Around half of the inventory of the Indian Navy's aviation arm, as of now, consists of ageing and obsolete aero platform fleet which needs to be replaced; the fleet of Helicopters alone is facing an average age of three decades. We need to take timely and requisite steps to keep the operational efficiency of the Navy at desirable level.

The multifaceted responsibilities of the Naval Aviation Wing are carried out through a variety of aircrafts which undertake tasks such as maritime reconnaissance, fleet air defence, carrier borne strikes against maritime targets, ships and shore borne air anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue (SAR) etc. Over the years, aviation has become an intrinsic part of naval power, be it as a carrier borne fleet air arm, shore based maritime patrol/strike aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Platforms (UAVs) as these aerial platforms epitomize force multiplication as they increase the speed and reach of surface combatants' manifolds. Therefore, it becomes imperative for Indian Navy to have and maintain requisite inventory of aerospace platforms for expanding its maritime surveillance footprint to meet operational requirements. However, the present fleet of the Navy is ageing and requires urgent induction of newer platforms and technologies. The effort is on acquiring capabilities, and eventually indigenizing them with special emphasis on operational capabilities in the Electronic Warfare environment. The India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has already issued various tenders in this regard and more are to come in near future. Nevertheless, timely and requisite steps to fasten the induction of these platforms should be taken now which is the need of the hour to keep the operational efficiency of the Navy at desirable level.

Current Inventory

The Indian Navy maintains a large inventory of aerospace platforms which are being operated for attack, search, rescue and relief operations over the years. At present, the Indian Navy's aviation arm has 289 aircrafts in its fleet, including obsolete Sea Harriers and MiG-29K combat jets, apart from several helicopters including the British SeaKings, Russian Kamov, indigenous Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters, and the Chetaks and Israeli Heron I & II UAVs. As of now, around half of the inventory consists of ageing and obsolete aero platform fleet which needs to be replaced. The fleet of Helicopters alone is facing an average age of three decades. Refer Figure and Table.

Most of the aerospace platforms have been imported from major global OEMs such as Boeing, Airbus, Kamov, U.S. firm Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter and US based Sikorsky etc. In the last 10 years, the country has spent around over $5-6 Billion on imports of aerial platforms for the Navy.


BAE Sea Harrier

Boeing P-8 Poseidon

Dornier Do 228

HAL HPT-32 Deepak

Ilyushin Il-38

Mikoyan MiG-29K

Tupolev Tu-142

BAE Systems Hawk










Ka-25 Hormone

Ka-28 (Ka-27PL) Helix

Kamov Ka -31

Sea King Mk 42A/B


Dhruv ALH









Helicopters: The Navy has approximately 106 helicopters both operating from shore bases and on-board warships comprising of Kamovs, Sea Kings and indigenous HAL Dhruvs & Chetaks. The Kamov Ka-31s provide AEW support for the fleet. In the anti-submarine warfare role, the Sea King Mk 42A/B and Kamov Ka-25/28 are used. The MARCOS use Sea King Mk 42Cs. The acquisition of Kamov 31 AEW helicopter from Russia has proved a versatile platform in this segment of airborne operations at sea. Encouraged by its established capability and performance at sea, additional units of Kamov 31 helicopters are being acquired.  It is to be seen that the Navy has not selected a new helicopter type for more than two decades and between the period from 1990 to 2005, nine KA-31 Advanced Electronic Warfare (AEW) helicopters were the only new helicopters acquired. This was followed by acquisition of six decommissioned UH-3H helicopters under the Foreign Military Supply (FMS) from the United States in November 2006.

Aircrafts: Presently, Indian Navy has around 133 aircrafts in its inventory. Apart from few newly inducted Mig-29K fighter aircraft and P-8I reconnaissance aircrafts, most of the inventory comprises of late 1970s and 1980s vintage aircrafts (Sea Harriers, lyushin Il-38, Tupolev which having gone upgradation and now need replacement. For combat purposes obsolete Sea Harrier jets and the recently inducted Russian-origin MiG-29K planes are being used. As for littoral surveillance and reconnaissance operations are concerned, it is being carried out by Tupolev 142 M, Ilyushin 38 SD and locally-assembled Dornier 228 aircraft. As per CAG report, the naval aviation wing is facing severe aging and the availability of aircraft is a mere 26 percent of asset strength on account of the high number of aircraft undergoing repair/overhaul and slow paced progress in procurement programme.

UAVs: The Indian Navy is using Israeli Searcher medium endurance (20 hrs.) and Heron long endurance (50 hrs.) drones for maritime surveillance since 2003. At present it has three squadrons with each squadron is established for eight Searcher II and six Heron UAVs each.

