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LCA MK 2 to enter production 2027 and AMCA in 2035 : HAL

Source : Business World

LCA MK 2 to enter production 2027 and AMCA in 2035 : HAL
LCA AF Mark 2 or Medium Weight Fighter (MWF)



Hindustan Aeronautics limited (HAL) is leading on some of the most strategic projects in the aerospace and Defence in India. With Rs 1 lakh crore worth of order basket, HAL is leveraging on its depth and confidence from LCA Tejas to Combat helicopters to Unmmaned systems. Especially the growing stature of LCA Tejas and its acceptability by the IAF guide us for building the next generation capabilities with such trails and tribulation.  But the new era of aerospace is about breaking boundary across technological breakthroughs. In a freewheeling chat, HAL’s Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan, talks to BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha of the many new projects on the anvil.  

Madhavan throws light on crucial projects: LCA Tejas Mk1a, Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), AMCA, Tejas Mk 2, Trainer aircraft (HTT 40) and UAVs among others. But again what excites is the depth of aero engine technology.  What do we need in terms of advance material, turbine core or the blade technology for the turbofan engine? Is HAL going to leapfrog in developing big-sized UAVs for ISR? The entire range of such critical projects will be a paradigm of India’s security and industrial capability in a decade to come.  

Manish K. Jha- The private sector Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Airbus have been awarded a $3 billion contract for the C295 tactical military aircraft. As a leading aerospace company and a defence public sector undertaking (DPSU), how do you look at this development?

R. Madhavan– It’s a good development. We feel it’s good that the Tatas finally got it. We were not involved. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) wasn’t allowed to participate. So a private company has come in and if it has started (production) it is definitely a good partner to have. Even if I look at it from the point of view of HAL or as a private entity, we would like to see what is the way forward after this, because after all, when a new infra[1]structure is created, whether it is by a private partner or HAL, the infrastructure costs are finally owned by the customer. So infrastructure is developed through this road, but they should also have a visibility of further orders so that the infra[1]structure is used properly, into which the Indian government has been holding a stake. So that is where we feel it should be utilised in future also.

Secondly the extent of technology that comes in ? and definitely, they will be accessorising their parts ? which is an important part of the cost compared to only the structures. Definitely the MOD (Union Ministry of Defence) would also have insisted that some accessories be indigenised here too. I really do not know what it is the extent (of accessorising) involved but that will also improve the ecosystem of accessories being manufactured in the private sector.

Manish K. Jha- But does HAL wish to be a part of the C295 programme (‘Make in India’ aerospace programme)?

R. Madhavan- No, we would like to be a partner when an indigenised platform is developed. So any other development I feel should be left with the many players in this field now. So we shouldn’t get into it as a competitor. We should develop the ecosystem. In fact many of these long structural integrating partners and diverse suppliers are our partners basically. And they started off with our partnership and they should be the ones who should get a part of this programme, for this new platform.

We should look at it as partnering, including with the Tatas and any other entity and government organisations like NAL (National Aerospace Laboratories) to create our own trans[1]port aircraft. Or even for that matter, jointly developing with any other (enterprise), wherein it becomes a faster route with the design inputs coming from us.

Manish K. Jha- Does HAL have any sort of foundation in this area? Has HAL done any sort of design or collaborated for this tactical military transport aircraft?

R. Madhavan- A long time back, we had a programme which is similar to this. After that we have always been in TOT (transfer of technology). Now it’s a different issue. But when we were in TOT, nothing else was developed after that. And it was high time we should have taken a step in that direction. We started off with a project called MTA (Military Transport Aircraft). The company was also called along with the Russians, but it didn’t go forward. 

We should have continued with that project. By this time, we would have got a platform of our own. But, it’s still not a very late step. We should have something which is a platform that can be converted into both transport as well as passenger aircraft. This should be as India’s national project.

We are into that also. The National Aerospace Laboratories has been given a lead but the thing is that we are not very happy with the progress, because a lot of money is involved and the grant from the government has to come quickly. Otherwise, the more you delay we lose the market and we are losing time too. So, this should get into it very quickly, if not, then we should also think that we can also get into it and a big solution in that range. If that happens we can take in all the other private partners that we have and create an impact overall along with the foreign partners who can give us some of the design.

