Following the news that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid out a roadmap for cooperation between the two countries, including an expression of intent to cooperate in strategic partnership within defense and security.
Harry Boneham, Aerospace and Defense Associate Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:
“One noteworthy program is the possibility for combat air collaboration, with the UK supporting India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Air MK2 Programme, also known as the Medium Weight Fighter (MWF). Indian multi-role aircraft procurement appears an attractive market, with GlobalData estimating a stable compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.32% between 2021 and 2031.
“This involvement appears to fit Prime Minister Johnson’s vision of a post-Brexit UK defense industry, with British firms establishing potentially lucrative international partnerships – particularly in the APAC region. In the UK Ministry of Defence’s paper ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’, India is highlighted as a key part in the UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific. For the UK defense industry, involvement in this program would be a major victory, promising not only badly needed financial rewards in the near term, but also access to a promising and growing market, which could help sustain the UK industry going forward.
“The procurement of medium multi-role aircraft has been a longstanding issue for the Indian Air Force, with a capability gap between its Tejas Mk.1 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and its upgraded Su-30MKI. Furthermore, due to historical contract delays, the need for this capability is becoming increasingly acute. The Indian MoD, driven by the steadily advancing capabilities of Pakistan and China, must soon take action in this area to avoid falling behind its adversaries. Given this urgency, the likelihood of a major contract allocation, perhaps including UK involvement, is increased.
“In January 2012, Dassault won the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, and in 2018 Request for Information requests were issued for a successor competition, MMRCA 2.0. While there are some big names in this more recent competition, such as Boeing’s F-15EX and Saab’s Gripen, it is likely that, where possible, India will opt for the procurement of indigenous platforms. Historically, the Indian Government has always favoured measures that support the domestic defense industry: for example the Make in India policy. This point has been demonstrated by the announcement that the Indian Air Force will procure a further 83 Tejas Mk.1A and 10 Tejas Mk.1 trainers, despite being condemned by the Comptroller and Auditor General for falling significantly short of IAF standards.
“However, it remains to be seen what opportunities would be open to UK firms. One of the persistent criticisms of the Tejas program has been its reliance upon foreign components which could not be produced domestically such as US engines and an Israeli AESA system. For the Mk.2, there has been an effort to reduce these foreign involvements, for example the new AESA radar is likely to be domestically produced.
“Furthermore, key foreign roles in the program such as supply of engines appear to have already been filled. The Mk.2 will reportedly continue the reliance on American engines persists with the F404 engine swapped out for the more powerful F414. There are few opportunities for involvement still open to foreign firms, even if major orders are placed, which is by no means certain. It is possible that UK-India partenrship on the Tejas Mk.2 may be limited to R&D cooperation.”