Opportunity Beckons

A multitude of programmes will stretch HAL’s capabilities to the limit

Atul Chandra

Mirage 2000 upgrade by HALOne would be hard pressed to find any aircraft manufacturer, anywhere in the world today, which has on its plate such a vast range of aeronautical programmes as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) does today. At a time when the defence budgets have been sliced to shreds in most countries, HAL rests in the enviable position of having aircraft programmes across the board. The Indian Air Force (IAF) expects to spend in excess of USD 35 billion by 2022 (when the 13th plan ends) on new acquisitions and its existing commitments. HAL will have to manage and deliver the indigenous design, development and manufacture of fixed wing (Tejas and Sitara) and rotary wing (Dhruv, Light Combat Helicopter, Light Utility Helicopter) platforms, along with Russian collaboration for the 5th generation PMF (Sukhoi T-50) and Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA).

The license production of the Dassault Rafale (when the contract is finally signed) will entail a steep learning curve for HAL. License production of the SU 30 MKI and Hawk Mk 132 will begin to tail off, however providing some breathing space. Then, there are the deep upgrade programmes for the Mirage-2000 multi-role fighter, MiG-29 interceptor, Jaguar fighter strike fighter and SU 30 MKI. There will, of course, be the overhaul work for the existing fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters along with re-engining of the Jaguar when the contract with Honeywell comes through. Not only does the sheer scale of the quantum of work boggle the mind, it is obvious that HAL will be so caught up in delivering these projects to the IAF on time and schedule, that the efforts to develop homegrown aircraft indigenously will take the backseat, if not monitored closely.

HAL’s new chairman R.K. Tyagi has injected a much-needed sense of purpose and direction at India’s premier aeronautical company. A year and a half into his tenure as chairman, HAL has been working hard to improve its relationship with its primary customer, the armed forces. Customer connect initiatives have seen HAL’s senior officers (GM level) visit customer bases to obtain feedback and a greater appreciation of the issues at hand. Dedicated project teams for major projects now have much greater authority and timelines are being looked at closely. HAL has already said that it is exploring the feasibility for design and development of aero engines. Towards this end, it has already created a specific engine cell and earmarked funds to develop a 20 KN engine. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are also likely to receive further attention in the near future and the company has already created a dedicated UAV group headed by a General Manager (GM).

Aircraft Programmes
Rafale – HAL will be the prime integrator for the Dassault. Initial plans called for 18 aircraft to be delivered as ‘fly-aways’ in 2016 by Dassault (if the contract is signed this year) with HAL license producing the rest. The timeframe of six years for HAL to produce 108 Rafales does seem optimistic to say the least. Among the many challenges will be requirement to absorb and implement the Transfer of Technology (ToT) from over 70 companies. HAL will handle the airframe and engine but will not be the only source for systems and Line Replaceable units (this will be left for Dassault to decide).

Prospective Multi-Role Fighter (PMF) 5th generation fighter – The Sukhoi-HAL Prospective Multirole Fighter (PMF) seems to have hit a bit of a roadblock with media reports stating that the final design contract being delayed beyond 2014. The USD 295 million Preliminary Design Contract (PDC) was completed earlier this year. The programme is already running two years before schedule. The IAF has decided to go for the single seat model and not the twin seat variant as decided earlier, with the requirement now said to be for 144 single seat PMF aircraft. This decision means that even though India will have access to all design data for the PMF, the contribution in the Research & Development (R&D) stage will come down drastically as the only changes for the PMF will be for mission systems, assorted hardware, weapons integration etc. Three prototypes to be manufactured at Nasik in Maharashtra would begin flight-testing by 2018. All PMFs will be manufactured at HAL’s Nasik facility after production of the SU-30 MKI is completed. Engines will be produced at Koraput in Orissa.

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