HAL, not DRDO, will lead design of new aircraft - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 4 March 2008

HAL, not DRDO, will lead design of new aircraft

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 5th March 08

(Photos: Ajai Shukla)
The Dhruv production line at HAL, Bangalore

The robust new partnership between Hin
dustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and India’s private sector is evident at the spanking new Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWR&DC) at HAL’s Bangalore campus. This is the heart of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) project, an HAL-led project in which private aviation design companies will play a key role.

The spacious hall of the RWR&DC is hushed except for the hum of 70 computer workstations. A dozen designers from private software company, Plexion Technologies, are working on Unigraphics computer aided design (CAD) software to create a hydraulics system for India’s futuristic Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Near by, a team from HAL-BaE Systems is designing the helicopter’s engine cowling. Engineers from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) work in another corner; they are responsible for the software package that connects all these designers in real time. In a glass-walled office that looks out at the RWR&DC, a team of Indian Air Force (IAF) engineers track the progress of each aspect of the LCH.

B Pandaji Nath Rao, Chief Designer for the LCH, who conducts Business Standard through this exclusive visit to the RWR&DC, explains the benefits of this integrated design centre. A tailor-made team from the private and public sector can be quickly put together; interaction is close; security is simplified; design changes take place in real time.

This HAL-led integrated design centre is a radical shift from the design approach towards India’s flagship aviation project: the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The DRDO-headed Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was responsible for designing and integrating the Tejas, drawing upon designers from DRDO laboratories spread across the country. HAL merely plays the role of “prime contractor”, responsible for manufacturing the LCA that the ADA designs.

But sharp criticism of delay in the LCA project (the project has run twenty-five years since it began, in 1983) has engendered a new outlook. HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja, told Business Standard that HAL will no longer rely on the DRDO to manage aircraft design programmes. Instead, HAL will design, as well as manufacture, upcoming projects like the LCH, the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), the Indo-Russian Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MRTA) and Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). It has already successfully led the development of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which is in service with the military.

The reason for the delay in DRDO-led projects like the LCA, says Ashok Baweja, lies in the DRDO’s institutional focus on R&D, rather than on delivering a project on time. Furthermore, in contrast to HAL’s corporate structure, the DRDO is a non-commercial government department, hamstrung by procurement rules and practices.

Mr Ashok Baweja explains, “By tradition and practice, R&D labs are less focused on deliverables and project management. (The DRDO) is like an academic institution; it is in the business of teaching and learning. If they are told, now go and make this, you make a product which is deliverable, marketable which they have to get certified by somebody, they won’t know how to go about it.”

Even while rejecting DRDO as a “programme manager”, the HAL Chairman is careful to highlight the major role played by the DRDO in developing the LCA. Key systems were developed by DRDO laboratories like the Aviation Development Establishment (ADE), the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and many others, who Mr Baweja said would continue to develop systems for the aircraft now being developed by HAL.

In assuming responsibility for both design and manufacture, HAL is reverting to an earlier model. Early aircraft like the HT-2 and Kiran trainers, and the HF-24 were designed as well as manufactured in HAL Bangalore.


  1. you are a better photographer than a reporter!!...dont you know the difference between aviation and aeronautics!! its Aeronautics Development Establishment... this is the sort of reporting that you can least expect from a person who has been part of the services... and before you dare say 25 years please take note of the contemporary fighter programs of the world.......they took longer inspite of having a history and expertise....DUMB!!

  2. i am angry at the title of your report. HAL and DRDO are two eyes of the indian difence industry. This type of reporting creates already worsened relations between DRDO and HAL. HAL chairman is absolutely right .DRDO is a 100% non profit oriented R&D. DRDo absorption latest tech is much superior to HAL.because HAL thrust is always to make in numbers and sell them. DRDO can make better products and give TOT to HAL like AESA Radar,mission Computers,INS..etc. HAL needs DRDO and DRDO needs HAL. please dont creat bad blood.

  3. sorry fo the typos in the above...

  4. 10 Dhruvs lined up and possible ready to go. Cool. BTW, the link for the second picture doesn't seem to work.

  5. Mr. Shukla, HAL seeks to be a "nuts and bolts" manufacturer only. It has "vociferously" backed the foreign MRCA proposals, and ignored DRDO's proposal of an indigenous MCA, in order to "corner" the huge licence manufacturing contracts.

