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Published on: July 29, 2020, 4:36 p.m.
HAL flies high
  • HAL: the flag-bearer of India’s aerospace industry

By Sarosh Bana. Executive Editor, Business India

The history of India’s largest defence contractor and largest Defence PSU (DPSU), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has been eventful. And this aircraft major, headquartered in the technology and aerospace hub of Bengaluru, reached yet another milestone, when it celebrated the 75th year of its existence on 23 December 2015, designated its Foundation Day.

The state-owned enterprise is now readying itself to participate even more vigorously in the realisation of a stronger military and modern defence industry through the government’s mantra of ‘make in India’. This ideal is buttressed by a supportive defence budget that over a year spiralled by 12.5 per cent, to Rs2.29 lakh crore ($38 billion) in 2014-15. HAL crossed the $1 billion turnover threshold in 2004-05 (when the exchange rate was less than Rs45 to a dollar). Now, a decade later, this tally has more than doubled as HAL recorded its highest ever turnover, in 2014-15, of Rs15,480 crore ($2.31 billion, at Rs67 to a US dollar), up from Rs15,128 crore ($2.26 billion) the previous year.

“Our company’s performance is in line with the MoU signed with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and it has attained the capex target of `900 crore,” says T. Suvarna Raju, chairman & managing director (CMD) of the company. He adds that on the indigenisation front, over 2,000 items were produced that resulted in savings of `100 crore.

“Since its inception 75 years ago, HAL has been the flag-bearer of India’s aerospace industry and I feel proud to be part of this rich legacy,” says Raju. “In fact, all of HAL is proud and we are celebrating our platinum jubilee in different ways, as for instance through seminars and conferences that are relevant to our field.” HAL held a national seminar on Challenges for ‘Make in India’ at Nashik, and another on Developing indigenous technology base of growth in India in Bengaluru.

It has also upgraded its heritage centres and aero museums at Nashik, Bengaluru, Koraput (Odisha) and Korwa (Uttar Pradesh) to showcase the country’s rich aviation heritage. “We are also looking forward to the imminent inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the HAL Helicopter Complex at Tumukuru, about 100 km from Bengaluru,” he notes.

  • HAL-built advanced light combat helicopter

According to Raju, a major milestone attained by the company in its platinum jubilee year has been the successful inaugural run of the core of 25 kN indigenous aero engine in the presence of Manohar Parrikar, minister of defence, on 14 December. Also known as the Hindustan Turbo Fan Engine (HTFE 25) – ‘25’ signifying the thrust of the engine to be 25 kN – the aero engine is a major contribution to the ‘make in India’ effort, having been designed and developed by HAL’s Bengaluru-based Aero Engine Research and Design Centre (AERDC). It has been modelled for basic, intermediate and advanced trainer aircraft, as well as for business jets and five-tonne single-engine aircraft as also twin-engine aircraft of upto nine tonnes.

Navratna company

The same day, the defence minister also launched the design AND development project of the 1,200 kW Hindustan Turbo Shaft Engine (HTSE 1200) for the 3.5-tonne single-engine light utility helicopter (LUH ), which will also be used in twin engined bigger helicopters. He urged HAL to play a key role by supplying 4,000 to 6,000 of these engines over the next 15 to 20 years.

He also inaugurated HAL’s 16-acre Centre for Aerospace Management Excellence & Leadership (CAMEL) in Bengaluru. Seeing great potential for the future with the ‘make in India’ and other initiatives, Parrikar suggested that HAL should remain competitive and capitalise on its experience, but also collaborate with private firms in building up competences and technology.

The CMD points out that the company has grown from humble beginnings in assembling and servicing aircraft of the armed forces during World War II to a mammoth organisation that has designed, developed and produced 15 flying platforms, including fighters, trainers and helicopters.  He mentions that the only aero engine so far developed and manufactured in the country – the HTFE 25 – has also been produced by HAL. “We have not left any area untouched in the aeronautics domain,” he remarks. “Today, HAL is a vast DPSU and a navratna company, while it has also been instrumental in nurturing ancillary private enterprises that have helped develop a credible aerospace industry ecosystem in the country.” HAL has moreover been the preferred partner of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), contributing to all its launch programmes, including the Chandrayan moon mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission and the gslv Mk III launch.

