Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of Bharat seems to be busy working out a strategy to reposition itself as a globally competitive, high tech aerospace enterprise with a strong focus on the advanced technology development.
In a major boost to the national self-reliance in the vital aeronautical sector, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, laid the foundation stone for the 610-acre new, greenfield helicopter manufacturing facility of the state owned defence and aerospace enterprise, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), at the little known hamlet of Bidarahalla Kaval, in Tumakuru district of Karnataka on January 3. While speaking at the ceremony, PM Modi said, “It is a gift from Government of India to the people of Karnataka, Tumakuru in particular.” Rightly, Modi expressed the hope that this Rs 5,000-crore facility would help HAL produce 600 choppers over the next fifteen years and mark a big leap in Indian defence self reliance through Make in India initiative. According to Modi, indigenous development of the latest genre of defence technologies is a crying need as foreign defence vendors made available costly fighting equipment at a very high cost. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar noted that the contribution of HAL has been quite significant over the last seventy five years.
Incidentally, this facility will incorporate a composite manufacturing unit, a helicopter transmission manufacturing unit, an engine manufacturing unit, a helicopter integration unit and a helipad. Not surprisingly then it will be capable of manufacturing a range of helicopters including Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Naval Multi-role Helicopter. In this context, HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju states, “HAL’s new helicopter facility is a shot in the arm for Make in India programme and it will immensely benefit the local economy by creating hundreds of direct and indirect jobs”.
In a development that would help the country expand its helicopter production base, under an inter-governmental agreement, HAL will partner with Russia’s Rostech State Corporation to produce 200 Kamov 226 T copters at an estimated cost of US$1-billion. Kamov-226T will replace the ageing Cheeta and Chetak helicopters in service with the Bharateeya defence forces. In distinct contrast to the licensed production path that HAL had followed for long, the transfer of technology involved in Kamov helicopter deal would help Bharat acquire the knowhow for the production of complex military hardware within the country.
In this context, Sergei Chenezov, Chairman of Rostech Corporation said in a statement, “The organisation for the manufacturing of helicopters is provided by the creation of a Russian-Indian joint venture in India which includes holdings of Rostech JSC, Rosoboron export and Russian Helicopters and on the Indian side, Corporation of HAL”. Kamov can be expected to serve as the lifeline for high altitude operational needs of the defence forces of Bharat. In view of the sound and solid expertise of HAL in designing and developing helicopters, for both civilian and military purposes, Russian side preferred HAL as the partner in Bharat for the Kamov helicopter project. And for HAL, which is now into its seventy five years of its existence as a front ranking Bharateeya aerospace and defence venture, this development would not have come at a more opportune time.
HAL had the distinction of building the first military aircraft in Asia and had worked closely with front ranking global aerospace enterprises including Boeing, Airbus and Honeywell, it did not make use of the opportunity to master the cutting edge technologies going into the aerospace products. There are efforts to transform HAL into a world-class aerospace enterprise.
Meeting Defence and
In a significant step for Bharat in the development of the frontier aero engine technology, Parrikar on December 14, 2015 witnessed the inaugural run of 25-kN aero engine, Hindustan Turbo Fan Engine, HTFE-25, designed and developed by HAL. The engine is designed for use in basic, intermediate and advanced trainer jets. In the first phase of the programme, the design of the full engine and manufacturing and testing of the technology demonstrator of the core engine are covered. In the subsequent phases, the manufacture and testing of the full engines will follow. “The Air Force has already said that they would require 72 engines, however if (HAL) does it properly it may be increased and they could also be exported,” said Parrikar. As pointed out by Suvarna Raju, the successful running of the 25-kN engine is one of the major milestones of HAL and Modi Government.
HAL also announced the launch of a design and development project of helicopter engine, the Hindustan Turbo-Shaft Engine, HTSE-1200. Parrikar drove home the point that Bharat needs 4,000-6,000 copter engines over the next two decades. “If you make it in the time frame allotted, it will be a big achievement,” noted Parrikar. Around October 2015, HAL had initiated the development of another aero engine, HTSE (Hindustan Turbo Shaft Engine)-1200. It can be used in a copter of 3.5-tonne in single engine configuration and helicopter of 5-8 tonne class in twin engine configuration. As things stand now, the two projects are expected to fruition by the end of this decade.
In a development that augurs well for mastering the advanced aero engine technology by the country, HAL has mooted a proposal to join hands with the public sector enterprise Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The idea is to set up a joint venture to design, develop and manufacture gas turbines for a variety of civilian and military applications. Both HAL and BHEL have expertise in licence producing gas turbines of a variety of specifications and fusing their expertise with the experience that DRDO has acquired while developing Kaveri engine could be a veritable ‘force multiplier’ to move ahead with the development of advanced aero engine technologies.
HAL is now working overtime for the final operational clearance (FOC) of the home grown state of the art fourth generation fighter jet LCA Tejas and Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) of the LCH planned to take place shortly. In this context, Raju said, “We are trying to make LCA MKI get FOC immediately after fixing the requirements of the IAF. The LCA Mark II will be achieved by 2021”. IAF is planning to acquire one hundred plus Tejas fighters with three major modifications to the existing configuration. For the first time, LCA Tejas will be showcased outside the country with this home grown fighter all set to fly at Bahrain International Air show being held at Sakhir Airbase, Bahrain from 21-23 January.
HAL is also looking at the forays in the civilian sector. “Notwithstanding our main customers, the Indian defence services, we are also focussing on diversifying our customer profile to non defence sectors also”, said Raju. Giving details, Raju made it clear that plans are on to build a “Brand India civilian aircraft with home-grown engines to tap into the growing market in this sector. We would like to take up the aircraft project work with a consortium. If you want to imagine a Brand India, you have to imagine what is best in 2025 and the present eco-system of aeronautics is yet to mature.” As it is, the much talked of Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA) project has been reconfigured with HAL taking a centre stage in this project for the development of 60-80 seater with some help from Bharateeya industries and foreign aircraft majors.
Journey of 75 Years
The origins HAL can be traced to the setting up of the Hindustan Aircraft Company in December 23, 1940 by Seth Walchand Hirachand, a visionary entrepreneur in association with the then princely state of Mysore. With an humble beginning focused on the overhauling of fighter aircraft, HAL has come a long way with twenty production divisions and ten research and development centres spread across the country. Over the years, defence delegates and teams from global aerospace companies have been quite impressed with the facilities and expertise with the HAL but observed that the talent here lacks exposure to modern management
techniques. “I have spent thirty years in aerospace industry and worked with global companies like Boeing, Airbus and Northrop Grumman but I can say that HAL is superbly equipped with infrastructure but one needs to use it to bring out a product. Most of the talent was just a waste as the higher management lacked the vision”, said an American aerospace professional.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer is freelance columnist who writes on science, tech and defence related issues)