HAL: Factors of Supreme Dominance

By Editor 2021


M.S. Velpari, Director (Operations), HAL, recounts how magnificently HAL, India’s flag bearer in Aerospace Industry, has evolved into a leading global player in Manufacture of Aircraft, Helicopter, Engines, Accessories and Avionics Systems. He expounds the significant elements of HAL’s futuristic vision for Excellence in Aerospace and Defence - to “Conceive, Indigenise, Collaborate” in this interview with AEROMAG. Excerpts from the interview:

The history and growth of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is synonymous with the growth of aeronautical industry in India for around eight decades. Could you share with us some of the major achievements of the company in the recent years?

HAL plays significant role in domestic Aerospace industry in terms of service provided to Indian Armed Forces for over 80 years and development of Indian aerospace manufacturing eco-system. Yes, it’s a great achievement, to be the flag bearer of Aerospace industry and propelling the ‘Make in India’ dream of the country. We are  the only company in the country capable to undertake end to end product development from concept to delivery, and also providing life cycle support for the fleets of Indian Defence Services well over 40 years for HAL manufactured as well as bought out platforms.Today, HAL capability spectrum includes:

  • Manufacture of Aircraft, Helicopter, Engines, Accessories and Avionics Systems
  • D&D of Platforms, Aero-engines and Accessories and Avionics systems
  • Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) of platforms, aero-engines and systems
  • Manufacture of Structures for Launch vehicles and Satellites
  • Aircraft  Mid-life upgradation
  • Missiles and Defence Systems Integration on existing platforms
  • D&D and Manufacture of UAVs

I would like to mention a few major achievements of the company in the recent years:

  • HAL became listed company on BSE and NSE.
  • FOC upgrade of Mirage 2000 and acceptance by Air HQ
  • Successful integration of Astra Missile on Su-30 MKI
  • Successfully flown the LUH from Greenfield Helicopter Manufacturing facility, Tumakuru and also met the timeline given by the Prime Minister of India during foundation stone laying ceremony at Tumakuru on January 3, 2016.
  • The HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft has successfully demonstrated 6-turn spin capability. With the spin capability proven, HTT 40 has demonstrated compliance to all the PSQR requirements and is moving towards its final certification.
  • The LCA Naval Prototype (NP1) designed jointly by HAL and ADA successfully performed ski jump take-off and arrested hook landing from ship INS Vikramaditya on January 11, 2020. It is the first indigenous aircraft which successfully took-off from ship and landed on a ship. Through this major achievement, India joins the elite club of five nations who have developed a Naval fighter aircraft. These will be major technological inputs in the development and manufacture of the twin engine deck-based fighter.
  • The first aircraft from LCA Mk1 FOC block, ferried-out on May 23, 2020, marking a stupendous feat for both HAL and the Nation.
  • Adding to the indigenous engine capability, a 60kW Gas Turbine Engine (GTEG-60), the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) for the Military Transport aircraft AN-32, designed and developed by HAL AERDC attained operational clearance on May 28, 2020. With this HAL has entered into the league of select few global agencies having the capability to develop airborne APUs. The control unit of GTEG-60 is also designed and developed in-house by HAL SLRDC.
  • HAL IISc Skill Development Centre (SDC) established at IISc's Challakere campus through a video conference on August 13, 2020 inaugurated by the Defence Minister. SDC will impart skills to various beneficiaries ranging from local community members to high-end engineering professionals to usher true 'Make-in-India'.
  • The tail boom folding operation on ALH was successfully demonstrated on ALH Mk-III helicopter on November 7, 2020. In combination with the existing two blade folding, the achieved stowage dimension of ALH (13.5 m in length, 3.5 m in width and 4.1 m in height) meets Indian Navy's NUH specification. Qualification and certification of the tail boom scheme is under progress.
  • Chief of the Air Staff undertook his maiden flight on LCH on November 20, 2020. The flight lasted for about an hour and the Chief said, “The LCH is a potent platform due to excellent D&D efforts and well supported flight test team. The IAF is keenly looking forward to the induction of this aircraft.”
  • As a success story of the Aerospace Manufacturing Ecosystem development efforts of HAL and a boost to LCA production, the first outsourced 'Front Fuselage Assembly' of FOC LCA Tejas was successfully rolled out by Dynamatics Technologies Limited (DTL), Bengaluru and ‘Rear Fuselge Assembly’ from Alfa Tocol Pvt. Ltd., Bengaluru, with necessary approvals from DGAQA.
  • The biggest Cryogenic propellant tank (C32 LH2) ever fabricated for ISRO, was made by HAL in Bangalore and was delivered to ISRO on November 28, 2020.  The four meter diametric tank is of eight meter length to load 5,755 Kg propellant in the 89 cubic meter volume. Total length of weld carried out in the tank was 115 meter at different stages to such stringent quality requirements.