Manish K. Jha- HAL has announced production of attack helicopters that are as workable as the world’s leading Boeing’s Apache in 12 tonne category. You also set the ambitious timeline of having the first prototype by 2023 if the government funds and gives the go ahead to the project this year. How is it unfolding? Will it be a benchmark project for HAL in the global arena?

R. Madhavan- Hindustan Aeronautics Limited plans to take up design and development of the 13 tonne category medium lift helicopter named Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH) suitable for tactical troop movement, combat search and rescue, combat logistics support, casualty evacuation etc. The helicopter is planned as a replacement for the Mi -17 helicopter fleet of the Indian Defence Services due for retirement from 2028 onwards.

The armed roles envisaged for the platform include heliborne and Amphibious Assault operations, Commando/ Special Forces tasks, Anti- Counter Terrorist and Anti – Counter Insurgency tasks, combat fire support to ground forces, ASW, ASuW and commando roles for the naval variant etc. However, currently, HAL has no plans to make an attack helicopter in the Apache Class.

Manish K. Jha- The IAF and the army together require about 160 light combat helicopters (LCHs). The twin-engine LCH have already been deployed in the Ladakh sector amidst the stand-off with China. How has its performance been at such a high altitude in Leh? What are your further development plans? What needs to be added in terms of capability? 

R. Madhavan- The performance of the LCH at high altitudes has been exceptional. Handling and take-off capability exceeds that of even the Apache at such high altitudes. Further capability enhancements include fitment of Integrated Architecture Display System (IADS) and Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) – two crucial systems, being indigenously developed by HAL with private sector participation to be integrated in the Series Production LCH. Accordingly, the level of indigenisation will be higher in SP. The SP variant will also include anti-tank missiles, EW Suite, OAS etc.

Manish K. Jha- What is the deadline for the first Tejas Mk 1A to be delivered to IAF? HAL also signed a $716 million contract with GE Aviation for F404-GE-IN20 engines for the Mk1A Tejas light combat aircraft. Does it incorporate MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) facility in India?

R. Madhavan- The contractual delivery milestone for the first Tejas Mk1A delivery is 36 months from the contract award date. Hence HAL will be delivering the first Mk1A by February 2024. The design activities are going on and probably what we are now expecting is that by March next year, i.e. 2022, the first flight of the Mark1A will happen. After that it takes a couple of years for them to do the testing with all the new systems in place. The target date will be ready by 2024, the first standard. So that is for the 83 LCA Mk 1A. 

Next of course, is the LCA Mark 2. The DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization) is the lead agency and the partners for design. The contract with GE Aviation is for procurement of 99 fully finished engines along with engine support packages. Additionally, module change workshops and engine test beds will be established at Air Force bases by HAL. Regarding MRO, HAL has indicated its readiness to set up the MRO facility. However, the contract does not envisage setting up an MRO facility in India. It is understood that IAF is in discussion with GE Aviation for establishing a D-Level maintenance facility.

Manish K. Jha- When can we expect the first prototype? 

R. Madhavan- That is a roll-out. After that it takes about a year’s time for it to go for taxi trials. And then, from there onwards the testing and certification happens. So hopefully, by 2026 all the testings’ will be completed and the production activity will be started from there onwards. 

As far as Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is concerned, the pre- design phase has been completed and they are now going to publish all those accessories. After that, they probably expect to be certified somewhere around 2030-2032. That of course, is a DRDO project, so we will not be able to give the exact time. 

So we are trying to do it as quickly as possible, but then that is a total leap as far as the technologies are concerned. So we have new technologies, internal-efficient storages, then a few sensors, stealth features. So there are so many new technologies. It takes some time, because it’s the first time we are trying to develop many of them. So it will take some time. It’s not like it is an upgrade from Mark1.

Manish K. Jha- So it’s like entirely a shift to 6th generation aircraft? 

R. Madhavan- And also from a single engine to a dual engine version. So all these things are involved and then it has a new, like 360 degrees situational awareness. There are so many things – new sensors – so it is a new development and that takes time.

Manish K. Jha- So the ‘stealth’ is a key feature of MK2?

R. Madhavan- Stealth is there. Super cruise is one of them–The super cruise speed.

Manish K. Jha- You recently said GE-made F414 engines will be manufactured in India for the upcoming LCA Mk2 programme. India has not been able to secure such ToTs to be able to initiate modern jet engines despite many promises and MoUs with international partners. That was also the case with the Rafale offset arrangement. What are the bottlenecks? Is it not a top most priority that should be addressed by top leaders under a national mission?