Raju deems the current year momentous for the company not only for its platinum jubilee, but also for its many major design and development initiatives. Foreseeing these to be game-changers in the years ahead for HAL as well as for the country, he cites some of them: the maiden flights of indigenous platforms like the LUH and Hindustan Turboprop Trainer (HTT 40) basic trainer aircraft, apart from the core engine run of HTFE 25. HAL has also secured the initial operational clearance for upgrading the IAF’s fleet of the Anglo-French twin-engine Jaguar ground attack aircraft with the locally designed Display Attack Ranging Intertial Navigation-III (DARIN III ) avionics suite. Series upgrade has also commenced of the IAF’s Mirage 2000 aircraft with advanced navigational, radar and missile systems. Also the first of the series of the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) was officially inducted into the IAF on 17 January 2015. HAL has also developed an 8-kg class of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).


  • Light combat helicopter: scaling new heights

“Looking forward, we have upcoming products like the LCH, LUH, HTT 40, LCA, UAV, the Sukhoi/HAL fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), with Russian collaboration, and the medium- airlift multirole transport aircraft (MTA), again an Indo-Russian venture, as well as engine programmes like the HTFE 25 and htse 1200, and associated accessories and avionics,” indicates Raju. “On the avionics front, HAL plans to develop a Smart Mission Computer; an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar; a futuristic software defined radio (SDR) system; and a smart multi-function display (MFD); among others.” HAL is also venturing into developing civilian aircraft of 50-80 seater capacities, and is undertaking upgrade programmes of the Sukhoi 30 MkI at Nashik and of the Hawk advanced jet trainers at Bengaluru.

Asked how HAL is positioning itself to take on competition and fulfill the ‘Make in India’ agenda, Raju believes that, while the past 75 years have been impressive, the next 25 years will be challenging, as the defence and aerospace behemoth aims to be in the league of the top 10 aerospace companies in the world. “At present, we are a navratna company and we have the vision to achieve the maharatna status,” he says, referring to the government’s granting the status of miniratna, navratna or maharatna to Central public sector enterprises (CPSEs), based on certain parameters.

Indigenisation move

Notwithstanding his company’s commitments to India’s defence services, which remain its main customers, hal is focussing on diversifying its customer profile to the non-defence sector as well, adds Raju. In this regard, the company, expecting the helicopter business segment to grow manifold, will strive to have its rotor craft operate across the world. Its civil aircraft programme for regional transportation is also part of its foray into the non-defence arena.

  • Raju: proud to be part of a rich legacy

    Raju: proud to be part of a rich legacy

“The ‘Make in India’ mission is a right move for the creation of a vibrant aerospace manufacturing sector,” emphasises Raju. “The raised ceiling of 49 per cent FDI in the defence sector is also a definite enabler.” HAL has an indigenisation and R&D policy primarily for developing Indian industry, with around 2,500 Indian vendors associated in its supply chain, supporting the company’s endeavour on various fronts. “This shows that ‘make in India’ is inherent to HAL, which treats private players as its partners,” the CMD claims.

Towards its linkages with academia, HAL has established chairs at five IITs. While IIT-Kanpur is associated with HAL’s rotary UAV design, IIT-Kharagpur collaborates on electronic warfare systems, IIT-Bombay on communications systems, and IIT-Roorkee and IIT-Madras on aerospace systems. HAL is also working on establishing an exclusive Aerospace University.

HAL is also focusing on patents and ‘intellectual property rights’, having filed over 1,100 patents in the last three years. It has created an R&D corpus, earmarking 10 per cent of its operational profit after tax to promote technology development within the company. “This amount will be spent on R&D and for developing indigenous technologies that will enhance HAL’s contribution to ‘make in India’ efforts,” says Raju. “Such a thrust will strengthen HAL as a technology- driven company.”

