Indo-Russian transport plane JV grounded

MTAL was to build India’s own military transport aircraft

It may now be just a matter of time before Multi-role Transport Aircraft Ltd. (MTAL), the Indo-Russian company that was to have spawned India’s own military transport aircraft, is wound up.

The closure of the company, when it happens, will formally bury a decade-old plan to co-design and co-develop a cargo/transport plane for the armed forces of the two nations.

The project appears to have gone cold at least a year ago and there has been no official word on the status of the government-to-government deal, whereas Russia is reportedly going ahead with its new plane for its armed forces, according to sources.

MTAL, which has been idle for almost two years, has a CEO, a company secretary and a head of finance.

The board of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which is an equal partner in the venture, may take the matter to its closure once it gets the nod, it is learnt.

A hint of this came during the February Aero India 2017, when HAL chairman and managing director T. Suvarna Raju said, “The MTA (Multi-role Transport Aircraft) project is not progressing well. As of now, no work is going on and it is currently in the ‘stop’ mode. We will be knowing about its future in the current year.”

It was up to the two governments to look at options, he said.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is yet to respond to a query on the project.

“No Indian company has designed a transport plane. We lost that opportunity,” said a person familiar with aircraft design, who did not wish to be named.

Joint development of the plane, MTA, was conceived around 2006-07 and firmed up in 2010 via an inter-governmental agreement. Two years later, HAL and Russian military entities — United Aircraft Corporation-Transport Aircraft (UAC-TA) and Rosoboronexport — signed a general contract to form the special purpose MTAL, with a 50:25:25 equity split to take the project forward. Each side put in $20 million as paid-up capital.

Replacement for An-32

According to the old plan, the 15-20-tonne medium lift plane would replace the ageing Antonov /An-32 transport planes. The demand was estimated at 205 MTAs — 45 for the Indian Air Force, 100 for the Russian Air Force and another 60 for exports. The Indian aircraft was to be designed by HAL in Bengaluru and produced at its transport division in Kanpur. The project cost was estimated at $600 million (then around ₹2,700 crore).

In 2012, over two dozen HAL engineers spent several months in Russia studying the project. Until March 2014, designers of either side had together completed the preliminary project design. Subsequent reports said problems such as an incompatible engine design, performance issues at higher altitudes and cost escalation had cropped up.

While the An-32s are now proposed to be upgraded, this can only be done with the help of Ukraine, which is in conflict with Russia. The first An-32 upgraded earlier was lost over the sea near Chennai last July.

In December 2015, three joint projects were alive between the two countries: the MTA, the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and the light helicopter Kamov Ka-226. But the line for the MTA appears to have died, the sources said.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 11:27:07 AM |

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