Prolonging Military Readiness: The Indian Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Industry | The Financial Express

Prolonging Military Readiness: The Indian Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Industry

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Indian Air Force, and sometimes the foreign OEMs have performed military aviation MRO in India.

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By Girish Linganna

Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) is an important activity in an aircraft’s lifespan, and its cost and time for overhaul affect operations. Complex, vital, yet distinct from manufacturing. MRO of aircraft and associated equipment requires skill, experience, and a licence because of human safety, aviation safety, and expensive equipment. MRO is mostly used in regular aviation, not military.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Indian Air Force, and sometimes the foreign OEMs have performed military aviation MRO in India. The Indian Army and Navy routinely maintain aircraft assets and rely on HAL/OEM for MRO.

With the expansion of the aviation industry, manufacturing capability for aircraft parts and equipment, growing interest by private players, and establishment of certain MRO facilities within India (mostly with OEM support), this field is anxiously watched by companies eager to participate and meet military aviation MRO needs. Only some organisations have experience in this arena by acting as ancillaries to civil aviation MRO facilities, collaborating with OEMs, or developing knowledge independently. More industries enter military aviation as capabilities development and privatisation expand. However, civil and military aviation requirements differ greatly and must be properly understood. Private enterprises should enter military MRO despite its complexity.

In recent years, a small number of companies have become involved in performing some MRO tasks for the Indian Air Force (IAF). These particular activities have been either partially delegated or outsourced. Only a select few businesses also perform maintenance on their own properties. Because of this procedure, these companies and their employees have acquired the necessary knowledge and experience to complete these assignments successfully. On the other hand, there is the potential for more participation from the private sector.

The cost of maintenance is a crucial aspect of the entire cost of operating an aeroplane and also has a significant role in the total cost over its lifetime. Most of the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) tasks are scheduled and planned by the designers, typically concerning flying hours, calendar life, and landings. The actions’ scope determines whether these should be categorised as small or significant. These MRO tasks differ from the daily line maintenance carried out, which is referred to as routine maintenance. The term MRO will be used throughout the remainder of this paper, excluding any reference to line maintenance. In general, line maintenance or regular maintenance is performed by the airline staff (for civil aviation) and by uniformed personnel (in the Indian Air Force and the aviation arms of the Army and Navy). On the other hand, MRO activities, which are complex, labour-intensive, and time-consuming, are outsourced mainly by civil airline operators. In the case of the Indian Air Force, certain portions of MRO are performed by HAL, while other portions are handled by the Base Repair Depots (BRDs).

MRO work is done in strict accordance with aviation safety rules. The overhaul process includes taking parts apart, cleaning them, inspecting them (by looking at them, taking measurements, and doing non-destructive tests), replacing parts with new or refurbished ones, putting them back together, testing them with special equipment, and putting them back together again. After being fixed, the whole system is checked on the ground and in the air, as the technology requires. The repair process may be easier because it only involves finding and fixing the problem. MRO activities can be further broken down into the airframe, the engine, and the different parts. Even though the basic idea behind all the activities may be the same, the activities for the airframe, engine, and components are different.

Military MRO

Fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters, and trainers make up the majority of military aircraft. Drones and Remotely Piloted Aircraft are two newcomers (RPA). Even though the basic ideas of maintenance are the same for all types of planes, military planes and engines need to be more durable because of their job. In dynamic operating conditions, the whole plane has to be able to meet high requirements for manoeuvrability, high “g,” and higher speeds. So, the building materials are also different so that they can withstand extreme temperatures, stealth, and damage from the battle. Many of the systems on board are also different, such as the fire control radar, electronic warfare (EW) systems, weapon control systems, onboard oxygen generators (OBOGS), etc. Since military aircraft have to work in harsh conditions, the frequency of checks and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) activities is different from that of civil aircraft. This means that strict checks and procedures must be followed.

Contrary to what most people think, there is much more to military aviation than flying platforms. These include radars, communication systems, surface-to-air guided weapons (SAGW), specialised vehicles, specialised test equipment, ground equipment, and survival gear like parachutes and boats. Their MRO process includes similar tasks, but the details and amount of work depend on the type of equipment.

The activities of MRO are done according to the OEM technology, which is written down in great detail. Any change from these must be approved by the authorities in charge of regulations and certification. The quality control process must be followed to the letter.

Indian military aircraft and systems are taken care of by HAL, Bharat Electronics Ltd, BRDs (for a wide range of aircraft and systems), and, in some cases, by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from other countries. A long-term repair or annual maintenance contract for a foreign OEM may exist. MRO done by foreign companies is very expensive and takes time. This is one of the weak spots where foreign OEMs’ proprietary clauses and refusal to share technology make it hard for the country to be self-sufficient. Along with high prices, these OEMs also keep a tight grip on the supply of spares. If the right parts are unavailable, it hurts the MRO activity and can cause delays. Finding the same spares or making them in India is hard because of the technology, raw materials, and special processes that go into making them.


With an emphasis on self-reliance, the Indian Defense Forces will use more platforms and equipment made in India in the future. When it comes to military planes, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA “Tejas”), the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH “Dhruv”), and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH “Tejas”) are all set to be brought into service (LCH). Already, work is being done on the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). There are also plans to bring similar defence equipment for all three services.

