"India's aerospace industry is at the take-off stage," Edward Gordon, manager of offset programmes of Northrop Grumman, a US-based defence firm with operations in 25 nations, said. 

"Some of the companies such as Hindustan Aeronautics have come a long way. As a result the first-tier suppliers look very promising," said Gordon, whose company is pitching the sale of its Hawkeye, an airborne early warning, command and control aircraft, to India. 

Gordon said the combination of information technology and aerospace gave India the edge, and some of the companies with which he was holding talks for partnerships were "hidden treasures". 

"Indian aerospace firms are internationally competitive and customer-oriented. They have that can-do attitude. Cost-effectiveness for us is not the lowest price but the best value. There are areas of mutual interest and opportunities to be explored," he said. 

Technology capital

More than 1400 companies have set up base in the southern city of Bangalore, India's technology capital, and international software companies are using India as a base for their outsourcing operations. 

India's aerospace industry has
attracted global investors

An indication of the growing importance of Bangalore's aerospace potential is that already at the five-day AERO India 2005 air show ending on Sunday, billed as the largest in South Asia, deals worth more than $1.2 billion have been signed between Indian and foreign aerospace firms. 

The deals ranged from aircraft purchases by Indian budget carriers from Airbus and Boeing to joint manufacture of missiles and engine parts. 

Vincent Gorry, senior national executive of enginemaker Snecma, a French firm, said the rare combination of a large pool of software engineers and quality suppliers was attracting foreign firms to Bangalore. 

"In the aerospace industry more and more software is increasingly being used. In India you can get both aerospace engineers and the IT guys and there is cost advantage. India is set to become a major player," Gorry said. 

Emergence of subcontractors

He said the decision of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, a state-owned aircraft-maker, to get into the civilian aircraft market by making doors for Airbus and Boeings would trigger a chain of suppliers. 

"We view the Indian defence sector not only as a market but also as a potential supplier and partner"

Joseph Ralston,
former joint chief of staff of the US Air Force

"A lot of quality subcontractors will emerge and we are beginning to see that," Gorry said.

The United States also has joined the race to snap up Indian partners, with Boeing saying it has tied up with India's HCL Technologies to develop a platform for the flight test system of its Dreamliner aircraft. 

Joseph Ralston, former joint chief of staff of the US Air Force and currently vice-chairman of the Cohen Group, which led the US-India Business Council executive defence mission to the air show, echoed Gorry's views. 

"We view the Indian defence sector not only as a market but also as a potential supplier and partner - and we will be seeking through our discussions to identify additional opportunities in all these areas," he said.