“We’re now talking of sharing everything that we develop,” Mr Tamilmani said in an interview.
Modelled on General Atomics’ Predator aircraft, Rustoms are designed for surveillance and target-tracking in areas such as India’s disputed borders with China and Pakistan. Mr Modi’s wider vision is to develop a defence-industrial complex that can improve India’s sometimes poorly equipped forces and curb its reliance on overseas acquisitions.
While Mr Modi has eased restrictions on joint ventures between Indian and foreign defence companies to gain much-needed expertise, Asia’s third-largest economy has a long way to go.
One variant of the Rustom that is already flying will be made by private companies, Mr Tamilmani said in the Sept 9 interview. He declined to identify which businesses the government is talking to.
Taneja Aerospace & Aviation and Trivan Industries make the airframe of another version that is yet to become fully operational, he said, with overall assembly handled by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics, India’s largest defence contractor.
The Rustom drones took between five and 10 years to develop, according to Mr S Christopher, who heads the Defence Research & Development Organisation, which is part of India’s Defence Ministry.
Larsen & Toubro, India’s biggest engineering company, paid a 140-million-rupee (S$3 million) fee this year for an unmanned aircraft that provides aerial targets for training — the first defence technology transfer by the government to the private sector, according to Mr Tamilmani.
Larsen & Toubro can export the product if the government approves, as well as use the existing technology to develop a new vehicle, according to the defence research unit. The Mumbai- based company will pay a royalty for each aircraft made under the deal.Mr Modi’s government has approved US$60 billion (S$85.4 billion) of defence purchases since taking office in May last year, according to Bloomberg data. The Cabinet this week cleared deals for 15 Chinook and 22 Apache helicopters from Boeing for about US$3 billion.
About US$1 billion from the Boeing deals is set to be recycled back to India under a so-called offset rule, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in New Delhi on Wednesday. Boeing, Airbus Group and BAE Systems are among the companies seeking to profit from Mr Modi’s push to improve India’s military. The government is also in talks with Dassault Aviation for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets.
The move to transfer technology to private businesses is long overdue, said Mr Amber Dubey, the New Delhi-based head of aerospace at KPMG.
“Our huge import dependence for defence equipment has a lot to do with the systematic sidelining of the private sector,” he said.