Market Opportunity

With the large proportion of the current fleet of the Navy facing obsolescence and reaching the end of operational lives in the near future leading to acute shortfall in the aircraft/helicopter fleet; the Indian Defence Ministry has begun with the naval aviation acquisition programme aimed at supporting the operations of fighters and helicopters operation from the two carrier task forces and associated support ships. Tenders have been issued for various programmes with more to come in future. The Navy is basically looking out for having a fleet of 600 aircrafts/helicopters by 2027 as against existing 289 aircrafts/helicopters.

India has a huge requirement of carrier borne fighter aircraft as it is building its indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-I) and has another bigger carrier (IAC-II) in the pipeline. Besides the 45 shipboard MiG 29s that are under induction process, it has a requirement of around 60 other combat jets in the coming years. In addition there is a steady growing requirement for maritime surveillance planes. The service has already placed an additional order of 4 Boeing P-8I reconnaissance aircrafts to strengthen its long-range maritime reconnaissance fleet over and above the recently 8 P-8I which have been inducted. It is also purchasing additional 12 Dornier surveillance aircraft from HAL with enhanced sensors as part of the SRMR capability enhancement program. For medium range surveillance, the defence service is looking forward to acquisition nine Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMRs) and has issued a tender in 2013 for the same for which the contenders include Boeing (P-8I Neptune), Alenia-Aeronautica ATR-72MP, Lockheed Martin (C-130), Swedish SAAB (SAAB 2000), French Dassault Aviation (Falcon 900MPA), Brazilian Embraer (E-145MP), Israel's Bombardier-ELTA Q400, and European EADS (Casa C-295). These are to replace Pilatus-Britten Norman BN-2B Islander and locally-assembled Do228 for littoral surveillance. Indian Navy is also all set for a direct government-government defence deal with Japan for procurement of 12 ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft. The commercial negotiations for them are expected to begin soon. Further, there is also a requirement for five such planes by the Indian Coast Guard.

In addition, the blue water force has a large requirement of assorted helicopters having state-of-the-art helicopters with latest standards, variants and weapons. The MRH (Multirole helicopter), NUH (Naval Utility Helicopter) are some of the programmes in the pipeline. According to a report the combined requirement of Navy and the Coast Guard for aviation assets would be 200 helicopters over the next decade. IN also requires unspecified numbers of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as these have been extremely effective in conducting short range surveillance. Plans to have another squadron are in pipeline.

Keeping the huge requirements, in mind, the blue water service has initiated several indigenous and foreign procurements and have issued various tenders and looking forward to acquiring the necessary capabilities for its air arm. Refer Table.

PlatformCategoryNo.Value (USD)

Hawk AJT



Ka 31

Naval LCA

Multi Mission Maritime Aircraft


MRMR Aircraft

Carrier based AEW&C Aircraft

Amphibian Aircraft  





Buy-Make (Indian)






17 (10 inducted)


45 (33 inducted)




16 + 44




$643 Mn

$2.1 Bn

$2.25 Bn

$200 Mn

$163 -$181 Mn

$1 Bn

$ 1 Bn

$1.5 Bn

$1 Bn

$1.3 Bn 




Mini UAVs  







$150-200 Mn

$ 290 Mn

$10 Mn 


Naval Utility Helicopters

Naval Multi – Role Helicopter

Multi – Role Helicopter

Kamov Ka -31

ALH Dhruv  

Buy-Make  (Indian)




Buy-Make (Indian) 



16 + 44 follow-on order



$ 4 billion

$4 billion

$ 1 billion

$195-200 Million

Rs 7000 Crores 

Considering, the above procurements in pipeline, it is projected that Indian Navy is likely to spend around $17-18 Billion on acquisition of aerospace platforms till 2027. This will include manufacturing a larger number of aircrafts/helicopters as well as creating a supply chain for spare parts as well as maintenance.

With these procurement in deliberation, the opportunities in the aircrafts/helicopter avionics and engines are also likely to increase multifold providing lucrative opportunity to the domestic companies to venture into this segment by either opening up a manufacturing facility for these products on its own or by opting for the Joint Venture (JV) route with foreign OEMs. Some of these are:

  • Engines
  • Cockpit & Avionics
  • Electronics Warfare (EW) systems
  • Optronics & Targeting Systems
  • Weapon & Missiles
  • Aero composites
  • Maintenance Repair & Overhauling (MRO) and Other Infrastructure

Thus, in the wake of the ever growing Naval requirement of aerospace platforms, augmenting in-country manufacturing capacity and technical capability is the need of the hour. In the past, India has been spending billions of dollars in acquiring aerospace platforms to strengthen the naval air arm. It would be in the best interest of the country that it invests in the R&D in defence and develops indigenous defence technologies as this in turn would not only save the valuable foreign exchange/money but also generate employment and other spin offs like technical knowhow, human resource development etc.


