Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bengaluru-based fully government-owned defence aviation company, has recently been in the news because of the debate over the choice of single engine fighter for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas has been inducted into the IAF last year. But there are questions about HAL’s capacity to produce the requisite number of LCA fighters in specified time. Indian Express spoke with T Suvarna Raju, chairman and managing director of HAL.
HAL is blamed in some quarters for not having delivered the LCA Tejas on time. Is that criticism fair?
I don’t think the criticism is fair. That is why I am asking all the people who have such an opinion to visit the facilities which have been established. HAL can only make the product which is sellable or acceptable to the customer. As long as the development process is on, there is always a question about when is it going to stop and who is going to take this. There is always a mutual discussion and it goes step-by-step. There is not frozen standard of preparation of LCA except for the IOC. So, that’s where the delays are coming. But I know that is in the past, all the delays etc. Now, we are in the run to make these aircraft in numbers in the near future.
On the recent reports about the LCA Tejas and the foreign single-engine fighter, where does the HAL stand? Is everything fine with LCA?
There is not much controversy about the LCA. HAL stands very strongly behind the LCA. We have established the production line capacity of eight aircrafts, the first five of them are already flying and have done more than 600 sorties. They are doing up. and we have kept things in place to produce eight and we are investing Rs 1,331 crore to increase the capacity to 16 deliverable a year. We have also used another concept of contracting the main components of the aircraft such as the front fuselage, centre fuselage, rear fuselage to L&T, WhAM, DTL.
We have placed the orders. If these guys start giving me the required top-quality product, that adds to my deliverables. Now question comes, how much order I have. I have 20 IOC, of which I will provide 11 to IAF by the end of this financial year, and that would leave me with 4 fighters and 4 trainers, and trainers’ SOP we hope can be concluded so that the production run can be there.
As far as the FOC order is concerned, mid-2018 is when FOC is expected to come but we are asking the customer (IAF) to allow us to cut the material. Because if we start now, the aircraft will come after three years. By then, this AON of 83 LCA will be converted into a contract between the IAF and HAL. However, today the facilities are on and the rate at which jigs are created are available, and the purchase orders can be verified and checked.
What is the delay in getting the FOC now?
The aircraft are flying and the operational capacity enhancement requires a thorough verification. It is a developmental work and we are planning to fly 60 sorties a month. Now between IAF, ADA and HAL, we are ensuring that these many sorties happen.
While the promises are for getting the FOC by mid-2018, we will definitely get it by December 2018. We should then be able to supply these 20 FOC by 2022. And then on to the next 83… If capacities are put on depending on the configuration clearance, the numbers can be rolled out. This is not like an automobile that today you give me a number and automatically I will give you the aircraft immediately. There is a lag, we require all the material to be procured and we need to make 10,000 odd components and put them together, and some components need to be bought from outside.
What is the HAL’s response to the Strategic Partnership model which is being introduced in defence aviation industry now?
As far as HAL is concerned, we are doing good, we are plans are firm, the vertical of helicopter is really credible, we have our BTA, and our LCA and we are on to the upgrades of platforms which are there. We created our own upgrade on Hawk which gives us business. We are partnered upgrading the Jaguars, the Mirages and of course, the next in line would be Sukhoi. I agree that besides BTA and LCA, there is not new manufacturing but another hope for the industry is the FGFA for another 20 years in the future.
Otherwise yes, the current manufacturing plus upgrades plus helicopters, we have work for us. As far as the SP is concerned, business in defence is something beyond the bottomline. Looking at the SP, possibly we are looking at is 200-odd single engine fighters or whatever it is, the future requirement. So that doesn’t really, and I don’t want to use the word, HAL is not worried about it. HAL could well be in the SP loop, that is what we expect.
Is the order book a challenge for HAL?
We are trying to improve it. In aviation industry, the target is an order for 7-10 years. Currently, our annual turnover is Rs 18,000 crore and our target is to have an order book of Rs 1.8 lakh crore. It may not be impossible but it will depend on HAL, what we are promising and delivering. If it is kept on schedule, the order book should not be an issue at all.