HAL focused on increasing the pace of LCA production

By Editor 2021

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LCA- Tejas Division of the HAL Bangalore Complex was established in the year 2014 exclusively for the manufacture of LCA Tejas aircraft. In LCA Tejas project, HAL built technologies from scratch including an industrial base (due to technology denial) in spite of shortage of skilled workforce.  The division is currently undertaking efforts to expand production capacity from 8 to 16 aircraft per year through the creation of new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Bengaluru. It would be spread across 35 acres and has a built up area of nearly 35000 square metres. The phase-1 of this facility is ready and it is being created to produce the LCA trainer aircraft, LCA Tejas aircraft variants and also as a dedicated export facility, said Amitabh Bhatt, Chief Executive Officer (Bangalore Complex), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). In an interview with Aeromag, he talks about the operations of HAL Bangalore Complex.

Established in 1940 and having manufactured over 2000 aircraft, the Aircraft Division of Bangalore Complex (BC), is one of the oldest divisions of HAL. Could you share with us some of the major achievements?

Tracing its roots back to 1941, Aircraft Division, Bangalore complex was initially involved in major repair and overhaul of various aircraft, now builds military training and fighter aircraft. Aircraft Division over the years has acquired the know-how, developed infrastructure required to manufacture variety of fixed wing Military trainer aircraft.  Aircraft Division along with Overhaul division with their vast experience is providing maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services including Upgrade of aircraft to improve field operations and extend the life of legacy military aircraft (40+ years) to maintain the fleet. The highly skilled field service teams positioned at Aircraft Division deliver high performance at preventive maintenance to maintain operational and high serviceability of the Aircraft.  For achieving this, the division have worked tirelessly towards mitigating obsolescence issues by indigenizing equipment or by stockpiling inventories or by finding alternate vendors for equipment for which OEMs have stopped production long ago. Aircraft division has produced its first license aircraft Vampire (rather HAL’s first aircraft), under license from M/s. De Havilland Company, U.K. in 1950 and then Gnat Aircraft from M/s. Folland Ltd., U.K. in 1956. Subsequently the division produced the indigenous Marut Aircraft (HF-24) in 1961. Thereafter the saga continued with the production of Ajeet, Kiran, PTA Lakshya indigenous aircraft followed by Jaguar & Hawk aircraft under transfer of technology from BAES, UK. Currently, Aircraft Division is also manufacturing LCA Tejas aircraft. Aircraft division also has capability in export of its precision aero-structure components viz. Forward Passenger door for Airbus A-320, Gun bay door for F-18 to Boeing, Uplock box assembly for B-777, aircraft components for B-757 & B-737 aircraft, Weapons bay door for P8I, Shoulder & center line pylons for Tornado fighter aircraft, Horizontal stabilizer for Fokker-50, G-150 rear fuselage & B-737 cargo conversion kit to IAI, etc.,.

The Hawk-Advanced Jet Trainer is the most prestigious product of the aircraft division. What are the highlights of its operational capabilities and where does Hawk stand globally?

Hawk Mk-132 aircraft is being produced at HAL under license from BAES, UK. Hawk Mk-132 is a transonic tandem-seat multi-purpose aircraft, powered by a single Rolls Royce Adour Mk-871 turbo fan engine with a minimum take-off static thrust of 25.5 kN at sea level. Hawk Mk-132 aircraft provides basic and advanced training to the pilots. Hawk Mk-132 aircraft also performs aerobatic maneuvers. HAL has manufactured and delivered 99 nos. of Hawk Mk-132 aircraft to Indian Air Force and Indian Navy and has the capability of providing comprehensive product support like supply of spares, aircraft servicing including repair and overhaul. At present Hawk is the widely used aircraft for the advanced training role. This aircraft  is being used in UK, Australia, Oman, Finland, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, UAE etc.,

Recently HAL has kicked off the spin testing of jet trainer that is planned as a replacement for IAF’s ageing Kiran aircraft fleet. What are the latest updates of the project?

Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) is indigenously designed and developed by Aircraft R&D Centre (ARDC), HAL to replace the ageing Kiran aircraft fleet.  Developmental Flight testing has been completed in the entire flight (Speed & Altitudes) and load (‘g’) envelopes.  Developmental Flight testing for systems performance, armaments, drop tank carriage and jettison, hot weather, sea level trials etc. are completed. Challenges are not unusual during ab-initio design and development of any aircraft and IJT is no exception. Several technical challenges were encountered and adequately addressed during the development phase. The sole unfinished task towards certification of aircraft is demonstration of its spin characteristics. Based on the recommendation from a reputed aerospace engineering consultancy, two aircraft were suitably modified. Spin, being an extremely risky maneuver, it is mandatory to install ASPS (Anti spin parachute system) before spin flights are undertaken on prototypes. It is to ensure that the aircraft is recovered in case the controls are unsuccessful, to recover from spin. ASPS system was installed. Ground and flight streaming of parachutes were successfully completed in Oct 2020. Spin flight trials have since resumed in Nov 2020 and the flight test data analysis is in progress.  

Over the past seven decades, the Engine Division has collaborated with global companies in the area of design, development, manufacture and maintenance of various aero engines but even now India is facing challenges in terms of aircraft engine development? What are the challenges and how can we resolve it?

Engine Division, Bangalore established in the year 1955 is involved in manufacturing and maintenance of various aero engines under License (Transfer of Technology) from OEMs of European and USA origin. Major aero engines manufactured/ repaired/ overhauled by Engine Division include aero-engine Orpheus for Kiran Aircraft, Dart for Avro aircraft, PTAE-7 for the pilotless target aircraft, Adour Mk-811/ 804 for Jaguar Aircraft, Adour Mk-871 for Hawk Mk-132 Aircraft, Artouste III B for  Cheetah/ Chetak Helicopter, Garrett TPE331-5 for Dornier Do-228 Aircraft and Shakti for ALH Dhruv Helicopter. In most of these transfer of technology contracts, manufacturing technologies i.e machining know-how, AIT (Assembly, Inspection and Testing), repair/ overhaul technologies were granted to HAL.  The associated design activities are carried out by OEMs and are retained with them.  Also, core Engine parts, critical castings/ forgings and LRUs are kept with the engine OEM’s under the zone of restricted/ proprietary items.  Therefore, even today, most of the critical core engines components/ castings are being imported from foreign OEMs. Engine Design Bureau (EDB) of Engine Division-HAL did attempt to design and develop small aero engines. Few products which resulted in the process are the 4 kN thrust turbojet engine (PTAE-7) used on Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA), 110 kW power turbo shaft engine (GTSU-110) for starting the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) engine and its upgrades, Auxiliary Power Unit for FGFA class aircraft and accessories like air turbine starters, turbo chargers etc.  EDB also collaborated with M/s Safran Helicopter Engines (then Turbomeca), France for the co-development of Shakti Engine, a 1000 kW shaft engine for the Dhruv helicopter and contributed for development of some of the accessories. Today the R&D unit AERDC (Aero Engine Research and Design Centre) is engaged in Design and Development programs for fixed wing and rotary wing platforms namely:

  1. Hindustan Turbo Fan engine (HTFE-25) of 25 kN thrust which can power trainer aircraft, UAV’s, Twin engine small fighter aircraft or regional jets and
  2. Hindustan Turbo Shaft engine (HTSE-1200) of shaft power rating which can power Light & Medium weight helicopters (3.5 to 6.5 tonnes in single/ twin engine configuration)

HAL is confident of achieving the targeted design parameters towards productionisation of these engines.

Development of military Aero-engines from ab-initio design is a technologically complex task. Only a handful of manufacturers have been able to achieve global standards and stature. Few challenges in the field of new engine development are critical technologies like Raw Material technologies for engine turbine blades, turbine discs, Casting technologies for blades, Forging technologies for discs, Coating/ Surface treatment technologies for turbine blades, Technologies for Controls like Full Authority Digital Electronic control (FADEC), Technologies for engine Accessories like Fuel pump etc. Further, availability of testing facilities and flying platform, require extremely high investment accompanied with high risk and longer gestation period.

