HAL: Force behind Indian Forces

By Editor 2021

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HAL’s future sales is almost exclusively based on indigenously designed and developed products such as the LCA, ALH variants, LCH, LUH, HTT-40, etc and the emphasis on in-house R&D has become stronger than ever. HAL has the strongest R&D set-ups among the DPSUs. With a multitude of the R&D projects undertaken right now, in no time, HAL will be the exclusive destination for catering to all the aviation industry requirement worldwide, says Arup Chatterjee, Director (Engineering and R&D), HAL, in an interview with Aeromag. Excerpts from the interview:

Having over 36 years of wide experience in aerospace industry, how do you analyse the aerospace manufacturing sector in India with prime focus on the contributions of HAL? What are the challenges needed to be resolved?

HAL has contributed immensely not only to the Defence forces but also in establishing an aerospace manufacturing ecospace system in the country in the past 80 years. HAL has manufactured over 4,100 aircrafts (31 types) in the 20 production centres across the country. With a dedicated workforce of more than 26,000, HAL is truly the Force behind the Indian Forces. There are very few companies in the world that can boast of providing end-to-end solutions ie, from design to certification to product support. While HAL is known for aircraft level integration, it is also into development, manufacture and support of aero-engines, aircraft /Avionics systems. This is unique to HAL amongst all global aerospace entities. The kind of infrastructure established by HAL is on par with any international company in the aerospace business. While most of the OEMs who had developed and sold helicopters and aircraft to India have stopped supporting the programmes, HAL has risen successfully to the challenge of maintaining the old fleets. If today the Indian Armed Forces are still flying Cheetahs, Chetaks, Jaguars, MiGs and the like, it is because of HAL.

HAL has established Centres of Excellence in manufacturing not only within HAL but also facilitated many private sector firms to be the part of the Global supply chain of Aircraft manufacturing.

Prior to 1990, aircraft manufacturing capabilities were primarily limited to HAL and the concept of outsourcing was yet to take shape. When the prototype manufacturing for the LCA project was started in the early 1990’s, a few potential vendors who could take up Conventional and CNC machining were identified and Orders were placed on them to supplement HAL’s production system.

The next major wave of expansion of outsourcing by HAL began in the first decade of the new millennium with the Su-30 MKI project whereinmore than 40% of the workload (more than 15,000 parts) has been sourced through Private Companies/MSMEs across India. HAL has developed more than 200 vendors including MSMEs for manufacturing of Su-30MKI parts and assemblies across India. These vendors have upgraded themselves to aerospace industry standards and became part of Aerospace manufacturing Ecosystem in India and some of them have been able to graduate to be part of the global supply chain also.

Private participation was encouraged to develop new / alternate materials, develop processes, develop LRUs, establish manufacturing plants without compromising on quality or safety aspects. Many of the avionics, electrical & mechanical system which are flying in our platforms have been designed and developed by private vendors.

Presently HAL is throwing up several challenges to Start-ups/MSMEs/Individual Entrepreneurs through iDEX-DIO supporting AtmaNirbhar Bharat concept for their involvement in the aerospace sector.

Almost all of the MSMEs which are the stars of the Indian aerospace manufacturing ecosystem today were initially nurtured by HAL by significant handholding and high level of tolerance to initial failures.

In parallel, several industrial groups such as the Tatas, M&M, L&T, et al established Aerospace verticals and took up manufacturing of airframes (comprising metallic and composites parts) for foreign OEMs.Along with this evolution of the manufacturing ecosystem, HAL has changed its basic approach to Outsourcing from being a source of detail parts to being HAL’s long term partners who will supply sub-assemblies and major assemblies. This new approach is exemplified in the case of the LCA wherein the three major structural assemblies (front, centre& rear fuselages) and the Wing assemblies are supplied by Private sector companies.

Despite these partnerships and opportunities available, private aerospace sector in India faces major challenges including the available business volumes. The aerospace and defence (A&D) industry involves complex technology, high investment cost, long gestation period, stringent quality requirement, long development cycle and tedious certification process.

