Bengaluru, Feb 25: Two days after curtains were drawn on the 10th edition of Aero India, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seems to have got on to the task of analysing the inputs received from various stakeholders, exhibitors, foreign delegates, including the media, on the impact of the show and the idea called Make in India.
While Aero India 2015 was the first major opportunity for the MoD to source varied views on Make in India mission, sources confirm to OneIndia that the overall mood among the participants was that of hope and not despair.
With Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar going on record saying that the Centre is planning to roll out a dedicated ‘Make in India' policy soon, these inputs are expected to be vital for the future flight of Indian's aerospace and defence (A&D) sector.
While one section of the media jumped the gun and declared that the show failed to ink any significant deal (barring MoUs), and hence a ‘flop', government sources say that mega deals are not announced at air shows.
"Aero India has always been an opportunity for companies to greet, meet and take their business ideas forward. This time we have taken it to another level, with ‘Make in India' being the focus. We gave maximum opportunities to SMEs and MSMEs; and out of the 650 odd companies a major share of space was taken by them. It's unfair to expect any magic from shows. The results will be known only in the next 6-8 months," says a top official not wanting to be named. "It's a good beginning," he adds.
Aero India 2015 has set benchmarks
While the media might have left high and dry for want of ‘mega deal's to spice up news hour debates and banner headlines, insiders in MoD confirm that Aero India 2015 has set benchmarks for India's A&D growth.
"Companies refuse to share their business prospects, thanks to the cut-throat competition in this field. While we are preview to some information, we are not authorised to speak on behalf of the companies. This year's show has surpassed all records, including the revenue figures," says the official.
MoD sources confirm that the success of Aero India is one reason for the record turnout every year. Most companies are repeating the event by taking more space and exhibiting more products. With the Make in India policy charter known in the next two months, MoD hopes to get more players attracted towards the A&D activities in India.
A CEO of company based out of Karnataka, into A&D for the last 12 years, says that during this year's show they saw a change in the type of enquiries. "There's a lot of positive interest which we are sure will turn into actual orders," he adds.
When asked about the grey areas bothering MSMEs, he said that the Make in India mission must come out clearly on policies of NCNR (no cost, no risk) and defence offsets.
"Long gestation period of projects, non-support of PSUs like HAL in indigenisation, access to cheap capital, infrastructure in industrial area and increase of FDI to 51 per cent for foreign investments are key areas we need government attention," he said. The company has one dedicated manufacturing location in Bengaluru with 150 people directly involved in A&D projects.
Some companies misused their desi tag
While some MSMEs accused the organisers of charging exorbitant cost, with no discounts being offered, the MoD officials refused to buy the theory. "Let them write to us and we will address their concerns. We have offered 25 per cent discounts to Indian companies displaying Indian products," the official said.
However, some companies seem to have3 availed this benefit and exhibited foreign products instead.
"Some exhibitors were using the platform for trading rather than highlighting the manufacturing skills. Make in India mandates every company to project their strengths in manufacturing.
There has been a rampant display of foreign products at stall that leveraged discounts. These are the early days of Make in India and by next show we will have clearer rules of the game," says the official.
Complaints from the foreign delegates
OneIndia has learnt that the large presence of general public as business invitees at the first three days has irked many visiting delegates and foreign exhibitors. While MoD and the organisers (the Defence Exhibition Organisation) refused to entertain any queries on this front citing the sensitivities involved, it is certain that the finger is being pointed towards the Karnataka government.
A majority of business invitee passes are issued to the Karnataka government, which provides maximum support to the MoD to organise the show.
"Many delegates have expressed their concern. The presence of families and general public during business hours of the show has portrayed us in bad light.
MoD has no role here and we can't even stop people. Even families of IAF, DPSUs come on business days and hence Karnataka government cannot be blamed alone. The matter needs to be sorted out at the highest level," an official said on the condition of anonymity.
Make in India idea needs a development model
One of the sharpest voices on Indian defence, Air Marshal M Matheswaran (Retd), former Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (Policy, Planning and Development) and currently an Advisor to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, feels that developing a purposeful MSME ecosystem is critical for indigenisation efforts in the country.