In India, very few agencies viz. GTRE, AERDC-HAL, NAL, have attained capability in the design & development of Aero-engines, after working for more than five decades. 

HAL is keen for fruitful collaborations on potential business partnership with GTRE/ DRDO, CSIR, Govt Labs, leading premier institutions and private industry with Govt funding.  We are open for foreign technical collaborations for critical technologies in the field of aero engines. 

With the progress achieved so far on the indigenous development of Turbo-shaft and Turbo-Fan engines, HAL is confident, indigenous development of Aero-Engine would pave way for future Fixed Wing & Rotary Wing aircraft in the coming years.

The LCA Tejas Division of BC is the principal partner in the LCA programme with Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). How strong are the production capabilities of the division and what is the present status of LCA production?

LCA- Tejas Division was established in the year 2014 exclusively for the manufacture of LCA Tejas aircraft. As you may be aware, in LCA Tejas project, we had build technologies from scratch including an industrial base (due to technology denial) in spite of shortage of skilled workforce.  Progressively, the manufacturing infrastructure has been established to produce at the rate of 8 aircraft per annum. The division is currently undertaking efforts to expand production capacity from 8 to 16 aircraft per year through the creation of new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Bengaluru. This facility would be spread across 35 acres and has a built up area of nearly 35000 square meter. The phase-1 of this facility is ready and is spread across over 24000 square meter. This facility is being created to produce the LCA trainer aircraft, LCA Tejas aircraft variants and also as a dedicated export facility. Further, this facility is being geared up for handling structural assemblies of LCA Mk-1A. Facilities such as paint shop, modern storage racking system, environment controlled structural hangar, robotic drilling facility, fuel slushing hangar, drop tank hangar extension, rain water test facility and dedicated captive power supply for division have been established to streamline production. Coming to the current production status, LCA division has delivered 16 LCA fighter aircraft in IOC configuration and also started supply of 16 LCA fighter aircraft in FOC configuration to IAF squadrons. HAL is also supporting these squadrons established at Customer bases.

With Two decades of experience in private sector, you know how important it is to augment the involvement of private player in the aerospace industry. What are BC’s activities to support government’s vision of increasing private participation?

Bangalore complex, HAL is fully committed to support government’s vision of private industry participation in aerospace. LCA, “Jewel in the India Sky” program is a good example for “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”. LCA Tejas program follows the system integrator model and has created a national aerospace ecosystem with the participation of approximately 140 Design agencies and 100 production agencies (which also include private industry participation) which encompasses all the facets of aircraft design and manufacturing. In addition, it is estimated that as the LCA MK1A program kicks-off, it will generate additional jobs across the country in the private sector. HAL has already assumed the role of an umbrella organization which fosters local industry and drives skill development of young Indian work force. For the first time in the nation’s aerospace history, HAL has partnered with Indian private players to manufacture aircraft fuselage and wings. Electrical looms and rotables of the home –grown fighter has a high level of contribution from Indian private industry.

How did BC survive the operational and service challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic? Could you share with us your visions and priorities for BC over the next few years?

Covid-19:

HAL was under lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic from 24th March to 27th April 2020 and re-opened on 28th April 2020 as “..HAL is stated to be providing essential support service to Indian Air Force (IAF) for maintaining Operational preparedness…’’ (as per MHA (Ministry of Home affairs) guidelines). National/ State Covid-19 directives and Standard Operating Procedures have been enforced in our offices/ shops and these include staggered shifts, suspension of biometric attendance and sanitization of all work areas in between and during the shift frequently. Widespread publicity and circulation of Do’s and Don’ts to bring awareness among the employees. Masks and gloves have been distributed to employees and wearing of mask at workplace is practiced. The workplaces and tools are disinfected using safe disinfectants. Hand sanitizers are placed at entry and common areas in offices/ workplaces. Thermal screening for body temperature of all personnel is done at the entry points. Also, HAL has introduced an IT platform for agile video conferencing and online e-files to minimize the physical interaction.

