THE CONTROVERSY over the 36-jet Rafale deal has brought Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under the spotlight with “serious concerns” being raised in official quarters over the three-year delay in the public sector giant’s production of Russian-origin Sukhoi Su-30 MKI aircraft for the IAF.
Official sources told The Indian Express that HAL was scheduled to deliver the last of a set of 140 Russian-origin fighters by March 2017, which has now been pushed to March 2020.
“We had asked the IAF to pay an additional Rs 2,000 crore to HAL for setting up additional facilities to compress the delivery schedule (of March 2017) and deliver the last of the contracted 140 aircraft by March 2015. But there were further delays in production,” sources said.
HAL missed out on the Rafale deal signed in 2016 after the manufacturer, France’s Dassault Aviation, opted for other Indian companies under the offset clause for local tie-ups, with a bulk of the work awarded to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence. Opposition parties have alleged that the government has acted in a manner that harmed the interests of HAL, and benefitted Ambani.
In the case of Sukhoi Su-30 MKI, 50 fighter jets were supplied in “flyaway condition” by Russia as part of the direct contract with India, and HAL was contracted to deliver 222 more — under licensed production — in six different contracts. The first four contracts were for a total of 140 aircraft, while two additional contracts were for another 40 and 42 aircraft, respectively.
Of the contracts totalling 140 aircraft, HAL is yet to produce 33, sources said. But the public sector company has directly procured some aircraft from Russia and delivered them to the IAF to bridge the gap. These deliveries were from the two additional contracts, thereby ensuring that 188 of the 222 aircraft have been given to the IAF, sources said. For the current production year, sources said, 12 aircraft are scheduled but only one has been produced so far.
“If these Russian aircraft were not procured by HAL, the delay in delivery would be five years, not just three years. The full set of 140 aircraft were to completely delivered by 2014-15 but are still awaited,” sources said.
When contacted, Gopal Sutar, Chief of Media Communications of HAL, said that “there is no delay in the production and delivery schedules”. “We have so far given 199 aircraft, which form the backbone of our precious customer, the Indian Air Force,” Sutar said.
“HAL has successfully absorbed the entire manufacturing technology in four phases and the Su 30 MkI is produced from the raw material stage by handholding our private partners. HAL is perhaps the only aerospace company in the world where the raw material enters the gates of the company and the final product flies away,” Sutar said.
According to sources, the IAF has also given “production concessions” to HAL to ensure that it can accept the aircraft made by the public-sector manufacturer, ranging from use of short-life components to delay in supply of role equipment.
Asked why these concessions were given to HAL, a senior IAF official said, “If these concessions were not accorded, the delays would have been even more, which would have seriously affected the operational capability of IAF.”
Of the authorised 42 squadrons of fighter aircraft, IAF currently has only 31, a number that is expected to dip further as older aircraft, such as the MIGs, are phased out.
Sources also said that they “have seen the difference in the quality of the production standard between HAL-produced aircraft and the original Russian-supplied aircraft.” The issues pointed out by the IAF to HAL vary from time to time, indicating a lack of proper quality control and lack of awareness in handling such issues at HAL, sources said.
“The question of quality compromise does not arise in any of the HAL products. This is raised time and again just to score points. It seems that a very few understand how quality issues are taken care of in aerospace manufacturing,” Sutar said.
“Generally, the quality is built into the product in the aerospace industry, and this includes our Su 30 MKI because of the nature of the production process. Besides, HAL has consistently stood guarantee for the quality of its products with the monitoring level of quality assurance by the Government-owned Quality Assurance’s authorities as a customer’s representative. So why raise the quality issue?” Sutar said.
In 2016, a new government-to-government deal on Rafale led to the cancellation of the proposal of buying 126 fighter jets under a competitive tender process by the previous UPA government. Under that proposal, 108 Rafale fighter jets were to be made by HAL in India. But the public sector firm was unable to come to an agreement with Dassault over various issues, and the proposal was withdrawn by the government in June 2015.
THE SUKHOI DEAL
- 272 Sukhoi SU-30 MKI aircraft for IAF
- 50 in flyaway condition from Russia, 222 to be made by HAL under licence
- 6 contracts with HAL, first four for 140, next two for 40 and 42 respectively
- 3-year delay in production of 33 aircraft from the first four contracts