• 24 May, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

The Dubai Air Show 2021: Opportunities For The Indian Armed Forces?

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) Mon, 29 Nov 2021   |  Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Dubai Air Show (DAS) 2021 was held at the Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai from 14-18 November 21 and is the first and largest such event since the cancellation of consecutive shows in Europe at Farnborough and Paris in the last two years.

The biennial event has been held since 1989 and has grown from 200 exhibitors and 25 aircraft to approximately 470 exhibitors (including country pavilions/companies/startups) and more than 175 aircraft in its biggest edition this year, which ended with more than 500 aircraft deals cemented globally.

As representation from India, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was invited by the Government of UAE to participate with the Sarang (5x Advanced Light Helicopter ‘Dhruv’- the world’s first four-helicopter aerobatic team!) and Suryakiran (10x British Aero Space Hawk 132 Advanced Trainer Aircraft) Aerobatics Teams. In addition, three Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS of the IAF’s 18 Squadron also participated by way of aerobatic and static displays. Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command also visited the IAF contingent on the opening day, as a senior Indian Armed forces representative. The event was preceded by the 10th Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference (DIACC) on 13 November, with more than 70 participant Air Forces, including the IAF.

While it would not be possible to cover all equipment on display at this multi-event show (aircraft displayed in the Static Display can be viewed at the link https://go.dubaiairshow.aero/das21-static-display ), enumerated below are the events associated with India’s representation and certain military equipment which could be of interest to the Indian Armed Forces in the regional context.

India’s Display

While the Sarang Team has previously participated in the Al Ain Grand Prix in UAE in 2005, DAS 2021 was the maiden display for the Suryakirans and the LCA TEJAS. The latter flew under their own propulsion for DAS 2021, while the Sarang Team along with support infrastructure were transported in the IAF’s C-17 and C-130J aircraft for the show.

The Suryakirans combined with UAE’s Al-Fursan Aerobatic Display Team to carry out aerobatic manoeuvres over Dubai, symbolising the understanding between the two Air Forces. The aerobatic display also saw enthralling participation from the Russian Knights and Saudi Arabian Hawks Aerobatics Teams. In addition to the above, the flying displays also had aircraft from the US and Pakistan Air Forces participating in the event.

LCA TEJAS. India’s TEJAS in Final Operational Clearance (combat ready) configuration (read about the TEJAS @ Chanakya Forum https://chanakyaforum.com/lca-tejas-ready-to-touch-the-skies-with-glory/) demonstrated aerial manoeuvres and engaged ‘bogeys’ (simulated enemy aircraft), demonstrating agility and manoeuverability in positive/negative ’G’ situations at high/low speeds, thus showcasing the LCA’s combat effectiveness. Interestingly, Pakistan’s JF-17 ‘Multi Role Combat Aircraft’, scheduled to be pitched against the TEJAS at DAS 2021, pulled out at the last minute without citing any cogent reason, though it appears that this was to avoid inevitable comparisons with the TEJAS, both on the ground and in the air. This is a repeat of the hasty pull-out of the JF-17 from Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) 2019 in Malaysia, where the TEJAS also participated!

TEJAS at DAS 2021: Source-frontierindia.com

A number of countries have already expressed interest in the TEJAS LCA, wherein the exceptional performance of the aircraft at DAS 2021 has made a strong case for export. Malaysia had earlier issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the aircraft and now looks to purchase 18 aircraft with a possible follow-on order for another 18, in spite of previously shortlisting the JF-17!  Similar interest has been shown by Egypt, Sri Lanka and UAE, the latter likely to accept TEJAS with its Israeli ELTA AESA Radar as a testimony to the Abraham Accords- an agreement for collaboration between Israel, UAE and the US, signed in August 2020. A similar RFI has been floated by the US for its jet training system to which HAL has offered the TEJAS trainer version. Similar offers have also been made to Australia and Argentina.