Therefore, HAL is closely handholding the private manufacturing partners in the country particularly MSMEs to be matured supply chain partners thereby broadening the aerospace ecosystem in the country on a continuous basis.

The importance of a strong R&D wing is crucial for any company that is active in strategic product manufacturing. How strong are the R&D activities of HAL? What are the latest updates of ongoing projects?

In the present context where HAL’s future Sales is almost exclusively based on indigenously designed and developed products such as the LCA, ALH variants, LCH, LUH, HTT-40, etc. the emphasis on in-house R&D has become stronger than ever. HAL has the strongest R&D set-ups among the DPSUs. The R&D organization of HAL under the aegis of Design Complex is headed by Director (Engineering and R&D) who oversees the activities of 10 R&D Centres. The Centres are focused on development of Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing platforms, manned &unmanned, as well as the airborne equipment such as Engines, Avionics and Mechanical systems. 

The non-lapsable R&D Corpus is one of the mechanisms for funding R&D projects. Every year, 10% of the Operating Profit After Tax is credited to the Corpus from which various R&D projects are funded. In addition, project funding is provided from the accumulated Reserves of the Company through approvals as per the DoP.

The R&D Centres have not restricted their activity to design and development or upgrades alone. Any platform or a system – whether requirement projected by the Users or an In-house development - involves understanding the Operation Requirements (ORs), drawing up of technical requirements, detailed design activity, authentication of the design through extensive analysis using latest analytical software, design reviews by specialists and certification authorities, manufacturing of prototypes / technology demonstrators, ground and flight testing, certification. Appropriate User training to operate the Platforms and Systems is another major activity undertaken by these Centres. The R&D Centres have developed the right infrastructure and skill sets with a blend of experienced and young designers to undertake all the activities from the beginning to its logical end. These centres do not limit their activities to product development to cater to immediate customer requirements alone. They are also engaged in development of next generation technologies in their respective domains, under HAL’s internally funded Technology Development initiative.  In addition, HAL has set up chairs with premier institutes like IISc&IITs, to bridge academia and industry in research and development.

The Aircraft R&D Centre (ARDC), Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWRDC) at Bengaluru, Transport Aircraft R&D Centre (TARDC) at Kanpur and Aircraft Upgrade R&D Centre (AURDC) at Nasik are primarily working on design, development and upgrades of fixed wing and rotary wing platforms.

ARDC has associated with ADA in the development and flight testing of TEJAS (LCA) to meet the stringent requirements of the IAF. This multi mission tactical aircraft is upgraded to LCA MK-1A with the latest technology based indigenous Avionics equipment, AESA Radar and EW System and enabled with BVR and ASRAAM missiles.  ARDC jointly with ADA is at present co-developing the navy version of LCA, LCA MK-II, Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) as well as AMCA. HAL has successfully demonstrated the capability of hot refuelling on HTT-40 and the capability of running switch over of pilots while keeping the engine running. With this, HTT-40 will be the only TurboProp Trainer in the world to have features of running changeover and hot refuelling.HTT-40 has already completed 6 turn spin with Anti Spin Parachute System (ASPS). It is undergoing spin refinement flight trials after removal of ASPS and is in the final stages of certification.After modification of Tail structure,   Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) has restarted flight trials and it has completed 2 turn spin successfully. At present IJT is undergoing further spin trails. HAL has initiated design and development of CATS (Combat Aircraft Teaming System) wherein large number of unmanned flying assets will be centrally controlled/directed from a mothership.