"If the aerospace ecosystem were allowed to develop by encouraging joint ventures and higher levels of FDI, it would automatically lead to greater levels of indigenisation. This needs to be combined with a more transparent and realistic approach to implement development programmes," says Matheswaran.
According to him, the 'Make in India' slogan can become a reality only when a vibrant development model on the lines of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the United States is adopted here.
"The Kelkar Committee's one of the core recommendations was on these lines. It's best that we revisited the same again for the interest of the nation," adds Matheswaran.
MoD officials harp on the point that Make in India is just not a slogan, but a practical idea that needs to be propelled in the right direction. However, they admit that only inspiring policies on this front could fuel Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream mission.
MoD should also spell out its stand on R&D, a weak link, in the Make in India agenda.
The Navy Model best bet for India
Ahead of the this year's show, during the International Aero India Seminar, a debate session anchored by noted strategic affairs expert Maroof Raza, attended by top brains from India and abroad, agreed that India needs to adopt the Indian Navy's model of indigenisation to Make in India a success.
The speakers, including Rao Inderjit Singh, Minister of State (Defence), Air Marshal P P Reddy, Chief of the Integrated Defence Staf (CISC), IAF and Dr V K Aatre, former head of DRDO, felt that Indian Navy has been on the forefront of supporting home-grown projects.
The support Indian Navy to the home-grown Light Combat Aircraft (Naval variant) was cited by most panellists as an example.
While the key points of the debate failed to make any headlines the next day, the panellists wanted a 25 year perspective plan to guide the A&D initiatives. "Five year planning is not enough in this area. We need a clear future vision," they felt.
Missing Naval and Army assets at show
The absence of Army and Navy assets in large numbers at the show upset a section of visitors, who felt that this year's flying and static display lacked the usual charm.
"The MiG29Ks would have added great value to the show. The Navy could have had a greater presence this time. So is the case with the Indian Army and Army Aviation. An air show of this magnitude is incomplete without the complete assets of the host nation, as seen elsewhere in the world," says a noted aviation photographer, who was part of a larger team at the show.
A Naval spokesperson justified the absence and wanted MoD to answer. "We are always ready with whatever the government wants," a naval spokesperson said.
Officials in MoD said that no discrimination was shown towards any wing. "This is an Indian show open to all wings of the Services. We understand due to operational commitments (TROPEX), the Navy couldn't spare their flying assets. The Army Aviation had its presence in flying and at static display there were space constraints this time," the official said.
Where will be the next show be?
For the first time in the history of Aero India, the dates of the next edition is not announced in advance adding fuel to the speculation that Bengaluru might have hosted the ‘last' Aero India. While Parrikar was categorical that the show will not be shifted out of Bengaluru, despite all the shortfalls the growing city is now offering to the organisers, there's still an element of doubt flying in the air.
With the Air Force Station Yelahanka and surrounding areas getting chocked during the show and the limited entry options to the ADVA (air display viewing area), it is now certain that the show has to adopt a new format to squeeze into the available space.
"Infrastructure is an issue, but weather is not. We are reworking on the plans so as to make the show more comfortable to the visitors. Remember Aero India is often mistaken for the aerobatic stunts alone and that's not our purpose. We need to make business hours more meaningful sans unwanted visitors. Next air show will be specific in this regard," the official added.
Top MoD sources confirmed to this Correspondent that the government is seriously looking at rewriting the concept of DEO, which might see get an ‘inspiring facelift' in the months to come.
DPR shows glimpses of change
The Department of Public Relations (DPR) of MoD showed glimpses of change with its Spokesperson finally launching an official Twitter handle just days ahead of the show. The presence of a dedicated CPRO to release human-interest stories was a welcome change, which was lapped up by the media.
A daily evening briefing by a DPR official on the day's proceedings, a final round-up press conference giving out the facts and figures and instant release of photographs of the show to the media, only could have added more value to the DPR's efforts.
With a battery of MoD photo officers and PROs virtually cornering 1/4th of Media Centre, the rationing of photographs was one ‘blunder' DPR could have avoided. However, on the last day, all rules were thrown out of the window and photos were ‘made available' for the asking.
It is now certain that the MoD will soon have a structured view of its media and publicity activities with modern philosophies of communication ready to set in. The benchmarks set by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in disseminating information could be the model that MoD will follow.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)