Technology Demonstrated at DAS 2021

Air Superiority/ Multi Role Combat Aircraft

  • Russia showcased the Sukhoi (Su)-75 ‘Checkmate’ single engine, fifth-generation (FG), stealth multi-role fighter, for the first time outside Russia. The aircraft is likely to be ready for series production by the middle of the decade and will compete against the US F-35 and China’s Shenyang FC-31 (J-35) FG stealth fighters. The Su-75 mounts five hardpoints for carrying a variety of BVR air-to-air (ATA) and air to surface (ATS) missiles, anti-radiation missiles and bombs. It has a max speed of Mach 1.8 and a ferry range of approximately 3000 km. The thrust to weight ratio is ~1.0 , which is superior to the Eurofighter and the F-35 A & B!

Su-75 Checkmate at DAS: Source-pravda.ru

  • The US showcased the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to back the pending sale of approximately 50 aircraft to UAE, stalled because of US concern over UAE’s collaboration with China, including use of Huawei 5G technology.

Light Attack Aircraft/ Jet Trainers/ Helicopter

  • UAE-based Calidus showcased the two-seater B-350 turboprop attack aircraft with full weaponry on its 12 hardpoints- designed for close air support and air strikes in counter-insurgency operations. Embraer showcased the A-29 Super Tucano, which can mount weapons including precision guided munitions on its 5 hardpoints, while US based Textron showcased the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, a light attack and armed reconnaissance turboprop aircraft.

A-29 Super Tucano:Source-builtforthemission.com

  • While not a combat platform, China displayed the Falcon L-15 twin seater supersonic jet trainer aircraft, capable of flying upto Mach 1.4. Interestingly, the aircraft has a total of seven wingtip/underwing hard points which can mount ATA/ ATS armament. Boeing showcased its T-7A Red Hawk, an American/Swedish advanced jet trainer produced by Boeing in partnership with Saab. The aircraft can fly just over 1 Mach and may have a modified role as a light attack aircraft.

Russia exhibited the Mi-28 NE Night Hunter Attack Helicopter (AH) with a 270 kmph cruise speed, 435 km range and advanced avionics for automatic detection/tracking of land/sea/air targets. Also showcased was the Kamov Ka-52E gunship, which combines functions of attack, reconnaissance and command helicopters. China displayed the advanced Z19E AH (4 ton class), as also the 4 ton Z9WE Armed Helicopter, along with other rotary-wing entries.

Mi-28 NE Night Hunter: Source-asianmilitaryreview.com

Transport Aircraft

  • Brazil showcased the Embraer C-390 Millennium- a medium-sized transport aircraft. With a load capacity of 26 tons, max speed of 988 kmph, operational range (with 23 ton load) of 5820 km, 36000 feet service ceiling and hardpoints for surveillance payloads, the aircraft can be configured to perform various conventional operations. The IAF already operates the Embraer 145 jet for its VIP fleet.

Embraer C-390 Millennium:Source-wikipedia.org

  • Boeing displayed the V-22 Osprey, a multi-role turboprop aircraft currently operated by US and Japan, with tilt-rotor capability, suitable for vertical/short take-off/landing (VTOL/STOL). It combines the functionality of a conventional helicopter with that of a long-range, high-speed turboprop aircraft. India could be considering the aircraft for troop insertion in difficult terrain or as a maritime AEW&C platform.

V-22 Osprey:Source-wikipedia.org

  • Airbus exhibited the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft, an ATA refueller (AAR), currently in operation in a number of countries in Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. The refueler has a max fuel capacity of 111 tons and a combat radius of 1800 km with 50 tons of fuel and four hours on-station. The company also showcased the A400 M Multi Mission Airlifter, capable of strategic/tactical lift and as an AAR, with a similar export profile. The aircraft has a range of 6400 km/4500 km with a 20 ton/30 ton payload respectively and can carry, among other loads, 116 paratroopers/ fully equipped personnel.