RWRDC has designed, developed and certified Advanced Light Helicopter - Dhruv, Rudra, Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). IOC of LCH was accorded by CEMILAC for Indian Air Force and Indian Army during Aug 2017 and Feb 2019 respectively. HAL has submitted quotation against RFP for supply of initial batch of 15 LCH against which, order is awaited. Subsequently, after completion of 15 LSP order, HAL will produce 147 helicopters. Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) of Basic LUH for Indian Air Force was accorded by CEMILAC during February, 2020 and IOC of Army Version is expected to be accorded at Aero-India 2021. Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) a 13 ton helicopter is another project taken up by this R&D centre. Preliminary design of Army/Air Force version and Naval version of the IMRH is completed and the Preliminary Project Report (PPR) is forwarded to MoD. With this RWRDC will be a unique centre designing helicopters from 2 ton to 13 ton weight class, a capability very few global R&D  centres can boast of. The Centre has evolved ALH from Mark I – conventional cockpit to Mark III / IV equipped with state of the art Glass cockpit, Mission Sensors and Weapon Systems. Further RWRDC has initiated the Civil Certification of LUH and development of a 200 kg Rotary UAV. To cater to the stowage requirements of Naval Ships and Carriers, HAL has taken up the projects of Tail Boom Folding and 2-Segmented Blade Folding. Tail Boom Folding on ALH has already been demonstrated and will be certified soon. The 2-Segmented Blade Folding will be certified by July 2022.

Aerospace System & Equipment R&D Centre (ASERDC) at Lucknow has undertaken design and development of Electrical systems like Master boxes, Control and Protection, Electrical rotating machines, fuel gauging systems, Environment Control Systems, Hydraulic units and Wheels and Brakes to name a few.

Mission & Combat System R&D Centre (MCSRDC) has taken up design and development of Mission Avionics hardware, Mission Software, Algorithms for Navigation & Weapon Guidance, Integrated Avionics Suite for Jaguar, Simulators, Mission Planning and Debrief Stations, Glass cockpit and AFCS for different helicopter platforms, integration of solid state weapon control system and anti-ship and anti-airfield weapon for Jaguar. Final Operation Clearance (FOC) for Jaguar DARIN-III upgrade including integration of ACMI, RWR, CMDS and weapons was accorded by RCMA in July’19.

Strategic Electronics R&D Centre (SLRDC) at Hyderabad and Aerospace System & Equipment R&D Centre (ASERDC) at Korwa have undertaken design and development of state-of-the art Avionics and Navigation systems, Identification Systems, Radar, Communication Systems, Voice Activated Command Systems, TACAN system, Radio altimeter, IFF transponder, Automatic Identification System, solid state flight data  recorders, digital map generator. Civil Certification of some of these items are also being progressed with.

HAL has also initiated Artificial intelligence based projects in collaboration with Institutes of repute.

With a multitude of the R&D projects that are being undertaken by HAL right now, in no time, HAL will be the exclusive destination for catering to all the aviation industry requirement worldwide.

Aero Engines Research and Design Centre has successfully designed and developed small aero engines in operation with the Defence services. But in terms of engine development HAL still faces numerous challenges. How do you plan to tackle this?

To set the ambience apt to understand the nitty-gritties of aero engine design, let me give you an insight into the history of aero engine design and development at HAL.

HAL embarked on the design in 1960s. Initially we tried our hands on piston engines like HPE-2, HPE-4 and PE-90 etc. The 11 kN HJE-2500 engine designated for HJT-16 was designed and the prototype was tested on the testbed. However it did not see the production lines and it could not be integrated on the aircraft for various reasons.

It is 1980s, that HAL really felt the need of indigenous engines and forayed into small gas turbine design.  HAL is the only organization in the country, that has so far successfully carried out many small engine design and development projects. The engines are 4 kN thrust turbojet engine (PTAE-7) used on Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA), 110 kW power turbo shaft engine (GTSU-110/127) for starting the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) engine and its upgrades, 60 kW starter generator engine for starting AI-20D engine of An-32 aircraft, Air producer engine for starting Adour-811 and 871 engines of Jaguar and Hawk aircrafts, Auxiliary Power Unit for FGFA class aircraft and accessories like air turbine starters, turbo chargers etc. 