R. Madhavan-  The LCA MK2 is a Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) aircraft to be powered by GE F414 engines, a fully modular engine of 95KN thrust. During the engine selection for LCA Mk2 programme, GE has proposed ToT of around 60 per cent in a phased manner for manufacturing GE 414 engines in India. However, ToT proposals have business and strategic intent and generally technologically / commercially critical parts are restricted by the OEM (original equipment manufacturers). Also ToT is generally only for manufacturing technology for the agreed parts in the country.

To ensure self-reliance of the country in the critical engine technology, we need to develop capability for design and development of higher thrust engines which is currently available only with a select few companies in the world. As a step towards engine capability development HAL is working on two aero engine programmes currently, which will be suitable for small business jets and ALH class helicopters respectively. However, considering the development costs, higher risks and very long gestation periods, these aero engine development programmes, including higher thrust engine development, needs to be taken up as national programmes involving all the stakeholders like HAL, DRDO labs, academia etc.

There are some activities towards this direction, even though some concrete steps are yet to firm up. Considering the upcoming programmes like Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH) etc. there is definitely a huge market for these class of engines.

Manish K. Jha- HAL’s own funded and manufactured flagship basic trainer aircraft HTT-40, is in the final stages of spin trials. What is the final upgrade post trials? Is HAL planning to take over the full de[1]sign and manufacturing rights of the engine selected, Honeywell TP331-12B? 

R. Madhavan- HTT-40 has completed all the flight trials required for the Erect Spin Certification. Further, the sea level performance trials have also been completed and the aircraft meets all the requirements of Indian Air Force and certification is awaited in the near future. 

Regarding the engine, HAL is discussing the possibility of manufacturing them under Transfer of Technology with the OEM of the engine.

Manish K. Jha- LCA-Tejas Mark 2 prototypes are underway with the DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) along with the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Could you elaborate on their roles and capabilities, in keeping with the advancement over a decade? It is reported that there is a shortage of funds for such strategic projects.

R. Madhavan- LCA Mk2 is a 4.5 + gen fighter aircraft and AMCA is a fifth generation aircraft. The LCA Mk2 aircraft is a medium weight fighter and will be replacing the existing fleet of MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and Jaguar fighters. The LCA AF Mk2 is a multirole supersonic aircraft with higher maneuverability and increased agility. It can be used for offensive combat role and reconnaissance missions. 

The AMCA will be a next generation game changer with highly stealth features, 360 degree Enhanced Situation Awareness, internal weapon carriage etc. The LCA Mk2 aircraft is slated for production by 2027-2028 and AMCA by mid-2035. 

To achieve the operational excellence and the optimum operational cost, an equilibrium is to be maintained between single engine and twin engine aircraft in the fleet. It should be borne in mind that twin engine aircraft are more expensive to maintain and operate. The DRDO has put up a request to the CCS for sanctioning the development of the LCA Mk2 and AMCA projects.

Manish K. Jha- With so many strategic projects under the belt and Rs 1 lakh crore purchase order basket, do you feel the need for a broader ecosystem of private aerospace compa[1]nies sharing the space on similar advanced and strategic projects like the AMCA? You also have a plan for the 114 MRFA. Are you perhaps juggling too many platforms?

R. Madhavan- See, it’s not juggling through, because see, we need a certain set of aircraft. And that includes, first, a single engine light aircraft, then a twin engine one. Then there is a naval require[1]ment of a twin engine one, then there is a stealth one, okay? Now stealth is not going to be the bulk of your (order). Bulk mostly depends on the single engine or the twin engine 4+ or 4++ generation aircraft for rough activity. So, it is a bulk of your forces that you are taking. Since we didn’t have this till now, LCA was the first entry from the Indian Standard point of view. We need to cover up all the gaps. So you need to have at least four projects. That is, improved version of LCA, with better agility and better maneuverability, higher road carrying capacity and better range than the LCA. That’s Mark 2. After that, you need to develop one for the navy. Then after that the AMCA comes in. The one that is not taken is the twin engine 4++, not the stealth one. The difference is that if you go for stealth technology there are certain performance parameters and it’s also very costly because of all these new things involved. So, to avoid these two parameters, betterment and ability, the economic 4++ two engine is required. So that is one more platform that should be looked at now. 

