Even after being a space scientist throughout my career, I would like to accord my views on the semiconductor pact first, since it hopefully brings an end to our four decades-long run behind the bus.
The US-headquartered Micron has come forward to invest $825 million in India. Micron will be setting up a new Assembly and Testing Facility in Gujarat. The construction of the new Assembly and Test Facility is likely to begin in two phases in 2023. The first phase of the project with 50,000 sqft will become operational in late 2024. This will lead to a creation of 5,000 direct jobs and 500 new high-end engineering jobs.
Coupled with this news, an investment of $400 million by the US semiconductor company, 'Applied Materials' over the next four years in starting an Engineering Centre in Bangalore is expected to bring in the much required impetus to the country’s semiconductor dreams.
To understand the importance of this pact we need to travel back in history a little. Semiconductor fabrication remained an unfinished agenda post-independence for the last four decades for every government. As long as we are not independent in the fabrication of semiconductors, we will be more vulnerable to international pressures. So the semiconductor mission of 2022 is very much laudable.
It all started in 2007, with the declaration of Special Incentive Package (SIP) by GOI. But it did not yield any response. Then came the modified SIP in 2012. Two consortia got the nod from the cabinet: Jayaprakash Associates with IBM and Towerjazz an Israeli company while the second one was Hindustan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation aligning with ST microelectronics. Even though GOI offered heavy incentives in the form of cash and tax reliefs, both the JVs failed to mobilise the resources of $10 billion required.
With miniaturisation advancing at an exponential rate, investment in semiconductor fabrication has become one of the most risky sector. Huge investment has to be recovered before the technology becomes obsolete. This calls for substantial production volumes for economic break-even, demanding volumes that are adequate to meet global demand. So it becomes difficult to conceive a fab keeping in mind domestic market only. Above all, it is a difficult art and technology and yields are dangerously low. All these marks the importance of the Micron pact signed.
Easing out of H1-B visa renewal for the skilled workforce of India and opening of the 5th US consulate in India at Bangalore (Apart from the existing Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad Consulates) are going to be a great relief for all the ever-increasing number of US aspirants from India.
In another significant outcome, the American multinational corporation General Electric(GE) signed an agreement with India state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to make fighter jet engines for Indian Air Force (IAF). The landmark agreement will facilitate the transfer of critical jet engine technologies to HAL.
GE.s F414 military aircraft engine powers state-of-the-art fighters like Boeing Super Hornet and Saab Gripen. The pact to build them in India for the LCA Tejas Mk2 marks the end of the “Technology Denial Regime” and heralds a new era and key milestone in the Indo-US ties. The Tejas Mk2 is expected to be ready by 2025.
The current pact will have 80 per cent technology transfer compared to 58 per cent in the “Engine Development Agreement” of 2012 between HAL and GE for the F414 engines. Around 200 Tejas Mk2 fighters will be built. The aircraft will feature indigenous components including advanced radar systems, avionics and weapons.
India has traditionally struggled to manufacture an advanced jet engine domestically, as demonstrated by the underperformance of its Kaveri engine. Currently, only a select few countries like the US, the UK, Russia and France are fully capable of manufacturing advanced jet engines.
And of course, in space, my domain, India became the 27th nation to sign the Artemis Accord to send humans to the moon by 2025, demonstrating its commitment to sustainable and transparent space activities.
The signatories of the accord commit to take all reasonable efforts to render necessary assistance to personnel in outer space, who are in distress, and acknowledge their obligations under the agreement on the rescue of Astronauts, the return of Astronauts and the return of objects launched into outer space. This will be a logical next step to take forward the upcoming Moon Landing (Chandrayan 3) mission and Human in Space ( Gaganyaan) mission outcomes into future space endeavours.
These outcomes usher a new era of International Cooperation for the betterment of mankind.
The author is a distinguished scientist and Former Director of Capacity Building Programme Office of ISRO headquarters, Bangalore.