The LCA project is going through a critical phase and HAL has to ramp up the pace of production to cater to needs of Indian Air Force. Could you share the latest updates of the project?

I would say the critical phase for the LCA production is already over and now HAL is concentrating on integrator role as we have developed strong vendor base of 500+ production partners towards supplying from detail component to major structure module like wing, front fuselage etc.LCA Tejas is the first aircraft wherein HAL has gone ahead for such level of outsourcing. The same model will be further amplified during execution of 83 order wherein HAL is targeting to enhance the production rate 16 aircraft in a year.

Apart from extensive outsourcing, HAL has created the civil facilities to house the additional production line of LCA to achieve the desired production rate. The additional facility would be spread across 35 acres and have a built up area of 34,893 square metre (sqmt). The phase -1 of the facility is ready and is spread across 24,077 sqmt and would be functional from February 2021.

Specialised facilities for Heat Treatment, special processes and hangars for structural assembly of aircraft are being created in this new Complex of LCA Tejas. Production tooling and productivity improvement initiatives have also been undertaken by adopting latest simulation software packages under capacity augmentation. I hope with these measures HAL would be able to give the desired production rate for LCA Tejas.

You have championed the task of Indigenisation of various parts used in the HAL products. How strong are the indigenisation activities of HAL in various departments? How does the company support Atmanirbhar Bharat vision?

Indigenisation activities are being carried out on a continuous basis across HAL with an aim to ensure self-reliance through reduced dependency on foreign OEMs. In fact, Indigenisation is one of the key thrust areas of HAL. Over 95,000 parts used in various HAL products have been indigenised since 1994-95, the highest ever by any of the Defence PSUs in India. HAL has formed dedicated indigenisation department across various HAL Production units to carry out indigenisation activity.Indigenisation Department at Corporate Level coordinates and monitors the indigenisation activities companywide and formulates the policies and procedures in this regard. Therefore, indigenisation activities across various Divisions of HAL are quite strong.

HAL in the last three years had indigenised on an average 1,700 nos. of items and will enhance under the new policies announced by Government of India.

Regarding Atmanirbhar Bharat vision of Government of India, HAL is in the forefront of this initiative. To support Atmanirbhar Bharat, HAL has identified more than 2,500 items for indigenisation during the next five years. These items include over 1,000 items specifically identified for indigenisation under Make-II. HAL’s Make-II procedure is an important step towards self-reliance which is in compliance of the Make-II framework promulgated by Ministry of Defence and envisages the assured order quantity after successful development of items through private vendors. HAL has started issuing EOIs for indigenisation of items identified against Make-II in a phased manner. HAL has hosted details of items for indigenisation in its website with the contact details of nodal officers responsible for indigenisation.

To further boost Atmanirbhar Bharat, details of imported items being populated on continuous basis by HAL in the Srijan Defence Portal as per the recent initiative by the DPIT, MoD to facilitate import substitution through Indian Vendors. HAL also keeps organisng/participating in various seminars, exhibitions and vendor development programmes regularly to promote indigenisation. To help Indian vendors in carrying out the testing required during the course of Indigenisation, HAL has hosted details of test facilities available at HAL for their probable utilization. In addition, implementation of Public Procurement (Preference to Make in India), Order 2017 of MoD at HAL will go a long way in further import reduction. HAL is also supporting by way of investing in HAL units under the Defence Industrial Corridor. All these steps will support Atmanirbhar Bharat vision and would definitely help expanding the aerospace and defense eco-system in the country.Further, HAL’s Aero India 2021 theme “Conceive, Indigenise and Collaborate” is inspired by the efforts towards Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

Could you talk about the latest operations of the Helicopter division of HAL? How strong are the production lines of the company?