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is the only one who does the rotary, the DRDO doesn’t involve themselves into this. Based on that we made quite a few updates on the platforms. Plus we made LCH, which is a combat version of the same. Then we came back into the three tonne category that was replacement actually meant for the Chetak and the Cheetah. 

The next one is the 10-12 category which is the Mi-17 replacement that is the MIRH that we are going to start. And beyond that 20 tonnes or 24 tonnes. The numbers are so small and the development cost is quite huge. So as of now it stands like this. Then like what we did with LAH, to convert into LCH, the the same. That is something in the future. We have not come to that stage. Initially we are going to do the Mi-17 replacement market. 

HAL has created an ecosystem with Indian private aerospace industries as robust, reliable supply chain partners within the country. There are many private sector industries who are tier-I and tier-II suppliers to HAL in all the major products. In design and development too, many private industries join with HAL in developing subsystems as well as components. 

Manish K. Jha- The era of unmanned remotely piloted aircraft has begun. The Indian Air Force Chief talked about such unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with combat capabilities like laser guided direct energy systems. With so many decades of expertise in building fighter jets, will HAL leapfrog to such technological breakthroughs? 

R. Madhavan- Hindustan Aeronautics is very much into the UAV segment and is also partnering with national, as well as global players in the field. A major upcoming programme of the company in this segment is the CATS programme. Keeping future air warfare in consideration, HAL is working on this futuristic concept of Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) which is basically a combination of manned, unmanned and optionally piloted teaming systems. The CATS concept was also showcased at Aero India- 2021. Other UAV programmes on the anvil include 200kg/2000kg Rotary UAVs, MALE / HALE UAVs etc.

Secondly, we also have both medium altitude and higher altitude long endurance UAV projects with DRDO. Then we are into other kinds of UAVs that is for very high altitudes, what we also call HAPS (High Altitude Pseudo Satellites) type of aircraft that are now developing along with the startups and to some extent NCA.

So that is also for UAVs but it’s meant for observations and other stuff. So that is almost like a pseudo satellite because it rises at 70,000 feet and above.

So we are into that. We are not into smaller UAVs. Smaller UAVs are meant for other companies like MSMEs who can develop them. So we are looking at heavy load ones.

Manish K. Jha- The IAF needs as many as 100 medium weight transport military aircraft. What do you think of such initiatives, with Indian private companies like the Tatas and Mahindra? Can it be home-grown instead of being imported? 

R. Madhavan- We are very confident about the matu[1]rity level of indigenous capabilities in the aerospace sector. We are open to the idea of engaging with private partners to come up with indigenous offerings not only for military transport aircraft but also for the complete spectrum of civil aircraft. In our view, a home-grown solution to transport and civil aircraft would give the much needed fillip to the aviation sector in India. We foresee a civil-military convergence of sorts in the times to come.

Manish K. Jha- The turbofan jet engine is the most advanced and complex thing. I have spoken with the world’s leading OEMs about the technological collaboration with India. Are we talking with international partners in terms of joint efforts, funding and technology together? 

R. Madhavan- The DRDO is trying to find one partner. So they are looking for a good partner for a start because internationally, not all of them have a 110 KN capability. So, to that extent, everybody has to develop. So it could be a pro-development along with this. So that is one possibility they are looking at it. We are also running for only the manufacturing part rather than designing. Our own things we are doing parallel. That will take a bulk of requirements into the picture. But the 100 KN project it is in progress.

Manish K. Jha- Such technologically advanced projects need a great deal of money. For example, the F-15 and F-16 engines took seven years and $ 4-5 billion. So will you have that much budget to focus on?

R. Madhavan- No, that is going to be a government funded project with the DRDO. It will be a 100 KN Engine project. We have to also put in some money because whenever the engines are developed, prototypes have to be made and activities have to be started. So we will be into the manufacturing activities and the technologies involved in manufacturing.

Manish K. Jha- But are we on track as far as the advanced material, the turbine core and the blade technology is concerned? How much have we progressed in such critical areas with re[1]gard to engine manufacturing? 

R. Madhavan- No there are some technologies being developed. It’s not that its absolute zero. 

In fact the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) and HAL are developing the single crystal blades. So some things are happening, and there are so many capabilities required. So right from surface treatment, then high temperature coatings, welding technologies– there are so many things that are required. 

