Ejection seats in military aircraft: India seeks to develop indigenous capability | The Financial Express

Ejection seats in military aircraft: India seeks to develop indigenous capability

HAL is exploring the possibility of setting up a Joint Venture for manufacture of seats in India.

Ejection seats in military aircraft: India seeks to develop indigenous capability
A sled test of the Martin Baker Mk16E ejection seat for the F-35. (Photo: Martin Baker)

Certain advancements have collectively propelled an industry towards the future. Such is the stature of the ejection seat in aerospace. The innovation of ejection seats continues, yet the global market remains dominated by the British manufacturer Martin Baker. While Russia has developed an alternative, and there are other American manufacturers, Martin Baker continues to capture more than 75 percent of the market. Now, India seeks to develop an indigenous capability for building ejection seats.

The Zero-Zero Hero

“The fighter aircraft travel at tremendous speeds. In case of an ejection, there will be enough momentum for the pilot to shatter their spine. Engineers have worked on a system to counteract the forces partially. However, an optimal speed and altitude for ejection were required. Hence, the zero-zero problems came to be. It referred to a pilot’s ejection at zero altitudes with zero wind speed,” explains Girish Linganna, Aerospace and Defence Analyst.

Adding, “Martin Baker pioneered the zero-zero ejection seat. Its MK16 US16E ejection seat is part of the F-35. It is the only Neck Injury Criteria (NIC) qualified ejection. The Indian Air Force (IAF) also procured the MK16 ejection seats for its Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Hindustan Turbo Trainer (HTT) 40. There are over one thousand Martin Baker ejection seats in service with the Indian Navy and the IAF. The HTT 40 deal will add another 212 to the list.”

The Politicisation of Ejection Seats

With the lion’s share of the global aircraft ejection seat market, Martin Baker has been fitted into aircraft from many countries. This has empowered the British government, through Martin Baker, to influence the sale and purchase of aircraft.

Notably, the UK exercises control over its industries when enforcing the arms embargo against Argentina. With none of the formidable fighter aircraft sans Martin Baker, anyone other than China cannot take on Argentina as a client. To do so, they must replace each component of British origin. 

A recent snag in a Martin-Baker ejection seat grounded hundreds of aircraft worldwide. This was only a minute percentage affected by a limited number of production lots of a subsystem.

The Indian Bid

“HAL is exploring the possibility of setting up a Joint Venture for manufacture of seats in India,” a source confirmed to Financial Express Online on the sidelines of the recently concluded DefExpo 2022.

Is the JV with Martin Baker? The source neither denied nor confirmed if the talks are going on with the British company.

As has been reported earlier in Financial Express Online, HAL’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas also features a Martin-Baker seat.

Significance of indigenisation bid

This indigenisation bid has three impacts. First, it will allow India to free itself from the influence of the UK and sell to countries like Argentina. Second, it will allow other manufacturers an alternative. According to information available in the public domain Martin Baker sells an ejection seat anywhere from $140,000-400,000. Such capability will boost defence exports. Finally, it will reduce the cost of indigenous offerings like the LCA Tejas and make them more competitively priced.

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First published on: 01-11-2022 at 18:54 IST