Helicopter Complex of HAL has state of art manufacturing and overhaul setup comprising of four divisions and well supported by private players in the ecosystem. Helicopter division is the production division engaged in production of ALH, LCH, Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal. Aerospace composites division supports production of helicopters by supplying composites parts for ALH and LCH. Helicopter MRO division caters to maintenance and overhaul of ALH, while Barrackpore division is supporting maintenance and repair requirement of vintage fleet (support is continuing for last six decades) of Cheetah Chetak. Currently Helicopter division is executing 72 ALH contract comprising of 40 ALH (22 Mk-III and 18 Mk-IV) for Army and 16 MK-III ALH each for - Indian Navy (IN) and Indian Coast Guard (ICG). For the 40 ALH for Army, 22 Mk-III ALH and 7 Mk-IV are already produced. Remaining 11 MK-IV ALH will be completed by 2022. We are ahead of contractual schedule in producing these helicopters. 16 ALH contract of IN and ICG are Mk-III version of ALH but configured with 19 new systems making it a very potent machine for missions important for Indian Navy and Coast Guard. The 19 new systems like Electro Optic Pod, Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), Surveillance Radar, etc. enhance capability of Mk-III helicopters for surveillance, SAR and interdiction missions for coastal security. First green helicopter was used for integration of 19 new systems involving sea trials at Kochi, Chennai and Goa.RCMA has issued operational clearance for ALH MK III of IN and ICG on January 20, 2021 and January 23, 2021 respectively. Three ALH MK III helicopters are ready for acceptance of IN and two for ICG. Four more helicopters are scheduled for delivery to IN and five to ICG by March 2021. Remaining helicopters for 16 ALH contract of IN and ICG will be delivered by 2021-22. HAL has also started production of limited series production (LSP) of LCH pending receipt of contract. Three LCH are planned to be offered to customers for early exploitation based on Letter of Intent. The contract of 15 LSP LCH is in final stage and expected to be signed soon. Delivery of 15 LSP LCH is will be completed by 2022-23. Further order for more than 145 LCH is anticipated.

HAL is also gearing for productionisation of LUH helicopters. Initial operational clearance (IoC) for Air Force LUH has been received and IoC for the Army version is expected soon. It is expected that initial order for 12 LSP LUH shall be awarded followed by 175 for the series production of LUH. HAL has planned to roll out first LSP LUH in year 2022 from the New Helicopter Factory at Tumakuru. The new Helicopter factory is being established in a land area of 615 acres with Industry 4.0 norms and will cater to production requirements of all future helicopters including LUH. HAL has also taken up design and development of Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH) which is a 12-ton class helicopter, planned for both military and civil roles. The military version of IMRH could be used for roles such as Air Transport operations, Combat logistic support in high altitude and in tactical battle area, Carriage of under-slung loads, Casualty evacuation etc. The IMRH will replace Mi-17 fleet of services. Civil helicopter would be suitable for roles like offshore operations, disaster management, VIP transport, coastal security etc. With lot of pride, I would like to state that all Helicopters requirements of our Armed forces can be met by HAL, since all capabilities for Helicopter development and manufacturing are with HAL and eco-system within the Country. HAL can be a one stop solution for Helicopters of all categories.

What are the highlights of HAL’s export activities? How does the company support the government’s vision of diminishing the importer image of India?

