Eurofighter at The Paris Air Show: The Indian Dimension


06/22/2011 By Robbin Laird

What are the strategic potentials of a Eurofighter in India from an industrial point of view?  Much depends on what India is able to do and can re-organize itself to do.  If properly organized, India could shape a significant aerospace future and Eurofighter could become a key stimulant to such a future.

Credit: SLD

The collaboration necessary to make Eurofighter work in India – with significant local support – requires more than simply transferring technology. It requires in effect a European and Indian concurrent engineering process.  If such a process can be shaped in the period of constructing, enabling and supporting an Indian Eurofighter then several other possibilities emerge.

An Indian-European congruent engineering capability could shape the future of exports from India to the second and third world combat aircraft markets.  Here European engineering excellence combined with Indian manufacturing capabilities and IT excellence could create a global gamechanger.  Not exactly Tata Nanos for the aerospace market but you get the point.

The congruence could craft the next generation of manned European combat aircraft as well.  Such an aircraft could be designed with the other innovations in mind with significant impact. Then the possibility of working a sensor and processing enterprise across manned assets –combat aircraft and command and control aircraft – as well as RPAs can be envisaged.  For different clients, different mixes of sensors and communication and management assets could be placed on the combat versus large aircraft versus UAV platforms.  Such mix and match possibilities could drive serious innovation.

And finally, EADS as key Eurofighter company has other assets of interest to India, such as Airbus commercial and military Airbus platforms.  A400Ms and A330 tankers could be in play, and notably related to the sensor enterprise discussed above. The air tanker is an especially interesting platform to include in the mix because of all the space inside the A330 tanker, which can be used for C2 and related options.

And of course, Airbus, unlike Boeing, has demonstrated a willingness to build overseas final assembly plants.  The US after turning down the opportunity to build tankers in Mobile, Alabama, and freighters and future Airbus commercial products may be shocked to see such facilities some day in India.

At the Paris Air Show, I sat down with a senior Eurofighter executive and discussed the intersection of the upgrade process for the aircraft with the Indian engagement.  The full interview with this executive will be published soon.

The core point of the conversation was the convergence between the upgrade process for the aircraft and the key role which India could play in this process.  According to this executive, “The Indians would be buying a relatively mature aircraft, from the standpoint of a platform and core operating systems. The full capability of the aircraft can be captured through an ongoing modernization process, for which Indian participation would be significant.”

The executive underscored in the conversation that the Indian emphasis upon a multi-role fighter would be a significant input to the overall evolution of the aircraft in that direction.

As the executive noted:

I think it’s fair to say that the proposal that we’ve made into India in terms of providing a Typhoon with the required capabilities is arguably 80 percent Indian requirements, 20 percent European requirements.  So, they would influence considerably the future direction of the Eurofighter program.

The executive underscored that upgrades are handled through a single management agency which would manage the European inputs along with other member nations.

With the four partner nations – UK, Germany, Italy, Spain – requirements all managed on the customer side through a management agency called NETMA, NATO Eurofighter Tornado Management Agency.  And they act on behalf of the formations to harmonize their four sets of operational requirements.  We then act on behalf of the four partner companies on the industry side.

I would add an additional aspect of what EADS and Eurofighter can bring to the Indian competition.  The company is shaping a core competence in building final assembly lines in a diversity of countries.  The A330MRTT is being final assembled in Australia; and Eurofighter has 4 final assembly lines in the launch countries.  India would become the 5th.  Arguably, this is an advantage in the competition with Dassault.