Business Standard: 5th March 08
(Photos: Ajai Shukla)
The Dhruv production line at HAL, Bangalore
The robust new partnership between Hin
dustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and India’s private sector is evident at the spanking new Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWR&DC) at HAL’s Bangalore campus. This is the heart of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) project, an HAL-led project in which private aviation design companies will play a key role.
The spacious hall of the RWR&DC is hushed except for the hum of 70 computer workstations. A dozen designers from private software company, Plexion Technologies, are working on Unigraphics computer aided design (CAD) software to create a hydraulics system for India’s futuristic Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Near by, a team from HAL-BaE Systems is designing the helicopter’s engine cowling. Engineers from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) work in another corner; they are responsible for the software package that connects all these designers in real time. In a glass-walled office that looks out at the RWR&DC, a team of Indian Air Force (IAF) engineers track the progress of each aspect of the LCH.
B Pandaji Nath Rao, Chief Designer for the LCH, who conducts Business Standard through this exclusive visit to the RWR&DC, explains the benefits of this integrated design centre. A tailor-made team from the private and public sector can be quickly put together; interaction is close; security is simplified; design changes take place in real time.
This HAL-led integrated design centre is a radical shift from the design approach towards India’s flagship aviation project: the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The DRDO-headed Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was responsible for designing and integrating the Tejas, drawing upon designers from DRDO laboratories spread across the country. HAL merely plays the role of “prime contractor”, responsible for manufacturing the LCA that the ADA designs.
But sharp criticism of delay in the LCA project (the project has run twenty-five years since it began, in 1983) has engendered a new outlook. HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja, told Business Standard that HAL will no longer rely on the DRDO to manage aircraft design programmes. Instead, HAL will design, as well as manufacture, upcoming projects like the LCH, the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), the Indo-Russian Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MRTA) and Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). It has already successfully led the development of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which is in service with the military.
The reason for the delay in DRDO-led projects like the LCA, says Ashok Baweja, lies in the DRDO’s institutional focus on R&D, rather than on delivering a project on time. Furthermore, in contrast to HAL’s corporate structure, the DRDO is a non-commercial government department, hamstrung by procurement rules and practices.
Mr Ashok Baweja explains, “By tradition and practice, R&D labs are less focused on deliverables and project management. (The DRDO) is like an academic institution; it is in the business of teaching and learning. If they are told, now go and make this, you make a product which is deliverable, marketable which they have to get certified by somebody, they won’t know how to go about it.”
Even while rejecting DRDO as a “programme manager”, the HAL Chairman is careful to highlight the major role played by the DRDO in developing the LCA. Key systems were developed by DRDO laboratories like the Aviation Development Establishment (ADE), the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and many others, who Mr Baweja said would continue to develop systems for the aircraft now being developed by HAL.
In assuming responsibility for both design and manufacture, HAL is reverting to an earlier model. Early aircraft like the HT-2 and Kiran trainers, and the HF-24 were designed as well as manufactured in HAL Bangalore.