New Delhi: Engineers and other staff of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited are upset over Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rubbishing the capability of her own ministry’s public sector undertaking in trying to justify the Modi government in the Rafale aircraft deal.

They felt insulted by the minister’s remarks justifying the awarding of Rafale’s Rs 37,000-crore offset contract going to Reliance instead of HAL, and pointed out that it is the country’s only defence aerospace company established seven decades ago which has been the backbone of the Indian Air Force. Also, it has the capability to produce any fighter with technology transfer.

A retired HAL executive pointed out that the order book position of HAL has come down drastically just because the government wants to promote the private sector. He wondered why the public sector company is being made a pawn in the political slug-fest. He alleged that the government wants to kill HAL systematically by pulling out Rs 5,000-6,000 crore of shares as a buyback policy for the last three years.

Further, it is pointed out that HAL has been maintaining Mirage-2000 aircraft, manufactured by Rafale maker Dassault Aviation, for the last 20 years and as such there is no reason why Dassault should object to HAL’s capability as claimed by Sitharaman. Another top engineer in HAL said design and development of new aircraft or aircraft engines has been perfected by the public sector company while no Indian private sector company has the expertise, patience and perseverance to pursue a design that may take anywhere between six to 20 years manufacture.

Even the IAF is worried that it requires new aircraft as fast as possible to replace the ageing fleet while it may take 20 to 25 years for the private sector to reach maturity in an otherwise risky industry. These insiders said the private sector should better start by becoming tier-1, tier-2 and tier-3 suppliers of big players like Airbus and Boeing. They should first establish skills, processes, quality, human resource and management capabilities. The HAL executives said only they have the unique experience in terms of prototype flight testing. The PSU has also produced Sukhoi Su-30MKI, AJT Hawk, Tejas and many helicopters to defend the borders.