In its thrust to evolve as a significant global player in aerospace industry, HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics limited), the largest Aeronautics Hub in South Asia, has over the last 80 years built up a wide-spectrum, multifaceted aerospace ecosystem in India, developing comprehensive skills in Design, Development, upgrade, Manufacture and Maintenance of Fighters, Trainers, Helicopters, Transport Aircraft, Engines, Avionic Systems and Accessories. HAL Chairman and Managing Director R Madhavan in an interview  speaks about the indigenous technological advancements, introducing game changers in the fighter fleet, spearheading engine technologies and development mission, overcoming the unprecedented universal challenges thrown up by the Coronavirus Pandemic and the HAL vision for the future. Edited Excerpts:

HAL’s Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC) has completed the structural design of the new variant of Light Combat Aircraft, called TEJAS MK-1A. What is the present status of the project and how it will be a game changer for the fighter fleet of India?

There are quite a few new System/Sensors like AESA Radar, EW Suite, DMG etc. and Stores Like ASRAAM to be integrated in TEJAS MK-1A to enhance the performance and potent of the aircraft. There are also a few improvements and strengthening required on the Structural Design for better operations and maintainability. All these re-design/ modification to design, of not only the structure but also the electrical wiring, cooling system etc. have been completed. HAL is still awaiting the order from IAF for the TEJAS MK-1A aircraft but notwithstanding, with internal funds, have progressed the above-mentioned re-design as well as gone ahead in-house development of the various Systems and software. The MK-1A Aircraft when inducted (in 3 years from contract) will be a game changer with its State-of-the-Art Systems and Weapons.

How far is TEJAS’s naval variant from the induction into the navy and what are the challenges?

TEJAS Navy has successfully completed the developmental tasks including demonstration of operation from Aircraft Carrier. In January 2020, the TEJAS Naval prototypes (Trainer and fighter) demonstrated launch and recovery on INS Vikramaditya. During the Shore based test facility (SBTF) trials and Ship trials the aircraft serviceability was proved to be extremely high and was able to sustain the stringent requirements of arrested landings. 

The ski jump take-off with two Derby missiles and two R73 missiles was demonstrated which proves that aircraft can be utilized in air defence roles from the carrier. The aircraft can also be utilized as a lead in trainer fully capable of ship operations too.

Indian Navy has taken a decision to go ahead with the development of a Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) to replace the MiG-29K. The TEJAS Navy prototype will be used to test the various new structural elements like the Vortex Flap, Strakes, Stabilator, IFCS Development and Other Combination before the TEDBF prototypes are ready.

Could you please share the current rate of production of TEJAS and when will HAL achieve the target rate of 16 TJEAS fighters per year?

HAL has already augmented production capacity to 10 to 12 TEJASs per year by establishing one more production line, at one of our sister division in Bangalore and has also developed partners for supply of major structural assemblies, beside the dedicated production line already established at TEJAS Division.

A new facility that is spread across 35 acres and having a built-up area of over 34,000 square meter (sq. m.) is being made ready in Bangalore's HAL campus for production of structural assemblies of the advanced variant of TEJAS which is TEJAS MK-1A. The new facility will be in full-fledged operation from FY 2021-22 onwards. HAL expects the demonstration of 16 aircraft pa capacity from 2022-23 onwards so as to be ready when the deliveries are to be made against 83 TEJAS order.

In yet another major fillip to indigenous program, 300th Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH-Dhruv) rolled out from HAL hangar recently. Could you talk about the latest updates of the project?

Rolling out of 300th ALH is a testimony to the capabilities we have built over years with concerted effort of HAL fraternity and customer support. Currently, HAL is executing 73 ALH contract comprising of 41 Army, 16 IN and 16 CG helicopters.

In the case of Coast Guard and Navy 19 New systems have been integrated on ALH Mk-III which will further enhance capability of ALH for coastal surveillance. The first batch of these helicopters will be delivered to Coast Guard and Navy shortly and we are sure the enhanced capability of these helicopters will add an edge to customer’s operations.

Out of 73 ALH contract, HAL has already produced 30 ALH for Army, 5 for Navy and 6 for CG. We would complete the rest 32 helicopters by 2022. 

While HAL is expecting more orders on ALH, the production of limited series production LCH has already commenced. IAF and Army has already issued Letter of Intent for early delivery of 5 LCH each for operational exploitation at the earliest. Proactively, production activities have commenced at HAL and first helicopter has commenced ground run. Next four helicopters are also in advance stages of equipping. Already, HAL produced two Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) have been deployed for operations at high altitude (Leh sector) at short notice to support IAF missions in Aug 2020.

On Light Utility Helicopter

LUH has attained operational clearance for the IAF variant. Recently, LUH has also successfully completed hot and high-altitude trials at Leh paving its way for IOC for Army. HAL has also started design and development of IMRH which would be replacement for phasing out Medium Lift Helicopters from Services. We can say that the Product Portfolio of Helicopters by HAL would be truly in line with Government of India initiative of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

A major challenge faced by Indian aerospace manufacturing sector in the creation of fighters is the development of indigenous engines. What are your thoughts on it and how far is India from achieving this long-standing goal?

Design of aircraft power plant is a complex process involving multi-disciplinary activities. The reliability considerations, particularly for aircrafts configured with a single engine, make the design of these power plants even more complex owing to their extreme service conditions. Also, the barriers like high level of investment, longer gestation period, special raw materials, Single Crystal technology, High altitude testing, flying testbed etc. have hindered the engine development programs. Technology acquisition through offset efforts have also been turned down quoting various reasons like export embargo, confidentiality, and critical technologies etc.