    Mr. Baweja's contention that 'products' cannot be developed by DRDO may further prove that HAL's long-term strategy is to primarily be a licence manufacturer only. The MRCA contracts will generate licence production contract and various offsets to HAL.
    As per official Russian sources, the airframe, engine, radar, stealth technologies and most avionics of the PAK-FA will solely be Russian; India will be allowed to customize only 20% of just the avionics only (no more than the % share in the Su-30 MKI). Again, HAL will be the sole partner in this purchase ("joint venture" as per MoD and IAF).

    The Dhruv project was also launched 23 years ago; the only difference with Tejas is that its maiden flight took place earlier in 1992. The LCH is also a variant of the Dhruv only, and not a new design. However, HAL can indeed be credited with the development of the IJT in a record time of 3 years; that it is being supplanted by the Hawk LCA's licence production, maybe another matter of debate.

    Mr. Baweja can be posed with the question whether HAL is ready to take a "quantum jump" in the design of the MCA, or an indigenous airliner like a Boeing 767 ? Such projects MUST invariably be tasked solely with DRDO only.

    HAL maybe termed as a "mass producer", whereas ADA maybe termed the "researcher"; in my view this distinction must continue and Mr. Baweja's questionable intention of superceding the ADA in lieu of lucrative short-term licence production, or components manufacturing contracts is contrary to the policy of attaining the goal of self-sufficiency in aviation.

    Thank you.

  6. did you take any pics of Tejas LSP-2 when you were at HAL ? If so please post, the bird should have been integrated by now

  7. HAL seems to be making the mistake what DRDO did before i.e. overstating their capabilities. LCH/LOH are just on the drawing board. Moreover its not that IJT has got IOC. We don't even know whats the status of that programme after the crash of one of its proto at the aero india 2007. yes Dhruv is doing some military duties but navy has rejected it for its vibration related issues and at the same time only now has WSI Dhruv begun to fly and that too with dummy weapons. Lets see what the "project management" and the "corporate culture" does to the IJT/LCH/LOH/WSI Dhruv programs. We know how long Mig-21 Bison upgrade took.

  8. Ha Ha.. HAL claiming expertise in "Program Management" , "Corporate Structure" and all else. Just look at their record with doing anything new.The fiasco of the MMR should tell you about what HAL is capable of.

    The MMR was a total HAL baby and they delivered a lemon, despite all the soothing promise of "oh, it is performing great, everything fine" and finally the s*it hits the fan and Elta has to be called into help out those HAL guys. Of course the radar delay directly contributed atleast 1 year towards weaponization. Of course HAL will never acknowledge it.

    As for IJT, HAL's much touted "program management" is seeing them getting shafted by the Russians with their "paper" AL-55 engine , which is way past the date when it supposed to be delivered. The damn IJT is just sitting there and waiting for it's engine. So no point tom tomming that you did the airframe in 2 years..duh..get real, the engine is taking 5 years and all the testing and everything put together atleast 4 more years from the date the AL-55 gets delivered to get it into service!. Notice no plan B for the engine at all! . The Russians have them by the balls. So much for "Program Management" .

    Fact is,all that HAL can do is to assemble stuff from kits supplied by Russians. Their "program management" is limited to putting up the plants and building factories and assembling stuff from kits to a process supplied by the Russians or others. That is all they can do now and that is all they have done for over 40 years.

    They simply don't have the "program management" skills or the "corporate whatever" to develop an y ab-initio projects.

    The HAL chairman will try to smooth talk you and sell you that snake oil. As a reporter, you should have used better sense and not fallen for that used car sale gimmick.

  9. HAL is not better or worse than OFB for whatever they are worth. Quality deficient and poor product support as always. Show concrete results (like exports) and then talk big of going alone without ADA when all you want to do is import the technology through a foreign JV

  10. HAL is not a technology demo organization. It has to design,make and sell in numbers to survive. Like DRDO they can not take a fancy project with the help of delhi babus,make a lab model .make a few foreign trips,award some gold medals and when it comes to realization of a final product,close the project calling it a demo,crores goes by the drain. DRDO can neither develop on its own or allow the armed forces to import. its a stumbling block with full of egoistic scientists. MMR is screwed up by non coperation of LRDE in signal processor development. LRDE has no experience in airborn radar development.There is no point in blaming HAL. HAL's collaboration with DRDo have seen successfull mass production of prithvi,brahmos missile programmes.

