|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: June 2017|
BANGALORE. India’s state-run aerospace major HAL is changing its perspective away from component manufacturing to an integrator or aircraft and onboard systems.
HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju told India Strategic in an interview that the company has started outsourcing of fuselage parts like front fuselage, centre fuselage, rear fuselage and wings etc. and that there is enough interest and talent in the private industry to make even gearboxes and composite material components.
On the company’s flagship Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas project, he said a second assembly line is being set up to meet the combat jet demand of the country, and “we should be producing 16 aircraft per year for the Indian Air Force (IAF)” within the next few years. He also disclosed that the single-engine LAC project is now totally with HAL.
Initially, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was involved as the aircraft’s designer. Now, HAL, as the industry partner has taken up its further development. “It’s now a 100 per cent HAL project.”
Mr Raju said aircraft manufacture through HAL was now open to the industry, and as integrators, HAL will be the guarantor and warrantor of the product during the lifecycle of the aircraft for 30 to 40 years.
“We look for the best industry products and we promise the best industrial practices.” Notably, the LCA has already tested a refuelling probe, fired missiles successfully, demonstrated high altitude as well as hot weather capabilities, and is now about to be fitted with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the under development MK 1A version. Replies to a Request for Quotations (RfQs) sent to six global companies have been received. Among them are Israeli Elta, Swedish Saab, French Thales and US Raytheon.
HAL needs a combination of onboard EW suite, Self-Protection Jammer (SPJ) and AESA radar, and whosoever has the best combination, will be selected. These systems should be able to talk to each other and be quick in integration.
“By 2018, we should be able to give a demonstration of this integrated package to the IAF, and shortly after that, within 2018 or 2019, we should start building the required numbers of LCA Mk 1A aircraft for IAF.”
Understandably, outsourcing of components would help speed up the process. Even for gearboxes, three Indian players are interested. “It saves us time, helps mature the Indian defence industry, and of course, is good business with them.”
It may be noted that the Government is also looking for another single engine aircraft due to the urgency of IAF requirements in replacing its outdated MiG series of aircraft.
The selected company, together with HAL, should be quickly able to fill in the numbers. Mr Raju said there was favourable response from IAF to the development of Tejas, and that Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa had also expressed satisfaction after flying the aircraft during the recent Aero India in Bangalore.
In fact, three LCA Tejas took part in the flying display on the occasion. About LCA Mk II, the Chairman said the aircraft is still on the drawing board and it should take seven years to develop.
But for LCA Mk IA, HAL is ready to start producing it from 2018. HAL has already purchased 40 additional GE 404 engines for the Mk IA version.
HAL is still working on the indigenous Kaveri engine. Some companies have promised help and sooner or later, India will need the hot core technology as well as that of the composite material fan blades.
Mr Raju observed that HAL engineers were fast acquiring expertise in different systems because of their involvement in the production of Hawk Advanced Trainer Jet (AJT) and Su-30 MKI aircraft. HAL has done more than 200 Su-30s, and their periodic upgrades are also being done by it. IAF has ordered a total of 272 Su-30s so far.
In fact, HAL is the global leader now in upgrading the Sukhois, and again, “we are the ones who upgraded the air-launched version of the Brahmos supersonic missile on it for the Indian Air Force.”
As for HAL’s contribution in space, Mr Raju said nearly everything except the motor in India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is done by HAL. PSLV is the workhorse rocket for satellite launches by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for years now, and globally, one of the most reliable and cost-effective space launch vehicles.
It has been used in more than 100 space missions, From top to bottom, the PSLV’s superstructure is done by HAL, and it was this rocket which flung Chandrayaan, India’s mission to the moon in 2008.
(To be continued….)