Our Sourcing from India Stands Close to USD 1 Billion Annually from Over 225 Suppliers for Some of Boeing’s Most Advanced Products
This has been an unusual year. How did Boeing adapt to new realities dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic?
Covid-19 has impacted the entire aerospace industry and has changed the way we live and work. In these challenging times we can draw lessons from previous health and economic crises. In the past, the companies that made the quickest and most sustained recoveries after economic shocks were those that maintained core operations through the crisis in the safest manner possible, focused on employees, customers and supplier relationships, and by managing their liquidity well. This has been Boeing’s focus in India and around the world.
At Boeing in India, our focus has been to build safety standards into all dimensions of our operations and supply chains, and to partner closely with our customers, suppliers and employees. As a result of our focus on safety and core operations, our teams are able to find ways to operate during the pandemic to ensure that our defence customers receive timely and reliable services for their fleets.
From Boeing’s perspective, how is Aero India 2021 different from its previous editions in terms of your exhibits and participation?
We look forward to participating at Aero India again. Given the current environment, we have designed our presence taking all necessary precautions to safely engage with our customers, suppliers and the media. Our presence at the show will also conform to the guidelines laid down by the ministry of defence and the state government to ensure the safety of our team members and visitors at the exhibit.
Boeing is committed to support India’s considerable growth in the aerospace sector including aircraft, infrastructure expansion, and services. At Aero India, we will continue our discussions on India’s future aviation, defence, and security requirements, as we leverage and develop in-country manufacturing and engineering skills. We will be demonstrating our commitment to India and highlighting our strategic investments in developing India’s aerospace ecosystem. Boeing will showcase its capabilities in multi-role fighter aircraft, vertical lift platforms, aerial multi-role tankers, unmanned systems, and commercial platforms, in addition, to its services, technologies, and local sustainment capabilities. Boeing’s exhibit will feature a range of advanced capabilities including the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet, the new F-15EX, KC-46 Tanker, AH-64E Apache, P-8I, 737-10, and the 787-9 Dreamliner.
Post 2020, how do you see the defence sector growing in India in 2021?
We remain confident in the long-term growth trajectory for India’s defence sector. The pandemic created some challenges in the short term, not just in India, but around the world. India has very important security and defence modernisation requirements and it has a dynamic ecosystem of growing companies and technical talent. I actually think our sector showed remarkable resilience and as we come out of the 2020 slowdown, defence modernisation imperatives will be driven with efficiency in capital budget utilisation and delivering more value for less by OEMs. Boeing is committed to delivering on its commitments and will continue to do so.
Today, we are honoured to support India in its operations of 11 C-17s, 22 AH-64 Apaches (with six more on order), 15 CH-47 Chinooks, and nine P-8Is (with three more on order). The future looks promising. We are engaged with our defence customers on their requirements for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft, the Indian Navy’s Carrier-Borne Fighter programme and working with the IAF on the tanker refuelling requirement. We are seeing the growth in the localisation of lifecycle MRO services along with it, with an emphasis on ‘for India, from India.’ Via our investments in our Indian workforce and local partners, we support the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy to provide exceptional operational capability and readiness in support of their needs to protect the world’s largest democracy.
Additionally, recent developments in India’s space arena allow the private sector to participate. We look forward to partnering with ISRO in their endeavours. We want to bring the best of Boeing to India and the best of India to Boeing.
What preparations and modifications were needed to adapt F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet for a ski-jump launch? Is this specifically for the Indian Navy fighter programme, or do you think this flexibility will open more opportunities for the carrier-borne fighter?
The ski-jump or STOBAR demonstrations by Boeing and the US Navy have proved that the F/A-18 Super Hornet can safely operate from a ski jump, thereby demonstrating the aircraft’s ability to operate on Indian Navy carriers. The ski-jump launch tests validate the results of the simulation studies that we were conducting for last couple of years.
