image: Su-57-& Su-75 (Checkmate)

The race for carrier-borne aircraft is also in the final lap. No one can say whether it will be F-18 or Rafale (M). The heads of state and ambassadors rarely openly express their opinion in the public domain for such deals. France is leaving no stone unturned and is offering Rafale, both for IAF and IN.

Aero India 2023 has, hopefully, concluded positively for India. Nearly 250 agreements valued at around INR 75000 Crore might fructify sooner than later. How many foreign vendors agree to set up a ‘shop’ in India will be known later. PM Modi has stated that foreign vendors must move beyond merely producing spare parts in India if they want to do business with India.

Aviation extravaganza 2023 has placed India in the center of mainframe among many nations. India’s reputation as the biggest arms importer must no longer be viewed in a negative context; it has brought famous vendors of powerful nations to the doorstep of India.

Their respective administration will be more than willing to help India in other spheres. Economic decisions/collaborations among nations will decide their political convergence/divergence on international affairs in the remaining decades of the 21st century.

  • Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare. VIEWS PERSONAL
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