Harvesting all the learnings of small engines and co-development, today the R&D unit of HAL, AERDC (Aero Engine Research and Design Centre) is tasked to develop two prestigious engines namely; 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 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)

Significant progress has been made in both the projects with successful trial runs of 25 kN core engine and 1200 kW Jet mode version engine up to 100% RPM. HAL is confident of achieving the targeted design parameters and productionising these engines.

However the challenges are many in aero engine design like,

  • Funding challenges
  • Technological challenges
  • Trained man power specific to aviation industry
  • Testing facilities from component test facility to Flying Test bed
  • Precision manufacturing and established Vendor base etc.

As a strategy, HAL has earmarked nearly 1000 crores from its internal funds exclusively for Engine Development.

The HTFE-25 and HTSE-1200 engine programs, both of which are in prototype evaluation phase are loaded with some of the concurrent technologies like High Pressure Compressor, Effusion cooled combustor, SX Blades, 3D printed parts, laser shock peening, FADEC, Atomizers, High speed Gearbox etc. In parallel, futuristic developments in technology are also in progress, like Afterburner on PTAE and HTFE, Flame propagating nozzles, EHSV and Stepper motor based FMUs etc.

On the material and processes front, HAL is developing SX blades with DMRL for HTSE-1200 engine program. The coating by EBPVD method is also being established with ARCI Hyderabad to be utilized on SX blades. The process has been proven on sample blades. Similarly the Laser shock peening will be utilized through Coventry University UK. We are developing atomizers with IISc.

HAL is constantly imparting knowledge to its work force for training its manpower. It is trying to keep abreast with the latest happenings in the field by joining hands with inland and foreign universities like IITs, IISc, Cranfield University etc.

HAL is utilizing the established but limited facilities at NAL, GTRE and other DRDO labs for testing combustor, gas generator turbine, electronic components etc. However we do not have the facilities in the country to test compressors, HP turbines, power turbines of the order of 1 MW and above with matching speeds. Flying test bed and altitude test benches are the two major facilities which have to be established on case to case basis, which demand an investment of the order of 1500+ Crores. These facilities are expected to be established under the proposed AERO ENGINE COMPLEX by MoD as National Test Facilities.

On establishing and handholding the MSMEs, HAL is providing opportunities to be partners in development. There are 70+ vendors with AERDC-HAL which are exclusively sensitized for engine development. They are onboard in the development stage itself so that there can be a smooth transition to production stage.

The Aircraft Upgrade Research and Design Centre (AURDC) has vast experience on Su30MKI, MiG series aircraft, which are the backbone of IAF fleet. Could you shed some light onto the latest operations in the centre?

AURDC is carrying out the integration of various indigenous / western weapons thereby enhancing the operational performance, reliability & combat capability of the Su-30 MKI aircraft. Towards this, the classic weapon project, integration of the BrahMosmissile,  was developed and demonstrated, which has enhanced the potency of the Su-30 MKI aircraft by many fold is the, without the involvement of the Russian OEM. This weapon integration project was a first case internationally taken up for such a heavy class of weapon on a fighter aircraft. The D&D phase has been completed and HAL has already taken up the series implementation as per IAF requirements. Apart from this project, various new generation missiles and smart bombs developed by DRDO like ASTRA, New Generation Anti-Radiation Missiles (NGARM) i.e. Rudram-I, smart bombs like PGKHSLD, new smart Air to Surface Bombs and western weapon like SPICE-2000 are already integrated by AURDC.  The integration of indigenous weapons Rudram-II, Rudram-III and Smart Anti Airfield Weapons (SAAW) has also been undertaken by AURDC. 

AURDC has also taken up the Development & integration of airborne stores and new systems. Indigenously developed systems like the VOR/ILS, Radio Altimeter, TACAN, Multi-Function Displays, Solid State FDR, Passive Jamming system, CMDS have been integrated & introduced on Su-30 MKI platform. In addition to this,  AURDC is working on projects like introduction of GPS & digital bus at weapon stations, indigenous development of Integrated Standby Instrument System and various other electrical rotables which are presently being procured from foreign OEMs. Also the indigenous content is being enhanced by Indigenisation of mandatory / non-mandatory spares, materials, required for line maintenance of the Su-30 MKI platform and Development of indigenous Tools, Testers and Ground Equipment (TTGE).