As for the test itself, all aircraft test programmes are challenging and this one was no exception. Since 2018, Boeing teams had been conducting simulation analysis in partnership with the US Navy, in preparation of the ski-jump trials. Boeing and the US Navy initiated ski-jump trials at Naval Air Station Patuxent River and we conducted extensive analyses and more than 150 simulations on the aircraft’s compatibility with Indian aircraft carriers.
The entire test programme was developed with safety as a foremost priority. We used a build-up test approach, starting with very conservative conditions and gradually working up to heavier take-off weights and shorter take-off distances. The ski jump trials involved an ‘instrumented’ F/A-18 Super Hornet jet, which means an aircraft that has sensors attached to capture the strains, to measure the increased strain of STOBAR operations.
Depending on test objectives, several jumps with different aircraft configurations were conducted. Boeing and the US Navy have significant subject matter expertise in the area of naval aviation and carrier design and compatibility, which was effectively leveraged for this test programme. A joint team comprising experts from Boeing and the US Navy carefully evaluated each jump before attempting the next take-off. The vast amount of data generated in the test will help refine modelling and simulation studies.
We are engaging with the Indian Navy on their requirements and have responded to the Request for Information for the Multi-role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) programme. The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III will offer the Indian Navy several unique and differentiated capabilities. The Super Hornet offers flexibility and the best utilisation of precious air assets through carrier-compatible two-seater variant (F-Variant) and single-seater (E-Variant) for the Indian Navy. The two-seat variant (F/A-18 F) shares the same mission scope as a single seat (F/A-18 E) while allowing for carrier-capable training and the ability to fly advanced missions from the carrier that benefit from a second crew on-board. Most importantly, carrier based naval aviation technologies related to manned-unmanned interface can also be effectively operationalised with a two-seater carrier compatible version.
Boeing is also offering F-15 EX jets, in addition to Super Hornet for Indian Air Force’s MRFA programme. Why is that? What capabilities does F-15 EX jets bring to the table?
We are happy to report that the United States government has recently approved our request to offer F-15EX to the Indian Air Force. We look forward to the requirements from the Indian Air Force being defined in the request for proposal (RFP).
The F-15EX is the latest and most advanced version of combat-proven, multi-role, all-weather day/night F-15 aircraft family. The US Air Force (USAF) recently placed an order for eight F-15EX with Boeing. The contract between Boeing and USAF includes option for up to 200 jets, with the USAF projecting to buy at least 144 F-15EX aircraft.
More than USD 5 billion investment from USAF and international customers has gone into F-15EX which has resulted in several technology infusions such as advanced sensors including the highly reliable powerful radar, the world’s fastest mission computer, advanced electronic warfare and other sensors and advanced cockpit system.
The F-15EX can carry large payload and offers impressive performance in the form of range, speed and altitude. The F-15 is the only aircraft that has 104 kills to its name in air to air combat.
Given that users now have to strike a balance between requirements and budgetary restrictions, are you considering offering platforms like helicopters, UAVs and reconnaissance platforms on lease?
Boeing is ready to support our customers in the best way possible to meet their requirements for modernisation of defence platforms and mission-readiness. From our commercial airplanes business, we have significant experience across various sales models, including leasing, to meet the customer’s objective. We’ll refer you to the ministry of defence on their specific acquisition plans and approaches.
What is the progress on IAF’s Apache programme? Do you anticipate more numbers?
The Indian Air Force inducted their first AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in 2019 and in July 2020, we completed the delivery of all 22 Apaches to the IAF. Early last year, the ministry of defence signed the contract for the acquisition of an additional six Apaches for the Indian Army. The Apaches are planned to deliver in country within 48 to 49 months after the contract award.
Our Tata Boeing Aerospace Ltd. joint venture in Hyderabad continues to be a critical source of Apache manufacturing not only for the Indian Army but for customers worldwide, including the US Army. The six Apaches for the Indian Army will be built at the state-of-the-art TBAL manufacturing facility right here in India. We continue to be committed to providing the most advanced capability to India’s defence forces. We do believe that India has requirements for more Apache attack helicopters and we stand ready to support them.