  11. DRDO has become a holy cow of the net warriors it would seem. Criticising it even a little seems to bring down fire and brimestone.

    DRDO has no faults and anyone trying to point out any faults is a snakeoil salesman that is in a foreigner's pocketbook.

  12. See.. Despite all the vaunted "Program Management" of HAL, all we get is pass the buck and cover your ass, when asked about MMR.. Look at the reason toted out. MMR couldnt come about because LRDE refused to "cooperate" on signal processor! So what did HAL do as the great "program manager" ..just give up and throw the hat!.

    HAL is the useless old nuisance, and is just a screwdriver assembly shop. Nothing more. It survives by being a getting imported designs and being the licensed assembler for the Air Force and gets paid for that. It has no product of it's own, that is competitve and can win in the international market. Except for the Dhruv, every one of it's major products are license assembled stuff.

  13. God forbid if the HT-2 maker is going to follow the pattern. Shoddy job and exported aircrafts without spares and lost exports to the world.

    DRDO is a R&D lab. The onus lies on HAL as a product maker to realise the shape of DRDO's R&D. For example, the DRDO UAV, which HAL refused to manufacture. Then when DRDO went to Pvt sector, Bejwa called and threatened DRDO and finally agreed to build the UAU. HAL inefficiency comes from HF-24 days. DRDO plane was manufactured with shoddy finish by HAL, ultimately killing the plane. LCA had similar deal from HAL.

    DRDO is not a production house. DRDO talks about the problem with DPSU's like HAL.

    Its high time Bejwa to quit. He has been bane of HAL. He is so unprofessional. Someone better in his seat should come.

    Bejwa and his "office boys" that sit and priliferate HAL should go enmasse. Some better talent should come.

  14. hello anon! you cant even get HAL chairman's name correctly,forgrt about your criticism.He is Mr.ASHOK BAWEJA not BEJWA! As a Chairman of HAL, he has done a lot for the betterment of HAL.You ask DARE about their missin computers. They have tortured HAL engineers with their tantrums during TOT!DRDO's CEMILAC is killing R&D in defence public sectors with their technical incompetence.

  15. Wow! I seem to have stirred up angry feelings with this article! Let me put a couple of things on the record.

    First... it's quite difficult to respond when everyone who posts (except one; thank you, Abhiman for acknowledging your identity!) does so Anonymously. Come on folks... why the modesty?

    Second... Anonymous No 1... if I'm "a better photographer than a reporter", then I'm a bloody good photographer. What exactly are you having hysterics about? What is the "Aeronautics Development Establishment" that you talk about? I've cited two organisations that you could be referring to: ADA... which I've called Aeronautical Development Agency; and DARE... which I"ve expanded to Defence Avionics Research Establishment. Which one do you have problems with? Aaaaah.... now I understand why you post under "Anonymous".

    Thirdly... another couple of Anonymous posters seem to believe that I am creating bad blood between HAL and DRDO. For their benefit, let me clarify that I did not travel to Bangalore and spend three days in HAL in order to put words into Mr Baweja's mouth. I reported what Mr Baweja told me of his own accord. Those who know Mr Baweja will agree with me when I say that he is a clear-minded and forceful personality who will not allow a journalist to misreport what he says.

    So what's your point then? That there is bad blood between HAL and DRDO, but I should not report it in the national interest? Grow up folks!

    Do post your views by all means... that's what blogs are for. Slam HAL, slam DRDO, praise DRDO, praise HAL, whatever... all that is fine. But plz don't give me lectures on journalism. My job is to report events and trends. And that's what I'll do. And the national interest will do just fine, despite your worst fears!!

    Couldn't film LSP-2, it was out flying both times I went to the hangar. But I'll post some nice pics of a LSP Tejas undergoing a MAST evaluation.


  16. Just because Chaitmans name is written wrong does not mean the post is invalid. Grow up. Find better reason for personal attacks.

  17. Spell

    Chantiman - Chairman

  18. Oh By the way

    Look at your spellings

    You can't even spell those correctly, what the hell you are teaching me?