However, HAL has so far manufactured over 5100 Engines of 16 Types both for fixed wing and rotary wing platform. Knowledge gained while manufacturing the engines has led HAL to successfully carry out, for the first time in the country, the design develop & produce small gas turbine engines and their components. The products that are designed & developed in the area of aero-engines are 4 kN thrust turbojet engine (PTAE-7) used on Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA), 110 kW power turbo shaft engine (GTSU-110) for starting the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) engine and its upgrades, 60 kW starter generator engine for starting AI-20D engine of An-32 aircraft, Air producer engine for starting Adour-811 and 871 engines of Jaguar and Hawk aircrafts, Auxiliary Power Unit for FGFA class aircraft and accessories like air turbine starters, turbo chargers etc.

Realizing the need of indigenous engine technologies and engines we have launched two engine development programs, Hindustan Turbo Fan engine (HTFE-25) of 25 kN thrust for trainer aircraft and UAV’s, and Hindustan Turbo Shaft engine (HTSE-1200) of shaft power rating which can power Light & Medium weight helicopters (3.5 to 6.5 tons in single/ twin engine configuration)

For realizing the goal of having an indigenous engine for fighter aircrafts, the best way forward could be a consortium basis with HAL, GTRE, CSIR, Govt. labs, leading premier institutions and private industries as the partners of the project as a national program. Opting of foreign technical collaborator (OEM of Engine) may be explored based on technology gaps existing within country and willingness of foreign OEM to part such technologies without any limitations. Engine development will be fructifying in India by a concerted effort and amalgamation of learnings from all the agencies. Government has initiated moves to create an aero engine complex in India involving PSUs, Private Industries including MSMEs, Govt labs and academia.

Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff, undertook his maiden flight in HAL designed and developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) on 20th November and reviewed the project ahead of its induction to IAF. What is the status of the project and how crucial is the multi-role lightest attack helicopter to IAF?

LCH is the first indigenously designed, dedicated combat helicopter, meeting the requirements of Indian Armed Forces. Close to 1800 development flights are carried out cumulatively on 4 Technology Demonstrators till date. Flight testing was carried out at various altitudes from Sea level to High altitudes of Siachen range and at extreme Cold weather, Hot weather conditions and in Desert region.

LCH is integrated with Mission sensors such as Electro Optical system, Helmet Mounted Display System and Weapon systems such as Turret Gun, Rocket & Air to Air Missile system. Weapon firing trials have been completed. LCH has demonstrated its capability to land & take off at 4700m altitude at Siachen with adequate fuel and payload.

The Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) for LCH for both Airforce and Army variants have been accorded by CEMILAC. Based on requirement from IAF, 2 LCHs of HAL were deployed at Leh in August 2020 for undertaking operational missions in support of IAF. These helicopters successfully demonstrated quick deployment to forward locations and operations in extreme temperatures prevalent in the area and able to operate in the complete Area of Responsibility (AOR).

With its advanced technologies, stealth features for effective combat roles such as Destruction of Enemy Air Defence, Counter Insurgency, Search and Rescue, Anti-tank, Counter Surface Force Operations etc., deployment of LCH is very much crucial to meet the requirements of the Indian Armed Forces.

There is an initial requirement indicated for 65 LCHs by Indian Air Force & 97 LCHs by Indian Army. The contract for 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) LCHs (10 LCHs for IAF and 5 LCHs for IA) is in advanced stage of finalization. As a proactive measure, HAL has launched production of LSPs and progressed with the equipping & integration activities towards flight tests in anticipation of orders which are expected shortly. Letter of Intent is received from IAF and Indian Army for delivery of five each LCH LSPs pending contract finalization. Chief of Air Staff made his maiden flight in LCH on 20th Nov 2020 and expressed his satisfaction with the helicopter performance and progress made on the project. His positive feedback encourages HAL to move forward with passion in Design and Development of indigenous Rotary Wing Platforms.

What are operational highlights of 2020-21 for HAL so far? What is expectation in current fiscal and what are the goals?

HAL as of date has manufactured 18 new Aircraft/helicopter and 57 new engines during the current fiscal. Additionally, we have also overhauled 97 aircraft/ helicopter and 276 engines during the period.

HAL produced FOC standard TEJAS has been inducted into IAF Squadron ‘The Flying Bullets’ (18 Squadron) in May 2020. HAL produced two Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) have been deployed for operations at high altitude (Leh sector) at short notice to support IAF missions in Aug 2020. HAL has also achieved the milestones of producing 150th Dornier aircraft and 300th ALH Dhruv. HAL has also completed the order for RD-33 engines this year from its Koraput Engine factory. In Sep 2020, ground run of first indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Helicopter-Limited Series Production (LCH-LSP) has been conducted for which order is still awaited.

In Nov 2020, HAL successfully delivered the biggest Cryogenic propellant tank (C32 LH2) ever fabricated for ISRO much ahead of the contractual schedule.

We expect order finalization for the 83 TEJAS MK-1A & 15 LCH LSP in the current fiscal. We expect greater contributions from the company towards Atmanirbhar Bharat in terms of further deliveries of indigenous platforms and equipment and greater involvement of the successful public private partnerships.

Courtesy: Aeromag