|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: December 2017|
New Delhi. The state-run HAL is poised for booming growth with new orders for 83 more Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk 1A and about 200 Russian Ka 226T light helicopters to be produced in India.
HAL already has orders for 40 earlier variants of Tejas in hand, under production, and with the new orders confirmed by Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa and the Government, the total order for 123 Tejas would be the second biggest for IAF in the last 20 years after that of 272 Su-30 MKIs from Russia. Early December, Russian Helicopters announced that a final agreement with HAL is on the anvil for 200 Ka 226T Light Helicopters, out of which 60 would be delivered off the shelf and the rest progressively made by it under Transfer of Technology (ToT).
In its 2007 tender, IAF had in fact sought 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). That was scrapped and finally the Government ordered 36 Rafales, the aircraft finally selected, as an emergency measure, The order for 123 Tejas aircraft just about matches that but according to IAF sources, does not replace the MMRCA requirement as IAF has to replace all its Soviet and 1980s vintage aircraft which form the bulk of its combat strength.
As for the Kamov light helicopter, it is needed by all the three Services and their order should eventually grow much more as it would be procedurally easier in the coming years to place follow-on orders with HAL itself. The Indian Navy itself needs about a 100 of them.
The Kamov light helicopter is required by all the three Services and their order should eventually grow much more as it would be procedurally easier in the coming years to place follow-on orders with HAL itself.
Then of course, HAL is already producing the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv and its armed variant Garud, BAE Systems Hawk AJT, Su 30 MKI, and has begun Limited Series production of its Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), five for the Army and 10 for IAF. There is maintenance and periodic upgrade work for them, and HAL also integrates the BrahMos missile for the three Services.
This is perhaps the first time that HAL should have consolidated orders worth about USD 8 to 10 billion, and more in the coming years with business committed for 15 to 20 years.
HAL Chairman and Managing Director T Suvarna Raju told India Strategic in an interaction some time back that “one big plus now is that the IAF is with us in every step, and we will deliver what it wants.” During Aero India 2017 for instance, the Air Chief had flown the aircraft and liked it, and “whatever he and IAF suggested, is being incorporated.”
IAF placed the procedural single vendor RfP for 83 LCA Mk 1A with HAL on Dec 20. As HAL has already accepted the IAF requirements, it would submit its response and perhaps get the order within the first half of this year.
Mr Raju agreed that with more orders would come more challenges of quality and timelines but “we will keep our promises” and work on “quick integration within 2018” of various systems mandated by IAF.
The Air Chief had told India Strategic in an interview sometime back that the initial feedback about the LCA was “encouraging” but to meet the urgent operational requirements, IAF had asked that “LCA Mk 1A be equipped with additional capabilities such as the Active Eclectronically Scanned Array Radar (AESA) radar, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, Air to Air Refueling (AAR) and Electronic Warfare (EW) suite.”
This was a couple of months ago, around the Air Force Day October 8.
Notably, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been encouraging HAL for the past several years, first by asking IAF to place orders for LCA Tejas with Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and then with Final Operational Clearance (FOC) for 20 plus 20 aircraft. The tie-up with Russian Helicopters, Su-30 MKI, and all others have all been at the direction of the Government.
Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa had said: The Government has granted Acceptance of Necessity (AON) – the first step in sanctioning a project – for procurement of 83 LCA Mk 1A aircraft. Its production is “planned in continuation to LCA Final Operational Clearance” and “is likely to be completed by 2025-26.
As per the timelines, HAL will deliver the first 40 aircraft by 2019-20, just as production of the Tejas Mk 1A variant begins.
The Air Chief had also confirmed that the joint Venture between HAL and the Russian side for producing the Ka 226T would begin delivery in about four years from the date of signing the contract under the Government’s Make in India programme.
That is now stated to happen early 2018, as disclosed by Mr Andrey Boginsky, CEO of Russian Helicopters.
An Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) was signed between India and Russia earlier in 2017, with 50.5 participation of HAL and 49.5 of Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport. HAL has been building the required production facility for some time. The Russians will share the production documentation and help create the manufacturing infrastructure.
The helicopter would powered by a French engine made by Safran which is assisting HAL in developing the Kaveri engine for jet aircraft, potentially for use on LCAs and other aircraft.
Mr Raju said that HAL was aiming to produce 16 LCAs a year, and planned to ramp this up to 25. For that, it was now assuming the role of an integrator.
HAL has accordingly turned to the private sector, offering it unprecedented opportunities. Aircraft structures are modular now, and with 3D applications, the manufacturing time has come down.
“HAL is shifting its focus from component manufacturing to integrating aircraft and systems; we have invited the private industry to supply composite material structural parts like front fuselage, centre fuselage, rear fuselage, wings etc… we want the whole composite body from the industry, we want the gearbox from the industry, we want the blades from the industry.”
Notably, procedural paperwork to formalize the order for the Tejas Mk1 has been under process for some time and in anticipation, HAL started looking for suppliers for the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) combat radar , the key requirement placed by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 2016 itself with a Request for Quotations (RfQ) to global vendors like Raytheon, Saab, Thales and IAI. The Tejas Mk 1A will also be equipped with Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) and indigenous software for easier maintainability.
Funding for developing the newer version has come from HAL itself, IAF as well as the Indian Navy which helped initiate the programme but has opted out till the aircraft has sufficient power for operations onboard aircraft carriers. A naval variant needs to quickly take off or abort it should something go wrong, and sufficient body strength to crash land on a carrier deck – as they do in routine – and then be stopped by arrestor wires.
Incidentally, as except the Su-30 MKI, all of IAF’s aircraft are of Soviet or 1980s vintage, the Government is also considering options proposed by IAF for bigger single and twin engine combat jets capable of offensive operations well inside hostile territory should a need arise. IAF has 32 Squadrons instead of the sanctioned 42, and has put a requirement of about 300 bigger and more powerful Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCAs) like the Rafale or Boeing Advanced Super Hornet F/A 18, Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 or Saab Gripen E.
The Indian Navy has also asked for 57 shipboard fighters to be available within five years, and apparently, that requirement would be clubbed by the MoD with the IAF proposals.