So far, HAL’s Exportable Platforms have been Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Mk III– Dhruv and Do-228 aircraft. Presently, in the rotary wing side ALH-Mk-IV and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and in the fixed wing segment Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-Tejas have also been added to the basket of HAL’s exportable Aircraft Platforms. In the near future, Hindustan Turbo Trainer (HTT)-40 and Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) will also be pitched in the export market. HAL is planning to move to platform supplier from existing Tier-I, II supplier of Aerospace segment. HAL has adopted multi-pronged approach and envisages the enhancement in Exports in the coming years.for enhancing exports. The major activities are:

Export Strategy:

HAL has drawn up an elaborate Export strategy.  Extensive Market study has been done and Target Countries in four regions - SAARC, South East Asia, Africa and Indian Ocean regions - have been identified for export of HAL Products and Services. In addition Latin America and Middle East countries are also being explored for possible Business opportunities. In October 2020, eight select countries have been allocated to HAL by Export Promotion Cell (EPC), MoD, for promotion of Products and Services of entire Indian Defence Industry. Notwithstanding the above, Global RFI/RFPs are also being tracked and responded wherever HAL Platform/Products matches the requirement.

Marketing & Distribution / Service network abroad:

As on date, HAL has engaged Channel Partners in several of the shortlisted Target Countries. The engagement of Channel Partners/Marketing Agent/Distributors/Business Development Consultants for promotion of Export business in other target Countries are in process, on an on-going basis.

Interaction with Defence Attaches / Missions:

Regular interactions with the Defence Attaches / Indian Missions in the target countries. Regular interactive sessions with Foreign Defence Attaches / Foreign Missions are also being conducted in order to establish rapport and formal network for gathering Business Intelligence.

Foreign Supplier Registration:

In order to track / receive Global RFI/RFPs directly from the customer, HAL has registered in the procurement portals of various Countries. Registration in other countries is also being done on on-going basis.

Export through G-2-G route:

Export opportunity is also being pursued through G-2-G channel in certain target countries which follows G-2-G route for Platforms namely Do-228 and ALH.  The effort includes exports utilizing GoI Line of Credit (LOC).

Branding & Promotion:

As part of Brand building and Promotion for reaching out to prospective customers, HAL has been participating in prestigious International Air Shows and Exhibitions considering the business opportunities in the region. Also HAL is the Nodal Agency for organising Aero India and Defexpo, which helps to project the Company’s Brand Image. Flying display by joint participation with IAF and other Stake holders like ADA to showcase the capabilities of HAL Products to Overseas Customers is also being undertaken.

International Certification of HAL Platforms for Civil use:

The process of obtaining International Certification is in progress and this will help HAL Platforms export in the civil market. Interactions with EASA, Germany was held along with DGCA. In-principle consent was received that DGCA could give type certification for HAL built Do-228. Similarly EASA certification for Dhruv-ALH is also being progressed.

Efforts in other diversified areas:

HAL has also been tapping other potential areas for enhancement in export sales apart from sale of Platforms and ROH Business such as:

  • Pilot Training.
  • Aircraft Upgrades.
  • Indigenous upgrade on Licensed platform.
  • Design Work Packages
  • Export of indigenously Designed and Developed Avionics

With the focused approach and varied offering of Platforms in several niche areas coupled with associated products realized through backward integration (eg. Avionics, Accessories and Engines), HAL is slowly but steadily expanding its basket of offerings which are leading to reduced dependence on imports of such items.

With about 35 years of experience in the areas of manufacturing, assembly, design, indigenisation and other management functions, in both fixed and rotary wing platforms, how do you assess the progress of HAL’s operations? What are you visions and priorities for the company?

Let me recall the famous words of former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam: “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action”. I have dreamt about vision of achieving self-reliance in Defense through HAL very early in my professional carrier.  A phenomenal number of 1,850 types of Castings, Forgings Rolled Rings and Rubber Products were indigenised under my guidance in spite of challenges in terms of technology and industry ecosystem in those olden days. Many technologies which are being discussed today were implemented quietly early by me and my team in HAL.

My vision is to make India self-reliant in defence. Self-reliance could be possible only through innovation, technology development (in key areas like Power Plant and Artificial Intelligence), industrial collaboration and supportive Government Policies. HAL would continue to play prime role in this direction. We all should transform this into thoughts and act proactively to realize this dream through   collaboration among industries (including MSMEs and Startups), Research centres and academia. Aligning with this greater initiative, HAL has put in place Vision-2030 along with strategies and priorities of implementation during next 10 years. I would like to emphasize on a  few important areas of focus in this regard.

