[HT Interview] Ramping up capacity, prepared to execute big orders: HAL chief | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

[HT Interview] Ramping up capacity, prepared to execute big orders: HAL chief

By, Bengaluru
Oct 24, 2023 09:57 AM IST

Aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is ramping up capacities, preparing to execute the big orders and projects

Aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has found itself in the spotlight after the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced plans to buy more fighter jets, light combat helicopters, and to upgrade its Sukhoi-30s in potential contracts worth billions of dollars. HAL is also set to begin work next month on jointly designing and developing helicopter engines with French firm Safran, and is negotiating a deal for the joint production of fighter jet engines in the country with GE Aerospace.

In an interview with HT, HAL chief CB Ananthakrishnan outlined how the state-run firm is ramping up capacities, preparing to execute the big orders and projects. (HT Photo)
In an interview with HT, HAL chief CB Ananthakrishnan outlined how the state-run firm is ramping up capacities, preparing to execute the big orders and projects. (HT Photo)

In an interview with Rahul Singh, HAL chief CB Ananthakrishnan outlined how the state-run firm is ramping up capacities, preparing to execute the big orders and projects, and pushing indigenisation along the way.

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Edited excerpts:

HAL has been on a roll. How prepared are you for the journey ahead? We anticipated these projects and began laying the groundwork two to three years ago. The primary thing was capacity planning. The capacities we have created, and are creating, will become national assets for future programmes. We are confident of delivering on time. Apart from platforms like fighters and helicopters, we are also creating additional capacity for engines, avionics and accessories. There has been a paradigm shift in HAL’s approach. We no longer wait to start work after an order or sanction comes, be it design or manufacturing activity. The moment we see the demand for a particular product, HAL ploughs its own money into these activities so that time is not lost. Today we ensure we have a head start even before a contract is signed. The potential orders for more light combat aircraft (LCA) Mk-1A and light combat helicopters (LCH) reflect the customer’s confidence in us, in our ability to deliver higher numbers and handle tight timelines. We have enough capacity to execute current and future orders.

What is the status of the joint venture to design and develop helicopter engines with Safran? The JV will become operational next month, and production of engines is expected to begin in four years. These engines will be for the Indian multi-role helicopter (IMRH) and its deck-based version. There is a requirement for around 400 such helicopters. We are looking at basing the Safran-HAL JV at our new Tumakuru facility, which is the largest helicopter manufacturing facility in the country. We can manufacture up to 90 helicopters in Tumakuru every year, a mix of LCH, light utility helicopters and IMRH. With the JV based there, Tumakuru will become one big complex for helicopters and associated equipment. Safran and HAL will have a 50:50 work-share. IMRH could go into production with the new engine by 2031. The timelines are tight, but the good part is that we are already manufacturing the Shakti engine for the advanced light helicopter with technology transfer from Safran.

HAL has ramped up LCA Mk-1A production capacity to 24 aircraft per year. Is there more scope to scale up? Our current goal is to deliver 24 aircraft from the Bengaluru and Nashik facilities from 2025-26. Once we have reached that goal, we can ramp up production to 30 aircraft per annum. It is possible if we can streamline the supply chain. But first we have to prove we can deliver 24 as there’s a general sense that HAL is not capable of producing aircraft in big numbers. I don’t want to get into that debate. More numbers are achievable as we know what our capacities and capabilities are. We are focussed on making more numbers available to our customers as soon as possible.

How is the first LCA Mk-1A shaping up? As far as the first aircraft goes, the certification process of the new systems is underway by the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification. Most of this has been done, and only three or four more systems need to be certified. It should happen in the next two to three months. On the production side, we started work on the aircraft last year and it is now in an advanced stage. It should get into equipping soon. Once all the systems are certified, we will do the ground runs and test flying. The first Mk-1A will be delivered to IAF in February 2024, and the last of the 83 jets by 2027-28 – a year ahead of the contracted delivery schedule.

An order for 156 LCHs is in the pipeline... We have manufactured 15 limited series production (LSP) helicopters and now the series production will begin. We have finalised the additional requirements. We want to deliver good numbers every year, instead of the normal 12-15. Our target will be to execute this order in the shortest possible time, in five to six years. That’s around 25 choppers per year.

How are negotiations progressing with GE for the F414 engines? We should have a deal in six months to a year. We expect GE to give us a price quotation soon and then discussions will gather momentum. Things are moving fast. Our target is to conclude the deal at a good price.

What will the 65,000-crore Su-30 upgrade entail? We have begun discussions with IAF. We have almost come to some sort of framework within which the upgrades have to be done. We will not depend on any foreign original equipment manufacturer for this upgrade of 84 aircraft. It will be an indigenous effort to the extent possible. It will involve equipping the Su-30s with the indigenous Uttam active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, electronic warfare suites, weapon control systems, avionics and new weapons.

What do you think of India’s self-reliance goals? In one word, achievable.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the geopolitical situation around the globe have re-emphasised the need to be self-reliant. We have seen challenges in the supply chain during the last two to three years due to the over dependence on foreign sources. We are trying to change that. The government has released several indigenisation lists and set tight timelines to manufacture military hardware within the country. We have created an indigenisation cell, which is funded with 3% of our net operating profit. Around 200 crore will be ploughed into this fund every year. We have identified several indigenisation programmes and earmarked an initial budget of 1,800 crore.

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