There are technologies that have to come from some other resources, but it’ll take a long time. So it makes sense to take it from some other resources.

Manish K. Jha- China has successfully done reverse engineering to achieve breakthroughs, especially for the aero-engine. How has India fared in comparison? 

R. Madhavan- They started with Russian (technology) and even they weren’t successful in a project. But they do have engine alternatives now. And China operates in a different fashion because their agencies are all controlled by the same entity. So, they can put anything into any design and try. We have little restrictions there. Our design agencies and certifying agencies have to coordinate in that sense. We didn’t do that part of it.

Anyways, design wasn’t at HAL at that time. We were doing the manufacturing part of it. So, the engines came selected along with the aircraft. We were told only to manufacture that. We thought it’s not easy to do reverse engineering. You need to have a lot of parameters for that.

Manish K. Jha- Let’s talk about research and development (R&D). How much is your investment in R&D? 

R. MadhavanWe put in somewhere around Rs 1,500 crore in R&D. That works out to about seven per cent of the avenues. We also have the purpose. What we do from our profits is we put in Rs 1200- Rs 1500 crore. It depends on the projects.

If the projects are starting, we put in lots of it. We also put in an R&D corpus. So, 10 per cent of my profit we keep aside for that. Other than that, we have government- funded projects. So the larger projects like IMR and HNR will be government funded. Similarly the government fund also comes from DRDO, so our R&D into LCA or to AMCA or something, will come from funding through DRDO. 

So it’s the combination of our own funding, which we have for our own aircraft. For example HTT was fully funded by us. Similarly, for smaller projects we will fund ourselves but for bigger projects we will have to get it funded because funding means we need to have the financing costing put in place and that has to be amortised over the cost of the aircraft. So that makes the aircraft a bit costly. So throughout the world, it’s done like this. Bigger projects are funded by the government.

Manish K. Jha- As CMD you have turned around HAL by securing the highest orders and ensuring that it has a robust financial status. How do you plan to tackle the operational and production deficiencies of the company, which some say is too big for such a structural change?

R. MadhavanSecuring the highest order and setting up a robust financial status for the company is the result of well-orchestrated team work by team HAL and I am happy to be part of this success story. And this success itself speaks of our improving operational and production efficiencies as these orders exemplify customer confidence in our company. 

But not to be complacent, there is room for a lot of improvement, which is a continuous process for my team. Some of the major initiatives towards improving operational efficiencies include the company-wide implementation of Project Parivatan, which is a comprehensive business transformation exercise through technology enhancement and centralised ERP. Another systemic review and futuristic improvement initiative is the strategic consultancy with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). All these initiatives are expected to turnaround the operations and pay huge dividends into the company’s growth trajectory in the years to come.

Manish K. Jha- What is the HAL’s export outlook? How successful have you been in getting the indigenously developed product into worldwide market? As I understand LCA Tejas is gearing up for the export version. Could you tell us more about the export potential?

R. Madhavan- Earlier, the Su-30s, the Jaguars and the Hawks were all TOTs projects. Now most of the indigenous projects have come up, so we are talking about not only LCA, the trainer is also coming. The helicopters we are making is a possibility, and the Tejas is also a possibility. And other than that we are also looking at co-marketing and your MRO support for those aircrafts like the Hawk or the Su-30s. 

So this is because other countries are also operating similar aircrafts. So that, the MRO support can be provided. These are the areas we are looking at. So now if you look at the timelines, we got all of this ready only a couple of years back and after finishing this, we only recently went into the market with these products. They are also in the process of RFI and Request for Quotation (RFQ) that we have quoted. Some of them are in very advanced stages. And hopefully, this year or next year we will be able to give large quantities of platform sales. One of the RFQs we have quoted is Malaysia. So we are hoping that we will also get shortlisted there.

Manish K. Jha- In case of such order, should we be prepared to cater such production as per the timeline? Keeping in mind that HAL has ramped its production upto15-16 aircrafts in a single assembly line?

R. Madhavan- Yes that’s not an issue, we can wrap it up at any given point of time.

Manish K. Jha- Ok, there has been a good response from the tests and trails of Tejas overseas (international aviation exhibitions)?

R. Madhavan- The response was good. They were keenly looking at our aircraft. So even of that comes in, we don’t have any problem in putting it and slotting in along with our supplier and forces without affecting either of them.

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