To overcome the gaps in the desired numbers and existing force levels, it is essential that the Defence Ministry speeds up the acquisition process of new platforms for the defence services and provides adequate funding to support it.

The capital expenditure on the Indian naval aerospace platforms is expected to grow about 10 percent every year, as seen from the past trends. Table and Fig depicts the capital expenditure earmarked towards naval procurements for the XII plan and also further projections for XIII and XIV plans. The cumulative Capital Outlay of approximately Rs 847000 crores over the next 15 years or so on various maritime systems as shown in Table and Graph.

12th Year Plan (Amount in INR Crores)

16889  17471 26374

13th Year Plan (Amount in INR Crores)

28930 35167 42361

14th Year Plan (Amount in INR Crores)

46893 56481 68408

Considering the requirements and various naval aerospace programmes in pipeline as discussed above and capital allocation (present and projected), there exists a huge gap and will remain so unless and until there is increased funding by the Government which definitely is the need of the hour if India wants to have adequate force levels.

The Naval capital submarket mainly comprises of  Naval Fleet, Naval Dockyards, Aircraft and Aero Engines, Heavy and Medium Vehicles and Other Equipments. The capital acquisition of aerospace platforms account for 14 percent of Indian Navy's capital acquisition budget and India is likely to spend roughly around $17-18 Billion on various aerospace acquisition programs in the next 15 years or so.

Although there is mismatch in projected requirements and the likely resource allocation, but this could be addressed provided procurement and production planning is geared up.

Indian Aerospace Industry

As far as the indigenous capability to design, develop and production of aircrafts and helicopters is concerned the government owned HAL has been the leader with its 19 production units. It has manufactured 26 different types of aircrafts and around 336 Chetak and 246 Cheetah Helicopters so far and overhauled more than 200 helicopters of both the types; mostly military, through indigenous development and licence-production deals. HAL also supplies components for the major global companies and outsources work to private companies as well. Among the current programs underway at HAL are the development and production of the ALH Dhruv, which has various variants of it to fulfill conceived roles by the armed and civil services. The HAL design and manufacturing of helicopters or engine design had a limited success. With the accelerating pace of technological innovation and development, the accumulated strengths of various public sector entities engaged in India's military aerospace programmes are insufficient for the challenges ahead. Moreover, Indian design and development institutions have inherent limitations in their ability to productionise high technology equipment. Despite its few achievements, HAL is an overburdened monopoly.

Public sector outputs require to be supplemented by new private sector (both domestic and foreign) participation involving joint ventures and co-production to ensure higher levels of technology transfer and substantially improve the level and cost of after-sales support. However, so far, the private sector participation in aerospace manufacturing segment has been as suppliers, fabricators to HAL and OEMs. Some of the major private players today intend to have the technological capabilities to undertake complex manufacturing required for the sector; however, they will start as system integrators or recipients of technology. The major private players today comprises of Tata Group, Reliance Industry Limited (RIL),  Mahindra, Magnum Aviation, Larsen and Turbo (L&T), Max Aero Space etc, that have even been issued Industrial Licences in last few years. Apart from these there are some private companies that have been issued Industrial Licences with regard to Helicopter sub-systems/avionics. Indian major companies like the TATA, Reliance, Mahindra and L&T, incidentally, have long been eager to join the helicopter manufacturing sector. I addition to these, plethora of SMEs including of major Indian IT Services companies like Infosys, Wipro, Mahindra-Satyam, TCS, BAeHAL, QUEST now Aques, CADES and GENSER have got into in a big way into the aerospace engineering design services business (incl. Software and Systems needs).

Apart from the Indian companies there are major global OEMs who have been having a presence in Indian market from decades with the armed forces including navy buying from them to meet their requirements. These have also set up JVs or Technical Centres. Overseas companies like Airbus, Alten, Altran, Assystem, CAP GEMINI, Honeywell, GE and Safran have also set up their own captive centres to cater to the growing Engineering Services needs from the country.  All these companies have plans to further expand in India and some of them have even tied up with Indian companies.

Investment and Infrastructure Requirements

Aerospace platform manufacturing requires huge investments from building up of the infrastructure to manufacturing, assembling, testing, training and simulation facilities. The Capex for building up infrastructure could be up to $10 Billion depending upon the desired infrastructure.  The main fields of activities are to be undertaken includes design, construction and testing of prototype aircrafts/helicopters; the introduction of mass production, certification, upgrading, supervision and support of aircrafts/helicopter operations of civil and military applications. It needs to provide systems design, development, production and integration capabilities, along with in-depth training and customer support, to military and commercial operators.