  • HAL is focusing on diversifying its customer profile to the non-defence sector as well, adds Raju. In this regard, the company, expecting the helicopter business segment to grow manifold, will strive to have its rotor craft operate across the world

Historical beginnings

The history of India’s aviation industry can be traced to the founding of Hindustan Aircraft Ltd at Bangalore on 23 December 1940 by the pioneering industrialist, Seth Walchand Hirachand, in association with the erstwhile princely state of Mysore. In March 1941, the Union government became a shareholder and took over the management in 1942. The company was merged with Aeronautics India Ltd and Aircraft Manufacturing Depot, Kanpur, to form HAL on 1 October 1964.

It was the HF 24 Marut (Sanskrit for ‘storm deity’), designed by the German engineer, Kurt Tank, that was to become the first military aircraft constructed in India. This fighter-bomber was India’s first jet aircraft, making its maiden flight in June 1961.

As many as 147 Maruts were built, but they never realised their full potential due to insufficient power, barely exceeding Mach 1 in level flight when they were conceived to operate at twice that speed. This shortfall precluded the aircraft from performing its ground attack role and defence authorities deemed it more affordable and reliable to equip the Indian Air Force with Soviet combat aircraft rather than continue with the HF 24’s development, especially after Tank left the programme in 1967.

The last of the Maruts served the air force until 1985.  A senior IAF official concedes that the attractive rupee-rouble and barter arrangements the Soviets offered India as their valued ally led to a hiatus in the development of the Indian military industry. And between the Marut and the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), the first of which was inducted into the IAF just last January, no jetfighter has been produced indigenously. The listlessness of a demotivated DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation) during the Nehru and Indira Gandhi eras aggravated this situation.

HAL was hence lulled into being the solitary Indian aircraft company content with assembling Soviet origin aircraft under licence and gradually building up marginal expertise to supply parts to overseas aircraft manufacturers. With a bloated workforce that exuded an outrageous teeth-to-tail ratio, this public sector monopoly, he recalls, symbolised the inertia that had characterised the Indian aerospace and defence industries in those days.

  • HAL has also secured the initial operational clearance for upgrading the IAF’s fleet of the Anglo-French twin-engine Jaguar ground attack aircraft with the locally designed Display Attack Ranging Intertial Navigation-III (DARIN III) avionics suite

Until Israel, France and the US loomed as aggressive military suppliers for India, Moscow had been a time-tested ally with whom New Delhi had signed military technological contracts worth over $30 billion. As much as 70 per cent of India’s military hardware, be it for the army, navy or the air force, has been sourced from Russia. The ongoing co-development and production of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile for the Indian and, possibly, third country navies has been among the hallmarks of this relationship. The two countries have also had extensive cooperation in space.

The Soviet Union assisted India in setting up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station and the launching of experimental satellites Aryabhata, Bhaskara 1 and Bhaskara 2. The Indian remote sensing satellites IRS 1A and 1B were launched by Soviet launch vehicles on a commercial basis. And the flight of Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, who was Squadron Leader and chief test pilot at HAL, was from the Salyut Space Station.

HAL has forged several deals with Russia, among them for the joint development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and for the multirole transport aircraft (MTA). It has besides secured licensed production of Sukhoi 30 MKIs, and maintenance contracts for the Kamov 31 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters for the Indian Navy and Ilyushin 78 air tankers for the IAF, as also for the 16 MiG 29Ks to be stabled aboard the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

HAL officials emphasise that the initial assembling activities reinforced HAL’s base expertise to assume more ambitious projects. “After all, even Japan’s F 2 support fighter is based on Lockheed Martin’s F 16, Mitsubishi being the prime contractor for the project, and Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. fabricates the cockpit module for the Sikorsky S-92 and empennage (tail section) for the Boeing 717 and rudder for the Dassault Falcon 900 and Falcon 2000,” says one. The senior IAF officer stresses that, while HAL took time to find its bearings, it has matured as an entity with a potentially strong brand equity.

(This is reproduced from Business India magazine. This was published in our issue dated January 4-17, 2016)

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