Achieving double digit growth:

HAL is consistently growing in range of around 6-7% and target is to achieve double digit in next 6-7 years. This will be quite challenging considering the fact that orders in defence segment always follow sinusoidal curve and significant value of   sales of HAL is from Indian defence segment. We have contemplated certain actions in this regard to counter this challenge.

First Maharatna DPSU:

HAL has vision to become first Defence Maharatna PSU, before 2030.

Expand Product portfolio and Diversification:

To support our growth plan, HAL intent to expand Products and Service offerings to domestic and international customers. We are equally focusing on other market segments mainly commercial and export markets apart from Indian defence. Certain areas of realignment and diversification in Aerospace and allied Business are being worked out. 

The Covid-19 epidemic has caused disruption in Industrial market forecasts throughout the world and even to achieve pre-Covid level estimates, it takes at least a year from now.  Future is always dynamic and HAL strategies will be agile enough to handle such unprecedented challenges. Apart from others, there are key opportunities for growth and diversification in the long run mainly in UAV segment, Civil Aircraft MRO services and consultancy services. These will be also focus areas. We have lined up quite a substantial workload towards design and development projects and production orders to this great organisation. We are back with full flow now, as you see from the platform lined up for design, development and deliveries apart for existing like ones LCA MK1A, LCH, LUH, HTT-40, IJT (spin trails under progress), LCA MK-II, AMCA, TEDBF and IMRH. Many of these projects are in final design phase/entering into production/ production stageare being given utmost importance.

Geostrategic Reach:

In line with the Government’s vision for CPSEs to increase Geostrategic Reach, HAL has envisioned to increase its Geostrategic Reach in select countries. Selling products and services in the select countries and setting up Marketing Offices/ third party service providers outside India is envisioned for expanding and supporting export business. 

Innovation and Technology development

As a mentioned earlier, Innovation and Technology development are most important drivers of achieving self-reliance under Atmanirbhar Mission of Government of India. As country and company, this is game changer and make greater impact as compared to transfer of technologies from foreign OEMs. The war scenario is going to change in future and greater emphasis will be on unmanned systems and artificial intelligence. HALs R&D efforts will be in this direction to develop Combat Air Teaming system and its elements through in-house development and through partnership with other organisations. Engine technology is also prime driver to become self-reliant and HAL’s two projects on engine development in respect of fixed wing and Rotary wing are going in full swing and they are sure to get certified. HAL is also going to take the lead role in development and production of high thrust engine for India’s future fighter projects like AMCA (in collaboration with DRDO). We have many in-house R&D projects like Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH), Civil Certification of Light Utility Helicopters, UAVs etc in pipeline. I am proud to highlight that with development of IMRH, India will be one of hardly 5-6 countries in the world, which has achieved milestone of design and development of all class of Helicopters. We are working closely with IITs, Startups apart from DRDO labs in terms of technology development in various fronts including artificial intelligence.

Customers and Shareholders Delight:

Most importantly whatever we innovate, produce and supply shall keep our customers happy in terms of performance (operational superiority), cost and timelines of products/services. We are implementing many initiatives in this regard to improve operational efficiencies, cost reduction, futuristic technology development which makes our products differentiated with competitors, project management, talent management, continuous training and mentoring of our valued human resources, digitization, deployment of Industry 4 and many more. After sales support management is key for customer delight and we are aiming to digitize many things in this regard in cooperation with customers, which will improve tracking, response time and set priorities and strategies to ensure continued support to end customers. HAL is already listed company with disinvestment of about 25%. We have to add value to our investors/shareholders in terms of return and increase market capitalization. I am sure focused vision and agile strategies will take HAL to become a lead global player while keeping our customers, partners, shareholders and employees happy. In conclusion, I can say that, HAL has progressed significantly in many frontiers of technology, operations, after sales support etc since its inception and continue to strive for the best in our endeavour to be a leader in Aerospace and Defence and preferred choice of our esteemed customers. We will aim and achieve to deliver “Excellence in Aerospace and Defence” in years to come.

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