As setting up such venture involves huge cost, any business house would undertake the Risk Assessment, Feasibility Analysis for supporting the decision-making process to analyze and develop a structured financial business case to justify investment against economic returns. New aircrafts/helicopters plant require large investments in order to design, develop, test, certify and bring the product to market  a process that can take over  five years. Other inputs to be considered include: the number of aircrafts/helicopters planned for manufacture per annum over a 20-year period; recurring helicopter unit costs per system / subsystem; unit prices for different helicopter configuration etc.

Opportunities for the Private Sector

Recently, the Government in a bid to boost indigenous manufacturing and to encourage the involvement the private sector participation in defence manufacturing including that of aircrafts/helicopters, have opened a major contract - procurement of 100 Naval Utility Helicopters - for the Indian private sector under Buy-Make (Indian) category of DPP, wherein in all likelihood Indian companies will have to partner with global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). Under Buy and Make (Indian), 50 percent of the helicopter must be produced indigenously. The overseas companies would transfer technology. The step indeed seems to be in a right direction as the partnering with the global OEM will motivate the private companies in undertaking complex manufacturing of the complete defence item which previously had been holding itself back owing to issues such as financial viability and technical know-how and lack of experience in developing a complete defence product. As of now, eleven Indian companies, including Tata Advanced Systems, Bharat Forge, Punj Lloyd, Mahindra Aerospace, Reliance Defence & Aerospace, L&T, Axis Aerospace, Pipavav, HAL have already responded with proposed joint ventures revolving around three foreign helicopters - AS565 MBe of Airbus, Bell Helicopters-429 and Super Lynx 300 of Agusta Westland.

Another programme procurement of 120 Multi Role Helicopters is also under Buy-Make category which entails that the production of the helicopters will be in India by the foreign OEM. The bidders Sikorsky Aircraft Airbus and Russian Kamov Ka-27, all are planning to open manufacturing facilities in India once anyone of them wins the contract.

Further, the Indian MoD focus on indigenization to ensure limited dependence on foreign suppliers could expect certain fiscal and economic benefits to Indian SME who are likely succeed with the help of OEMs for mutual benefit. Once indigenous manufacturing takes root, R&D for the indigenous capability is the next step forward. In recent years, deliberate efforts and emphasis have been made towards indigenization of aircraft spares, repair processes and test facilities through following levels of sustenance:-

  • Micro - Obsolescence Management and Import Substitution
  • Macro - Reduce dependence on foreign OEM, Enhance Capability
  • Futuristic - Major indigenization projects, Buy and Make (Indian)

Considering last few years, it is to be seen that the Indian private sector has achieved growth in defence aviation sector with the programmes such as Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and UAVs in the recent past. In addition, there is active involvement of private industry in collaboration with DRDO and DPSUs in developing different platforms and systems for the naval aviation. The field is ever growing in both Macro and Micro levels of indigenisation. The various upgrade programmes of naval aircraft and systems are progressed with Indian Industry support. A few examples are IFF, ESM Systems, Communication systems including SATCOM, Network Centric Capabilities etc. At micro level the focus has been to achieve obsolescence management and import substitution to avoid OEM dependency. In these cases the indigenisation approach has been platform centric, with long term perspective. A few examples are Batteries, Tyres, Brake units, Multi-functional Displays (MFD) etc. With plenty of naval aero platform programmes in pipeline, there seems to be a lucrative opportunity for the private sector to tap upon.


No country can attain the military power by depending upon the imports for their crucial weapons and machinery. It needs its own setup to meet the requirement of its armed forces. The Government initiative “Make in India” cannot be possible without the help of the Govt. to the companies who want to enter the defence production of crucial and much required items including helicopters.

No doubt India has a vast market for aerospace platforms production, with a requirement of more than 1000+ helicopters alone, to meet the needs of armed forces in next 10-15 years. Despite of the massive requirement it is unable to meet the demand for the aerospace platforms required by the Navy. Technology, Investment and Infrastructure for production are the main hurdles that Indian firms in aerospace are facing.  The huge investment is required to setup the production facility and infrastructure setting up requires knowledge and long time frame of 3-5 years.

HAL is the only indigenous aerospace platform manufacturer in India and that too is over burdened with previous orders. Hence, foreign suppliers are looking for other partners in the local aerospace industry. On the other hand, many Indian private companies are ready to enter the aerospace platforms manufacturing in India but are hesitating to take step due to huge investment. Hence, the Government should take necessary steps to provide adequate support and assurance.  Moreover, Indian government pays more for the product to a foreign vendor than the actual cost, then why not help own industries who are ready to foray - to setup plant? It would create more jobs and help to improve India's GDP by contributing in exports after meeting the country needs. This could expose the ability of the Indian market to raise skills, lower costs and self dependability.

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