April 2, 2013
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is in discussions with government-owned defence manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) about problems it is facing with a chip warning system that is repeatedly generating an alert on its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) fleet. This has resulted in nine HAL/Turbomeca Shakti engines being replaced.
‘The warning light comes on because it detects chips in the system. That’s not a healthy way to operate a machine. The problem could possibly be because of a bearing undergoing premature assembly, or the casing not being machined properly [by HAL]’ a former maintenance engineer at the company told Defence Helicopter.
While Turbomeca and HAL are in discussions to find a solution, the IAF, which has six spare powerplants for every 20 ALHs, is likely to run out of operable engines, leaving it with no spares should another emergency occur. ‘This means more AOGs,’ said an MoD official. HAL did not respond to requests for comment.
The procurement of Turbomeca’s Ardiden 1H, developed jointly with HAL as the Shakti, started with a delivery of 60 original (1H1) engines to HAL. This was followed by a supply of kits for which some components were to be manufactured in India.
However, the components HAL produced were not just delayed but were found to be of inferior quality. As a consequence the IAF, with ten ALH Mk IIIs on order plus 30 in its current fleet, is facing difficulties.
‘HAL needs a risk mitigation plan. It must make long-term procurements for backup to ensure deliveries are not delayed. The remedy is to keep its industrial plan alive but see that the supply chain is moving. The two shouldn’t depend on each other. Deliveries must be continuous and can’t be held up,’ said the MoD official on condition of anonymity.
The ALH Mk III with the Shakti engine is a light multi-role helicopter with a full glass cockpit, integrated electronic warfare suite, warning systems, automatic chaff and flare dispensers, and an improved vibration control system. The Mk I’s initial powerplant was the Turbomeca TM 333 2B2 turboshaft. HAL was given an order in 2007 for 159 ALHs for the Indian Army and IAF with delivery by 2015-16.
By Neelam Mathews, New Delhi