A 400M:Source-airbus.com

Unmanned Aerial Systems

  • India’s Defence PSU, Bharat Dynamics Limited showcased an armed quadcopter drone that can be used to engage targets in solo mode or as part of a swarm. The drone has a 32 minute hover time with a payload of upto 1.5 kg, which can be a bomb or a lightweight precision/terminally guided munition with a multipurpose High Explosive Anti-Tank/Fragmentation warhead, effective to a distance of 1 km.
  • Skye Air exhibited ‘Skye Air One’- a multi-copter with a load carrying capacity of 5 kg, speed of 40kmph and operational range of 20km. The small drone category finds utility in mounting surveillance payloads and for tactical movement of stores, especially on/ between forward posts.
  • Russian Company Kronshtadt exhibited the ‘Orion’ Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), which can carry four guided bombs/missiles. The export version, ‘Helios’ is a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UCAV, intended for autonomous operations upto 30 hours at altitudes upto 10,000 m.

Orion UCAV: Source-military-wiki.com

  • UAE’s Edge Group showcased their QX-5 drone, designed for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, the QX-6 cargo drone and the Reach-S drone, designed for reconnaissance/cargo.
  • Saudi Arabia exhibited the ‘Bariq’, a VTOL ISR UAV, capable of swarm deployment.
  • US Company Kaman Corporation exhibited ‘Kargo’, a medium-lift logistics UAV. The UAV features a transport pod but can also be used in an external sling load configuration. It can transport payloads of up to 360 kg at distances of upto 970 km.

Kargo UAV: Source-Kaman Corporation

Counter- Drone Systems

  • Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (RADS) of Israel displayed the ‘Drone-Dome’, a counter-UAS system that can detect, intercept and neutralise hostile drones as small as 0.002 m2, at a distance of upto 3.5 km, with a S-band multi-mission hemispheric radar and a long range surveillance system. The system provides 360º coverage with soft/hard kill options with a RF jammer/Laser Directed Energy Weapon respectively, while offering minimum collateral damage, due to specific jammer bandwidth and an advanced directional antenna.

Drone Dome: Source-Rafael.co.il

  • US Firm Fortem Technologies exhibited the Drone Hunter (DH), an AI enabled counter-UAV interceptor drone, capable of autonomous detection, pursuit and capture of hostile drones. Multiple DH can be managed by the SkyDome Manager to neutralise simultaneous multiple threats, capturing drones with a net-gun and towing them away.

DH in Action:Source-fortemtech.com


In addition to others, Israel’s M/s Elbit Systems exhibited the Rampage long-range ATS supersonic precision-strike missile for use against high value targets and the Sky Striker fully autonomous loitering munition that can locate, acquire and strike operator-designated targets with high precision using a 5 kg warhead installed inside the fuselage.

Elbit Systems Sky Striker: Source-elbitsystems.com

C4 Solutions

  • RADS also showcased the Multi-Level Integrated Command, Control and Communications Air Defence (MIC4AD) System, which enables integration and resource management amongst aerial assets and deployed AD systems. This is achieved by coordination and management of the air picture from theatre command level down to AD unit level by integrating multiple situational input layers from civil as well as military sources, allowing AD assets to operate in an open air space alongside routine civil/ military activity.
  • M/s Elbit Systems presented the HattoriX Fire Support Solution-a passive/active target acquisition system that uses AI to enable Forward Observers/ surveillance teams to complete sensor-to-shooter loops. The systems runs a photogrammetry algorithm and an Augmented Reality overlay of real-time data to provide automatic fusion of the GIS database/data from a target list/visual feed from an interfaced electro-optical device/C2 information, thus achieving seamless acquisition, generation and transmission of target data.

In addition to the above specific exhibits, a plethora of latest technology relating to AI, 5G, cyber security and automation were showcased by various exhibitors.


DAS 2021 proved to be a marque event that showcased cutting edge as well as battle proven technologies panning physical and electronic domains. The significance and scale of the biggest ever edition of the show was underlined by the fact that this was the first global airshow held in the ‘post- pandemic’ period. Countries and Armed Forces around the world, including India, which had a substantial presence, would do well to identify niche technologies displayed in order to aptly plan future export, acquisition and development road maps.

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) has commanded an operational Brigade and has been Brigadier- in- charge Administration in a premier training facility. He has had exposure abroad on deputation to Botswana, Southern Africa as member of an Indian Army Training Team and has had extensive exposure in mentoring of Defence Forces overseas. He possesses vast instructional experience, imparting instructions in both technical aspects and tactical application of weapon systems.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.

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