  19. Talk is cheap, but actual capabilities,facts and success on the ground are altogether different things. Seriously you are not telling me that HAL is going to be able to develop a FBW fighter all by itself without ADA/DRDO help, when it has absolutely ZERO capabilities in any of the competencies that ADA/DRDO built from scratch. By that I am talking about the entire FBW hardware, software, testing and implementation, including inventing how to do all this from scratch while under sanctions, composites and even engine which GTRE is trying to get to the finishing line. HAL has absolutely NEVER built an unstable FBW plane (all its licensed produced models are statically stable planes), has little /no composite material design experience (it's license produced aircraft have minimal composites). Despite all it's talk about pgm mgmt and all else, it does not have the technology, skills and experience. The only thing it can do is to partner with someone else to import technology and do the license assembly thing here in India , just like the are planning to do with FGFA and the MRCA. Their spending on R&D is next to zero /pathetic..Why couldnt they have invested in test platforms to build competency in FBW in the 70s/80s.. and the less said about their electronics /radar capabilities the better.

    HAL can only bitch and whine about ADA/DRDO. But the ADA/DRDO have developed real world competencies in critical areas , which HAL would never have been able to do, despite all their revenue, manufacturing base and infrastructre.

    The sooner "empire builders" like Baweja actually understand that and build skills and capabilities on the ground than just talk big, the better.

  20. Ajai did you just say that LSP-2 is flying already ? Wow ! But the official ADA website doesn't list it . Its absolutely quiet for the last few days. Maybe this is unofficial flying to check out before making it official that the bird is up and running. In any case, as long as many LSPs, PVs and TDs are in the air we get that much closer to IOC target. My 2 cents to ADA/HAL keep going guys. We need a symbiotic relationship b/w ADA & HAL. Cooperation rather than turf wars/competition will see us through if we want to get into the big league. This makes me pose a follow on question to Ajai. Is LSP2 flying with GE404-IN engines or the regular GE404 engines with/without MMR ? We know there were some T/W issues when sea level tests were done at Arakkonam

  21. Anonymous, you're not getting what Baweja is saying. He's not saying that HAL is going to start developing everything by itself.

    His point is simply: HAL will do the job of lead integrator, rather than leaving it to a DRDO-headed organisation like ADA.

    Baweja makes it quite clear that all the DRDO labs like DARE and GTRE and RCI --- which contributed to the LCA --- will continue to contribute, in exactly the same way, to future aircraft that HAL will lead. The only difference is that the systems integrator will be HAL; Baweja says that HAL, with its corporate outlook, is better geared to do that job than an R&D-focused organisation like DRDO.

    Nobody's trying to take over the fundamental R&D tasks that the R&D labs are doing.

  22. Ajai, this lead integrator bit is exactly the problem. I worked with HAL i know their attitude. When DRDO was doing the LCA they scoured the length and breadth of the country for firms able to design and manufacture different systems. In the case of HAL, what they do is just draw up a list and then promptly import, fit it in and declare done! This same lackadaisical attitude- initially- in ALH is what caused the services to cry foul. Finally, they woke up and started indigenizing stuff and what not. Baweja is a man who may appear forthright but is doing his own empire building, at the cost of others without admitting that ADA was set up because folks at the time, realized that HAL was not upto the task. The late Raj Mahindra and SR Valluri were disgusted at the way HAL had treated its design dept, letting it bleed till it was practically non functional. It was ADA which when it started the LCA program which painstakingly built all these core activities and abilities in those firms whom HAL is now outsourcing its jobs to.
    When I asked DRDO why they hadnt run to HAL for the MCA - the simple answer was that unlike the FGFA- the DRDO project wanted substantial local involvement. HAL in comparison, is ok with knocking together the aircraft, sending it off to the services and watching its revenue balloon. HAL says it has changed, and it now has a huge focus on indigenization. Time will tell, time will tell.

  23. HAL is more comfortable with integrated tested and proven system from elsewhere and sending it to customer (sometimes a spanner is included in the landing gear).

    Other than mechanical parts (more so, not a blanket statement), HAl depends on DRDO or imports (smits aviation?) for its electronics.

    Over all its another DPSU and contributed to the death of aerospace in India.

    Did you meet "The HAL Chairman and his Office boys" as put in aptly by a retired admiral (when I told him, I just returned from a HAL trip).

    HAL chairman true to his style is among most unprofessional gentleman I have met. He runs it like a fiefdom.