Aside from sharing work on the maintenance and repair (MRO) of the main platforms, there is much room for outsourcing MRO work on different parts of aircraft or other systems. Currently, these facilities are only used for defence, DPSUs, and OEMs from other countries. Even for platforms made in India, like the LCA, there still need to be repair and overhaul facilities set up for many of the parts that come from other countries or are made in India.

MRO work, which takes a lot of time and requires a lot of work, can be given to private partners. So, the production agencies can focus on improving how they make things and work on future development. Even if not all of the work is moved, outsourcing can help share some of it. With more agencies working together to do the MRO work, this will improve efficiency and cut down on the Turnaround Time. Even though it has nothing to do with aviation, the main platforms of the army, which wait in long lines at Ordnance Factories, are similar in this way.

Many ITI technicians have learned about different parts of MRO in military aviation since apprenticeship training started. The Directorate of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship should be able to give you this information. Also, there are a lot of highly skilled and experienced ex-servicemen who could fill the role of supervisor. The Directorate General of Resettlement or the Directorate of Air Veterans can help firms that want to hire them by giving them access to this database. With the introduction of the Agniveer concept in defence services, several skilled technicians who are disciplined and trained for the private sector should be available in the future. Even if they haven’t done much MRO work before, they can pick it up quickly. Some MRO companies have also set up skill development institutes to train their employees.

When more and more companies do MRO work, they will need to do other things like make spare parts, sell consumables, etc., which creates more business opportunities. There are also chances to build and fix different kinds of ground equipment, test equipment, and specialty vehicles, among other things. Academic work, like programmes to improve reliability, studies on reducing the cost and time of MRO, changes, and development projects, can be a valuable result of these projects.


Military planes are much more complicated than civilian planes because they have more systems, are made of different materials, and use the latest technology. Because of this, the technology and the work are different, so strict procedures and quality checks are needed.

India’s military aircraft and equipment come from different countries and are also made in India. Also, the ages of these items range from old to new. Since each type has different technology, the MRO procedures for each type would also be different.

As was already said, aviation maintenance is a highly specialised field that needs workers with a lot of training and skill. Compared to civilian aircraft, the number of people who can work on military aircraft and equipment may be smaller. However, this problem can be solved with the right training.

No matter what kind of aircraft or equipment is being worked on, the MRO agency needs a license to do the job. The manufacturer and certain MRO agencies are the only ones with access to the repair and overhaul technology. So, a private company needs to be able to get a license and have access to technology. Regarding products made in India, DPSUs can provide MRO technology. When it comes to products made in other countries, defence establishments can share them, if available, with them. But if India still needs to get the technology, it has to be made there, which isn’t easy, or it has to be paid for by the foreign OEM through partnerships with private firms. If a company has a long-term repair or annual maintenance contract, the OEM wants to keep the technology private for business reasons.

If the MRO work must be done by a private company on its own, a full technical infrastructure must be set up. It is also important to make sure that spare parts are available. Aside from common technical equipment and facilities, each component and system needs a test rig that is made for that type. This is too expensive, so the company needs to plan the investment based on how likely it is to bring in business and make money.

This is one of the biggest problems because the nature of military operations means that the MRO establishments must provide support on-site. Because operational zones are spread out and have harsh working conditions, the MRO agencies must be ready to help field units with maintenance.

Way ahead

Since private industry could be involved in military maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), the industry needs to understand the challenges and complexities involved. Even though there has been some growth in this area over the past few years, and a few private companies have started doing this work, the aviation industry is still not quite ready for military aviation. This is still possible, though, with help from DPSUs, defence establishments, and the government.

Even though the focus is on self-sufficiency, the country’s security needs mean that foreign purchases will likely continue for the next few years, though their share may go down. For any foreign purchase, the MRO plan needs to be worked out during the contracting stage, and the OEM needs to be convinced to give the MRO technology to Indian agencies, whether they are private companies or defence establishments. This must be worked out at the start, not halfway through the equipment’s life. If you have a clear plan at the beginning of the process, you won’t need to depend on foreign OEMs in the future.

For aircraft and other systems that are already in use, the defence establishments and DPSUs can figure out how to divide up the work and give it to the private sector. For this to happen, the private sector will need help in the form of technology and other inputs.

There is a huge chance for private partnerships with the indigenous platforms that are already being made and those that are still being made. Since it is also planned to export these, their MRO facilities in India can become regional hubs and help the countries that buy these assets keep them in good shape. So, from the beginning, it is important to work on MRO technology for the main equipment and all of its parts. This will give the private organisations time to get ready and build the facilities needed to set up the MRO. If India wants to become a big defence exporter, it’s up to the design and production agencies to think about this important point since anyone who buys an aircraft from India would want the best maintenance support for as long as the plane lasts.

Exposure to the high-tech work of military aviation and the development of new capabilities can also be used by the civil aviation industry. India’s aviation industry will grow and improve if all the agencies cooperate and help each other.

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First published on: 12-11-2022 at 16:24 IST