What innovation is happening at Boeing India’s engineering centre in terms of automation, intelligent equipment/ platforms and man-machine interface?
Boeing’s India Engineering & Technology Centre (BIETC) in Bengaluru and Chennai is leveraging a talented pool of employees in India towards innovation in aerospace. These engineers undertake high-quality, advanced aerospace work spanning engineering design of structures and systems, manufacturing support, developing systems to test our aircraft, and providing digital solutions to our airline customers. Cutting-edge R&D in traditional and emerging areas is also done at the Centre, including next-generation airplane health management, environment-friendly coatings, advanced networks and secure-communications where teams leverage new-age technologies to replace traditional approaches, enhancing safety and productivity.
Boeing engineering design teams collaborate with our R&D team to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning methods and in the process, resulting in a significant reduction in time taken for tasks, and also enhancing quality. Digital aviation efforts are also helping airlines reduce fuel consumption through route optimisation and make effective utilisation of their crew. Digital engineering is being used to enhance the manufacturing environment and provide value to customers. Digital threading is being used to create a digital twin before manufacturing aircraft systems, resulting in fewer manufacturing issues. This drives efficiency, optimises product design, and enhances manufacturability, making the end-to-end supply chain more digital.
Boeing Research & Technology India has delivered commercially viable solutions for Airplane Health Management (AHM) and Air Traffic Management (ATM). Its ATM experts are currently working with the Airports Authority of India to develop a roadmap for air traffic management modernisation in the country. Today, the research centre is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the quality of wide-body airplanes that Boeing delivers. Using Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies, its engineers are finding ways to improve passenger experience during air travel.
Could you talk about your various partnerships in India and how Boeing visualises supporting Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ vision?
Boeing has always supported the development of indigenous aerospace and defence capabilities in India and has through the years invested in partnerships with the Indian aerospace ecosystem in skilling, research & technology and manufacturing. Our growing partnership with the country’s defence forces and our expanding supplier base makes it imperative for us invest in, develop, and nurture talent.
We continue to grow a globally competitive supplier base in India, with strong partnerships aligned with the Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision. Our sourcing from India stands close to USD 1 billion annually from over 225 suppliers who are manufacturing critical systems and components for some of Boeing’s most advanced products. We are working closely with our suppliers in India to support supply chain health, identify new ways to drive innovation, and deliver greater value to our customers. Boeing continues to grow a globally competitive supplier base in India, with strong partnerships that are aligned with the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision.
Our joint venture with Tata, Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), in Hyderabad, is producing aero-structures for Boeing’s Apache helicopter, including fuselages, secondary structures and vertical spar boxes for Indian and global customers, employing over 500 engineers and technicians. Apache fuselages and structures made in this cutting-edge factory are for customers around the world, including the US Army. We look forward to seeing the Indian Army’s recently contracted six new Apaches rolling down that production line. The state-of-the-art facility is an example of Boeing’s strategic focus on ‘Make in India’ and TBAL marks a major step towards the co-development of integrated systems in aerospace and defence in India.
Dynamatic Technologies manufactures the ramp and complex aft pylon for Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. Rossell Techsys manufactures wire harness and electrical panel for the AH-64 Apache, and the harness for almost all defence platforms including V-22 Osprey. SASMOS HET Technologies manufactures electrical panel assemblies for the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Strike Eagle. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) manufactures F/A-18 gun bay doors.
We also collaborate with Indian companies to develop capabilities in India so they can perform maintenance locally, including heavy checks and supply of indigenous equipment. Air Works India, in partnership with Boeing, completed the first heavy maintenance check for the first P-8I in 2019. We plan to continue working with Air Works for similar checks on the remaining fleet of aircraft.
In addition, we’re accelerating our skill development and engineering involvement in India. Through our skilling and up-skilling initiatives, we are training aircraft maintenance engineers, technicians and frontline factory workers across India with our industry partners like Tata, Rossell Techsys, Jaivel and Lakshmi Machine Works. We are committed to India for the long term, and our vision is a robust, globally competitive aerospace and defence ecosystem in India.