HAL’s Light Combat Aircraft, a Mach 1.8, multi-role fighter that first flew last year, is scheduled to undergo carrier compatibility tests before year-end.
June 17, 2013, 5:15 AM
A target for criticism over delays in projects in the past, India’s largest defense manufacturer, government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) is undergoing a transformation of its human resource through training and innovative programs. This is focusing on two urgent requirements–the overdue Light Combat Aircraft (LCA); and the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT). HAL (Chalet A 124) has confirmed that the projects will go into production in the next five years.
Even as India opens up to procuring more Western military aircraft and its civil fleet grows, HAL’s inclination to establish partnerships is becoming increasingly apparent. For example drawing on its inherent strengths and an established infrastructure, the company is now “shaping plans” to enter the maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) sector along with a (private) partner, a senior Minister of Defence told AIN.
On paper, while HAL has narrowed down its choices for its MRO facility to Bangalore, where it has its head office, and Kanpur, the site for the series production of the Multi-Role Transport aircraft under co-design and development with Russian partners, it is Nashik that is the most likely choice given its proximity to commercial capital, Mumbai (106 miles) and HAL’s center for its aircraft division.
An expression of interest (EOI) was invited late last year “from a renowned establishment in the world having proven track record and experience for establishing a comprehensive independent world class maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility.” This would be in Nashik on the HAL Airport area, and would undertake maintenance of business jets and commercial aircraft such as Airbus 320s, Boeing 737s and ATR turboprops. The MRO facility would use “a public private partnership model in the form of joint Venture (JV) with OEMs,” according to the EOI.
Services planned for the MRO will include major checks, repair and overhaul of jet engines, turboprops and APUs fitted on commercial aircraft and helicopters, landing gear repair and overhaul, painting, refurbishing, repair of components/parts warehousing and modifications including freighter conversions. In February, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) permitted HAL to operate its airport at Nashik, where the company has already established a passenger-cum-cargo terminal. “As part of our foray into the civilian sector, we are developing the Ozar airport at Nashik, which is being used [presently] for flying only military aircraft,” R.K. Tyagi, chairman of HAL, said.
HAL also has an interest in building a 90-seater regional aircraft with private participation under a joint venture model. “We have made a humble beginning with Dhruv civil variant (helicopter) as an offshoot of the military program. We now propose to play a leading role in India’s national civil aircraft development program as we have dedicated facilities at our transport division in Kanpur,” Tyagi said.
Challenges remain, such as the need to overcome dependence on raw material and access to critical technologies, admitted Tyagi. The supply chain, both from India and abroad, also poses issues: “Supplies from abroad have long lead-times coupled with irritants like unjustified price escalation and obsolescence,” he added. “There is also a need to augment development and production of equipment and spares. This is an area where our sourcing from abroad is the maximum with associated difficult supply chains.”
As the lead integrator for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), for which Dassault’s Rafale was chosen, HAL–with 2,400 private vendors–could also be working with industrial giant Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) as its major supplier. RIL is looking to invest around $1 billion on its new aerospace division at Nashik to “design, develop and manufacture equipment and components, including airframe, engine, radars, avionics and accessories for military and civilian aircraft, helicopters, unmanned airborne vehicles and aerostats.” It is likely that the company will also manufacture parts for the Dassault Falcon business jet.
An MoD official said HAL needed to define a partner for the MMRCA that will facilitate Tier-2 and -3 suppliers, or assume that responsibility itself. Proponents ofHALsay that the government-owned company has far more experience in selecting suppliers for high-technology defense projects than private companies.
In the first four months of 2013 HAL applied for 127 patents related to aeronautical products and systems, including metal treatment, and spent $312 million on design and development, yet it still continues to lag in the challenging arena of engine design. “The present state of engine technology [in India] is not up to the mark and the aerospace industry is at crossroads,” said V.K Saraswat, scientific advisor to the defense minister. “We have achieved partial success with the Kaveri [for the LCA]… [but] we don’t even have state-of-the art indigenous systems worth mentioning. Even simple fuel-injection systems are not on a par with international standards,” Saraswat continued, while pointing out that even Indian-manufactured tanks had to rely on imported engines.
There are some who doubt HAL’s confidence about the transfer of technology (TOT) from Rafale’s M88-2 engines from Snecma, each providing a thrust of 75kN and incorporating the latest technologies such as single-piece bladed compressor disks (blisks), a low-NOx combustion chamber, single-crystal high-pressure turbine blades, powder metallurgy disks and ceramic coatings, which could enable India to become self-sufficient in engine technology. “The Kaveri developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment(GTRE) is now planned for use for the unmanned combat air vehicle,” said one OEM executive. “That’s not saying much about its capability…engines involve a lot of intellectual property and one doesn’t see full TOT happening.”
Helicopters, where HAL can claim experience and success in, are on the radar with discussions ongoing with OEMs to develop a 10-to 12-ton 22-seater (like the Mi-17) category helicopter for VIPs for flying at an altitude of 23,000 ft. In a tie-up with the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, joint research will be carried out in the field of transmission systems for a helicopter engine program. “This partnership will involve required software and design solutions for different types of gears, bearings, lubrication system, vibration monitoring systems and production technologies,” said an IIT official. HAL has also committed to certification of a Light Utility Helicopter, of which 187 are on order by the Indian army and air force, by 2015.
Acknowledging the changing business environment and challenges associated with not having kept up with times, HAL has introduced a leadership development program with premier Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) to train its senior executives. “Our executives need to have exposure to enable them to benchmark operational and business excellence with the best international practices,” Tyagi said. The company has also inducted 400 management and design trainees and engaged consultancy KPMG to audit its workforce.
In its space business, HAL recently announced that it was setting up a facility for the Indian Space Research Organization to produce cryogenic engines and components for itsgeosynchronous satellite launch vehicle.
Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA): Preliminary design phase completed. Negotiations in progress to conclude R&D contract. 20 agencies will be involved at the R&D stage.
Jaguar Upgrade: The first flight of the Jaguar Darin III (Maritime variant) took place in Nov. 2012 and is undergoing flight evaluation. Modification on two other variants–strike and trainer–is in progress. The first flights are due by July 13 and September 13, respectively. Flight Operation Certificate (FOC) is planned for 2014-15.
Mirage Upgrade: Preliminary Design Review has been completed and technical specs for the FOC have been finalized. Design activities are under progress, according to HAL
Sukhoi: In addition to the existing contract of 180 aircraft, a contract for an additional 42 has been signed. HAL claims to have “absorbed the technologies to manufacture aircraft from the raw material stage.”
Light Combat Aircraft (LCA): The prototype flew last year and carrier compatibility trials are scheduled before year-end at the Navy’s shore-based testing facility in Goa.