    Showing DRDO down is the onlyway he can show HAL up.

  24. At least the Chinese came out with multiple variants of the Mig21, did different things (twin engines, trainer, side intakes, better wings, avionics and lot of other things with the Mig 21) and got it to serve reliably. HAL on the other had produced huge numbers of Mig 21s under license and did absolutely nothing. Latest chinese trainer FT 2000 or something is based on the Mig 21 (same, wings, engine and rear fuselage sections).. Even the Bison upgrade, HAL could do nothing on its own. It had to run back to RAC Mig. Contrast that with the Isrealis who DIDN'T have the Mig 21 license. They had the credible Lancer upgrade package which they did for Romania and offered to others.

    HAL is the Hindustan Motors /Ambassador maker in aeronautics. Just like HM survived for all those years because of protection and active lobbying by Birla with babus and govt to keep others out, so did HAL. Now the game is up and HAL's goose is cooked. This act of talking up "production and design" is the last flailing of a sinking man, something like the Contessa of Hindustan Motors and the awful jeep like thing the madeand the "rural" transport vehicle. HM is today as dead as nails (despite Amabssador being in produciton still) .. What HM is today, HAL will be in another decade or so after all the current captive and offset work runs out. This MRCA thing is just a big scam to send business HAL's way. I just wish that the winner partners with a private sector player , sets up a greenfield venture and cuts HAL out of it altogether.

  25. at the end of the day, simple fact is that HAL simply hasnt invested into R&D as much as DRDO..its outsource, outsource, outsource. that is good but also bad as well because it doesnt develop inhouse capabilities. baweja thinks that having SAP and being able to drill down onto any person in the org is a huge plus..yes it is, but then again, ask how much HAL is spending on core R&d? DRDO has productionized avionics and complete technologies and transferred tech to HAL, it is rare for the reverse to happen. and thats entirely because of the earlier "we build we dont develop" mentality. the dhruv, upgrade programs and ijt plus hals contribution to mechanical systems for the lca show it can do r&d, but it will have to spend more and work cooperatively.

    what you need to understand ajai, is that ada is deeply disliked by some hal guys because it intruded into their protected turf - that of aircraft design and development. so they want to take it back. only thing is that today lca is mostly ada and partly HAL, and HALs record with the IJT is spotty, to say the least. they keep touting the first flight and short time taken to get there, but are very silent about the engine issues and the fracas with the russians. or the fact that all these years in the business and HAL has had a record of doing whatever south block says but little mind of its own. agreed things are changing, and HAL is now spending on R&D and has made massive improvements in quality, and even indigenized some thousands of spares, but it would be sheer arrogance on their part to assume they are better program managers because of dhruv and ijt. after all, if drdo had taken the same path, and cobbled together an aircraft out of imported systems and not taken the more challenging task of local systems development, they too would have a lca in service today. the lca, simply put, has done more for aerospace development in india, than the umpteen mig-21,27, jaguars HAL knocked together. even the aircraft upgrade programs are run with DRDO assistance.

    baweja should concentrate more on action, than talk. focus on making HAL an organization which the iaf runs to, and praises day in and night out..stuff like that.

  26. Oh. HAL are bunch of IAS babu morons, some retired /rejected dreg from services types and the usual detritus found in PSUs who think they can actually design and build anything worthwhile and actually make money out of it in a global competitive market. Fat chance. They are just a bunch of loud mouths who are jealous of ADA because of what they have accomplished and feel that they have been short changed because ADA got funded, while HAL kept doing screwdriver assembly of Russian and other assorted planes.

  27. Mr. Shukla, I fully agree with the views posted by Jai, and anonymous posters from 8 Mar 22:54 onwards to the last one. Their views present the most accurate role of HAL, and why it cannot supercede DRDO.

    It may also be mentioned that it is an "open secret" that Tejas has been given a "step motherly" management by HAL, as it was not its own incubation. Instead, it prioritized the relatively less important IJT (though an extremely brilliant and commendable effort).

    It's over emphasis on the PAK-FA as a "joint venture", is not only appalling, but also amounts to misinformation to the Indian public.

    Thank you.

  28. I would disagree with posters who dismiss HAL as PSU loudmouths, IAS rejects and dregs from the services etc. HAL has some fine people working in it. The organization just needs a bit of focus from higher management and it can achieve wonders.


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