Monday, 13 September 2010

'Indian' Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter gets Italian makeover


Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla
The Dhruv assembly line in HAL. While Avio redesigns the Dhruv's transmission, this line will build 83 Mk 3 (utility), and 76 Mk 4 (WSI) Dhruvs, by 2015.








by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Sept 10

The Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) has been widely regarded as a triumph of indigenous military rotorcraft design and manufacturing. Scores of Dhruvs already flying in army colours will be joined by another 159, which the military ordered last year from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). And, Ecuador’s air force chose the Dhruv ALH in an international tender in 2008 for seven helicopters.

But now it emerges that the Dhruv is struggling with a serious problem. The army, which was to be supplied 20 Dhruvs last year, refused to accept any until HAL fixed a problem that was restricting the Dhruv’s cruising speed to 250 kilometers per hour, significantly short of the 270 kmph that HAL specifications promise. Unable to find a cure, HAL has brought in a consultant: Italian aerospace propulsion major, Avio.

India’s military sets high store by the Dhruv’s engine power; the helicopter must operate from tiny landing grounds at 6,500 meters (about 21,000 feet), which is the altitude of Sonam Post, India’s highest helipad on the Siachen Glacier. But even after paying French engine-maker, Turbomeca, Rs 1,000 crore to design the Shakti engine —- a superb performer at high altitudes —- the Dhruv’s Integrated Dynamic System, or IDS, which transfers power from the Shakti engines to the helicopter rotors, is not performing optimally. That, say HAL engineers, has reduced speed, high-altitude capability, and the life of the IDS.

The Italian consultants will now scrutinise the Dhruv’s IDS to diagnose the problem. Avio will start by building a single HAL-designed IDS in Avio’s facilities in Italy, using their own materials and tools. They will then test-run this for 400-500 hours; if it works perfectly, it would be evident that the flaw lies in HAL’s manufacturing, rather than the IDS design. On the other hand, if the Avio-built IDS performs poorly during the test run, there is clearly a design problem. Avio will then redesign the IDS.

A senior HAL official explained to Business Standard: “Avio will review the whole design, on a purely consultancy basis. They will give us a redesign… that will be the first phase. We will have to translate that new design into an engineered product. And, after that, we’ll have to do the ground testing and the flight-testing. It will be a long-drawn affair.”

Avio, Business Standard has learned, was HAL’s second choice. But the first choice consultant, an American company, had so much work on its plate that it had to turn HAL away.

Meanwhile, India’s army and air force — strapped for helicopters — have no choice but to accept and fly Dhruvs, even though they are performing below par and metal keeps chipping off inside the IDS. HAL has itself implemented six changes inside the IDS and 30 helicopters have been flying with these changes for some 400 hours. So far, there has been no major problem.

“This is not dangerous for the pilots”, says a senior HAL official. “Heavy chipping of metal would warn us about an impending failure of the IDS. There is a monitoring system inside the IDS, which checks for the presence of tiny metal chips in the oil. There is no danger of sudden, catastrophic failure in flight.”

Top officials in the Ministry of Defence have conveyed strong displeasure to HAL over what they consider a “sloppy” work culture. Talking to Business Standard on condition of anonimity, a MoD official points out, “The Avio consultancy will place HAL’s work culture under serious scrutiny. To identify the fault in the Dhruv’s IDS, Avio has insisted on auditing HAL’s facilities and practices. This will amount to a full external audit, which will highlight systemic and procedural problems that HAL would never have identified on its own.”

But the MoD also accepts that the aerospace establishment, hungry for success, developed the Dhruv in haste and introduced it into operational service without adequate testing. Illustrating this point, the MoD official says: “The IAF asked for about 75 design changes while HAL was developing the Dhruv. This prevented a coherent and systematic design process. And, thereafter, HAL was too eager to introduce the Dhruv into service. It has now emerged that it was unwise of HAL, and of the IAF, to operationalise the Dhruv before the design was fully stabilised.”

This year, the army and the IAF will introduce 31 new HAL-built Dhruv Mark 3 helicopters into service. These are part of an order placed on HAL last year for 159 Dhruv helicopters to be supplied by 2015. Of these, 83 are utility helicopters called Dhruv Mark 3, used for transporting people. The other 76 are Mark 4 helicopters, which will be fitted with cannons, rockets, missiles and electronic warfare equipment. These are called Dhruv (Weapon Systems Integrated), or Dhruv (WSI).

10 comments:

joydeep ghosh said...

@Ajai sir

The CAG report that appeared on TOI recently reported that HAL Dhruv is actually having close to 90% imported parts. (talk about indigenous production)

If most of the parts are imported than HAL should have taken care in adding the correct part to the helicopter and implement needed changes before completing the design and launching it.

Since that has not happened its the flaw is planning by HAL, and now we r making up with jugaad (the 30 helos)

what next we can expect?

MPatel said...

Smoke and mirrors, is the hallmark of indian defence production it seems :-)...and then you complain that the forces prefer foreign equipment.

Simranjit Singh said...

Thanks a lot for the report sir..

Sir, I have 2 queries..

1) What is the current status of Dhruv WSI ? We have been hearing about it for so long. Sometime ago Shiv Aroor posted a video of WSI firing rockets. Where have these testing trials have reached so far ??

2) What is the current status of Helina ?? When are we going to see its first test ??

Thanks

Mr. Ra said...

This should be considered a further advancement. It is going to add some more knowledge, whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

Why is the Ecuador’s dhruv still at HAL?

Anonymous said...

Hello! These kind of issues coming up later in the design cycle is perfectly expected for most engineered platforms... why blame HAL for it? Fix it quickly and efficiently.

Anonymous said...

They needed 270 km/h but they got 250 km/h!!!! Thats funny!!! They never short of finding 'problems' regarding Indian systems. Bu for foreign systems even much higher shortcomings are allowed. We have seen it in past.

Anonymous said...

http://cag.gov.in/html/reports/commercial/2010-11_10PA/chap3.pdf

CAG report on Dhruv development saga. Makes your blood boil. Any HAL employees on this blog-shame on you guys.

Anonymous said...

No system is perfect in the first iteration...or in future iterations. Doesn't mean should stop trying to make a better version...

Satish Chandra said...

How the C.I.A. Killed Bhabha and Shastri
I am India's expert in strategic defence and the father of India's strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. I have written in my blog titled 'Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.', which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title, about how Robert Crowley, former Assistant Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations of the CIA, gave documents of his own top secret operations to his friend, historian Gregory Douglas and described in detail how the C.I.A. has done “business” with Russian intelligence agencies for many decades, how the C.I.A. directly arranged the plane crash which killed Homi Bhabha but relied on Russian intelligence agencies, with which it did “business”, to assassinate Shastri who had given a go ahead for an Indian nuclear weapons program. The Russian intelligence agencies -- large parts of which were brought on the C.I.A.’s payroll -- brought down the Soviet Union. After a letter of mine in Indian Express in the early nineties which appeared under the editor's heading “Grab This Opportunity” regarding a Russian proposal to form a Russia-China-India alliance, P. V. Narasimha Rao sent the head of India’s submarine-launched ballistic missile program to Russia to get help, where he died as Shastri did. When, in a letter to the press, I pointed out that this was the “help” the Russians had provided, the Russians hastily withdrew a delegation that was visiting India.