In order to make the aircraft available over a very long span, life extension programs for platform operations beyond the OEM specified life, has been launched and this life extension would definitely ensure availability of Su-30 MKI aircraft for a very long time.  AURDC is also providing Technical Support to IAF for maintaining fleet serviceability to the highest level.

AURDC has also ventured into the development & Integration of new Systems and weapons and indigenisation activities for Non-HAL platforms like the MiG-29 K/KUB aircraft with the Indian Navy and the MiG-29,  IL-76 and Russian Platforms with the Indian Air Force. AURDC along with other R&D centre MCSRDC, has also launched a new program on MiG-29 K of Indian Navy to make it combat potent through introduction of Laser Pod (LDP) and new laser guided bomb. This integration is being achieved though introduction of indigenous HAL Mission Computer and other major  systems. AURDC has also initiated integration of indigenous weapons like ASTRA, Anti Air Field Weapons and general purpose bombs on MiG-29K of Indian Navy which shall increase the combat capability of this potent platform to the next level.

How does HAL promote the private participation and indigenization in defence and aerospace industry? As an industry expert, how much capable is HAL in promoting India’s export business?

As mentioned earlier in the case of LCA, the private sector has graduated from being suppliers of Detail parts to being long term business partners of HAL through supply of major assemblies and primary structures. HAL has been extensively tying up with Indian private partners in the areas of:

Manufacturing of Detail Parts

  • Assemblies (Mechanical incl. Hydraulic, fuel accessories, fuselages, wing assemblies, Electrical/Electronics incl. PCB assemblies, Transformers etc.)
  • Composites, Rubber/ Plastic Parts, Tooling
  • Manufacturing of Electrical looms, panels, relay boxes etc.
  • Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul activities
  • Work packages viz. Painting, De-painting, dismantling
  • Ground support/ Ground Handling equipment viz. GHEs/GSEs.
  • Design and Development of products and technologies
  • Quality control activities through “Third Party Inspection” (TPI).

The R&D Centres of HAL and some of the Production/MRO Divisions of HAL outsource the development of LRUs to various private companies. In LUH, for example, the Smart Cockpit Display System, Standby displays, control panels, lighted panels, armour panels, fire detection box, lubricating pumps etc have been designed, developed and manufactured by private vendors. Although the true indigenous content in LRUs is quite modest at present due to the limited semiconductor/electronic components manufacturing capability in India, the situation is expected to improve in the future as the government has identified electronics manufacture as a priority area.

Going forward, HAL intends to expand the vendor engagement to the Detail Design stage itself. In such a scenario, the vendor will do the Detail Design under HAL supervision, develop the necessary Tooling on their own and then supply the major assemblies. In this model, it is expected that a major part of the upfront investment will be put up by the vendor as a risk-sharing partner and the investment will be amortized over the Production run. Technologically, the Private vendor base in India can readily meet HAL’s expectations in this regard.

As the country acquires more and more indigenous platforms, as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat, the associated ecosystem of manufacturing and ROH industry partners will get automatically benefitted. Like the recent approval of 83 LCA Mk1A acquisition, which is going to be a game changer for the indigenous industrial parlance, there are a slew of indigenous products like other LCA Tejas variants, LCH, LUH, HTT-40, etc getting lined-up in offering from HAL, while the Defence Services are now looking for more indigenous options as compared to import and this will favourably impact the entire aerospace manufacturing ecosystem. Thus HAL aspires more and more participation of private partners and building healthy and robust ecosystem in India through its upcoming indigenized programs.

