Today's Paper

Major indigenisation of military aviation

Sandeep Dikshit

Total investment will be Rs. 22,000 crore; thrust on design and development

Design and development will be the thrust area

Mega tender for 350 imported helicopters slashed

NEW DELHI: In a move that could make overseas defence companies uncomfortable, the government has embarked on a major indigenisation of the military aviation sector. The total investment will be Rs. 22,000 crore and the bulk of the amount is to be spent on design and development of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.

The programme envisages increasing the workforce in the sector to 2,600. One-third of the new additions will be design engineers.

“Design and development will be the thrust area. While licensed production leads to a maximum value addition of 45 per cent, this route will increase the percentage to 80,” said a highly placed source privy to a special review meeting on Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) by Defence Minister A.K. Antony. HAL accounts for half of the sales by all defence public sector undertakings taken together.

Mega tender slashed

In line with this thinking, the mega tender for 350 imported helicopters had been slashed. Only 197 helicopters would be imported and the remaining manufactured in the country, the source said.

Similarly, Sukhoi fighters would be made from the raw material stage, ending the peculiar problem of domestically assembled fighters being costlier than the imported ones. In both cases, the cost of India-made platforms would come down by 15 to 20 per cent.

With an order in hand for 159 advanced light helicopters, HAL planned to produce 18 this year. Of these, 66 would be configured to carry air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, thus ending the move to import the gunship version.

Medium lift helicopters, numbering 346, would also be indigenously made, the source said.

HAL had entered into an agreement with a Russian company to replace the ageing An-32 transport plane. Under the $600 million plan, India would manufacture 205 military transport planes. Of this, Russia would take 100. Of the rest, India would retain 45 and 60 earmarked for export to third world countries.

“This would be a major addition to India’s product range. So far, we have done helicopters and fighters. This will be our maiden attempt to go into the transport area,” said the source.

The government had sent the technical requirements for the fifth generation fighter aircraft to Russia and is waiting for their observations.

The tonnage would be in line with the Sukhoi-30 MKI, but the plane would have stealth and other advanced features. Development was expected to take a decade.

Sukhoi production

The major production this year would be of Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters. HAL planned to produce 19, against 13 last fiscal. Mr. Antony, however, had asked the company to examine the possibility of making 23 planes.

The bulk of these planes would be made from the raw material stage, thus ending the problem of domestically made planes being more expensive than the imported ones. In all, 170 Sukhois would be manufactured by 2015. This would be in addition to the 50 imported from Russia. HAL has already produced 34.

The biggest setback to overseas countries would be curtailment of the mega helicopter tender. “This marks a victory for HAL because the armed forces favour imports. We argued that we don’t want to pay the licence fees. We also have competence in this area, having made nearly 600 helicopters indigenously. The maintenance of the imported helicopters will also be HAL’s responsibility,” said the source.

The company planned to make 50 advanced jet trainers, including 14 this year. It would then make another 57, as the armed forces have decided to expand the initial order of 66 to 123.

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