Covid-19 pandemic has seriously affected the following:

  1. The production activities of various aircraft, aerospace and engine programs at HAL was seriously affected. The production target planned in the beginning of the year was calibrated to adjust with the limitations brought into HAL operations due to the pandemic. Subsequent to re-starting of operations, the manpower is distributed across shifts which leads to discontinuity in manpower intensive operations such as riveting, layout of Composite components etc.
  2. The humungous supply chain of HAL was affected due to delays injected by Covid-19 pandemic. Detailed parts of various aircraft and engine program are outsourced to private vendors across India. Some of these vendors have just started their operations and is affecting supply of major parts (like Fuselages) for LCA production. Further, deputation of HAL inspection teams to these vendors is affected due to the quarantine norms. Also, the realization of supplied parts by our private partners was delayed due to inter-state travel restrictions as per government mandated guidelines. Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) and Spares from Sister Division’s was also delayed due to logistic issues
  3. Raw Materials/ Spares supply from foreign source are delayed due to suspension of international flights/ operations. Major foreign suppliers had indicated that Covid -19 epidemic constitutes Force Majeure event which would potentially affect their scheduled deliveries and activities to HAL due to disruption in their supply chain. This is especially affecting the supplies from USA, UK and France.
  4. Deployment of HAL repair teams to bases of IAF, IN and Indian Army for providing customer support was affected due to the quarantine norms.  

HAL is continuously communicating with its partners regarding status of their operations post lock down and their plan for supply of items to HAL. Few suppliers are yet to communicate their revised schedules as they assess the delay with their sub-contractors for supply of the parts post lockdown. 

Way forward for future Production :

Bengaluru Complex established in the year 1940 has now grown to eight Production Units and two Service Units. The priorities/ future plan of the divisions of Bangalore Complex are as follows:

  • Aircraft division is planning to enhance its export capability for precision aero-structure components.
  • LCA Division is planning to enhance its production capacity from 8 to 16 aircraft per annum and gearing up for manufacture of LCA Mk1A aircraft.
  • Overhaul Division established in 1940 facilitates Repair and Overhaul services for the Mirage 2000, Kiran, Jaguar and Hawk Mk-132 aircraft and also undertakes the Jaguar Darin-III and Mirage 2000 upgrades, apart from servicing of various types of rotables of aircraft and helicopters.  With its successful expertise gained over 7 decades, the Overhaul division is geared for up-gradation of future IAF fleets of Hawk, LCA variants.
  • Engine Division shall export precision engine parts to major foreign OEMs including Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) of engines in the coming years.
  • Industrial Marine Gas Turbine Division (IMGT) involved in the manufacture repair and overhaul of industrial and marine gas turbines which are typically used in power plants and marine vessels is also planning to enhance its operations and services to various shipyards.
  • With robust manufacturing facilities, the Foundry and Forge Division established in 1974 is capable of manufacturing of rolled rings, castings, forgings, ceramic brake pads, bimetallic sector for brakes and rubber components to meet domestic and export markets.
  • With capabilities established at the Aerospace Division in 1988 the Division has immense potential to manufacture of light alloy structures and assemblies for satellites and advanced launch vehicles for future space missions of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • The Airport Services Centre established in 2000 is fully equipped with advanced take-off and landing facilities, duly complied with regulations of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in terms of maintenance of Air-field, Air Traffic Control and allied services at HAL airport to meet anticipated domestic airport operations of Bangalore.

With anticipated production orders of indigenous fighter aircraft viz. LCA Mk-1A, Mk-II, AMCA, HAL’s Bengaluru Complex has a full potential for Production, Repair and Overhaul of Aircraft and Engines apart from the Aircraft of Indian and Western origin.

With demonstrated presence and growth of domestic Aerospace market, it is expected that Production Units of Bangalore Complex will surely have opportunities to develop its export market, progressively.

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