Coming to indigenisation, the indigenisation Cell at HAL head Office and at various Production Divisions regularly interact with potential private vendors by way of one-to-one interaction, conducting seminars / conferences/ exhibitions, participating in the seminars / conferences organized by various industrial bodies, physically as well as through virtual mode. The private vendors during these events are sensitized about the various indigenization opportunities available. They are also familiarised about Indigenisation Procedures, expectation from vendors and support provided by HAL during indigenisation. More than 85 types of test facilities available at HAL are hosted for utilization by Indian industries on payment basis and is being utilised by both govt organizations and Indian private companies.

While certain Private companies are supplying Parts and Assemblies to foreign OEMs, HAL as on date remains the only Aerospace company capable of exporting Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing platforms.HAL is a major exporter among the DPSUs and HAL's exportable Platforms have been Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) - Dhruv and Do-228 aircraft. In addition, HAL also exports certain work packages, spares, services, etc. There are several enquiries from friendly nations for the LCA. Dornier and HTT-40 have tremendous export potential. ALH is already flying in foreign soil. The LCH also has very good export potential because it offers a significant fraction of the Apache’s capabilities at a fraction of its cost. Civil version of the LUH also targets the export market. Long term Product Support of the platforms in foreign countries is a challenge that HAL is working on. 

Thus we have an array of exportable platforms in the offering from HAL which can significantly boost India’s export business.

HAL has also started participating in major Global tenders for Defence aviation platforms. Channel partners are being engaged in prospective countries. Extensive support is being rendered by Indian Missions abroad in Export promotion.The export arm of HAL is also being strengthened to address the major upcoming requirements from various countries.

Thus HAL is fully capable in promoting the export business and with the introduction of the new Platforms into Export Market, aggressive approach in marketing efforts, government policy support, etc., HAL envisages significant enhancement in exports in the coming years.

Could you share with us your visions and priorities for HAL during your tenure? What are the goals set to achieve and what is the roadmap ahead?

If we look around us, technology is changing ever so fast with the blink of the eye. What is current today is ancient tomorrow. This is where the importance of R&D Centres comes in. There should be unfettered, unrestricted ideas that need to be thought of, pondered over, validated and converted into a design, all within a certain framework of time. Considering our Company’s motto of supporting the Indian Armed Forces “Force Behind the Forces”, time is very precious. This means the onus is on us to support our Armed Forces with the very best, state-of-the-art platforms and products. This can be achieved only through a strong and vibrant R&D wing.

My vision is to see every helicopter flying in the Indian Skies shall be from HAL - designed, developed and manufactured. The 13 ton IMRH development will complete the entire gamut of military helicopters that will operate in India.  Once the civil certification of ALH and LUH is completed, it will enable the fulfillment of this vision as every helicopter flying in the civil sector also, in the future, will be from HAL.

After the successful certification of HTT-40 (Basic Trainer), IJT (Intermediate Jet Trainer) and development of Advanced Jet Trainer in the future, Indian skies would not have the need to look to foreign lands for these fixed wing trainer aircraft.

All the aero engines in the fixed wing and rotary wing platforms currently flying in India are designed and developed by Foreign OEMs.  With the certification of Aero Engines being developed by HAL, the fixed wing & rotary wing aircraft developed by HAL shall be powered by HAL Engines only throughout their missions.

On the challenging high altitude terrains of the Indian Army Base Camps, the HAL’s 200 kg. Rotary UAV platform will ensure continuous supply of provisions and equipment at all times in addition to its surveillance and mission roles.

HAL has already ventured into the realization of the futuristic concept of Combat Aircraft Teaming System (CATS), which will effectively tap the complete synergistic potential developed by the manned and unmanned systems in action. The system comprises of a large number of various unmanned flying assets that will be centrally controlled and directed by a manned mothership. While the mothership stays inside the Indian territory, these autonomous flying assets swarm into the enemy territory and carry out the requisite missions.

All these ventures of HAL are just a few to name. There are innumerable milestones to be accomplished and HAL is all enthusiastically and optimistically set to embark upon this Roller coaster journey into the skies.

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