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INTERVIEW
‘Helicopters Currently Make Up Five to Six Per Cent of HAL’s Total Business; this is Expected to Grow to 20–25 Per Cent Over the Next 12 Years’
Managing Director, Helicopter Complex, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, P. Soundara Rajan
What is the current order book for the ALH from the Indian armed forces and other customers? How many ALH helicopters are flying currently?

We have firm orders from the Indian armed forces for 159 helicopters. We have requirements coming up from the other customers but we have now taken the conscious decision to set the ball rolling in large numbers for the armed forces first, before we look at other potential customers. There are 10 helicopters, five for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and five for the Indian Army that are currently undergoing test flights by our pilots. The process of delivering these helicopters is expected to start very shortly. This variant has a full glass cockpit, Shakti engine and all the EW sensors along with a GPWS and automatic flight control system that was there earlier as well.

There are close to 100 ALH helicopters that are flying, with the majority in India and a small number abroad. Around 20 Dhruvs are flying for non defence customers both in India and abroad. ALH is flying in Ecuador, Mauritius, Maldives and Nepal. The Border Security Force (BSF) is also using the ALH. There is absolutely no doubt that the ‘Dhruv’ is a feather in HAL’s cap and is one of the best helicopters in terms of pilot feel and handling qualities.
We will start exploiting the market, once I stabilise my delivery to the Indian armed forces. This should happen latest by next year. We see homeland security and policing as an area where HAL will be looking closely for Dhruv. Casualty and Medical Evacuation (CasEvac) in the civilian variant is another area we will be looking at.
We can also offer the utility and weaponised versions to customers abroad. We also have a huge domestic market that needs to be addressed.

Can you comment on the value of components of the Dhruv which are imported?
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding indigenisation and imports. There is tremendous value addition that is being done in the Dhruv programme. Structures for the Dhruv are made from composites. Now while the raw material comes from abroad, everything else, from tailoring of the raw material when it comes to design of a component, development of a component, qualification and testing of the component and finally manufacturing of the component, is all done entirely in India. The value addition to the basic raw materials we are getting is anywhere between 45 to 65 per cent. If you look at the percentage of the number of components that are made in this country then 85 to 90 per cent of the Dhruv is made in India.

In terms of equipment in the last 20 to 30 years, the learning’s which we have achieved through license manufacture is so good, that today, the entire avionics fit on most helicopters and aircraft operated by the Indian armed forces is developed and manufactured here. The ALH has 4,700 structural components alone, leaving aside connectors, components, equipments, wiring etc. For each of these components a make or buy decision has to be made.

We would like to get everything made within this country for Dhruv, provided it is economically viable, access to critical technologies is made available and it makes good business sense, in terms of volumes. If you look at India today, the raw materials required for aerospace component manufacturing is just not available here. At the moment, the bulk of the raw materials either metallic or non metallic are imported from abroad. If you look at raw materials per se, 80 per cent of the Dhruv is imported, that is simply because the basic aircraft quality raw materials are not available here. The questions which then arise here are should these materials be sourced from India, moreover, when these materials are readily available abroad and the volumes do not justify setting up raw material manufacturing facilities in India.
 
 
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