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HAL work ethos needs ‘drastic’ change, but blame game will solve nothing: IAF veterans

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A day before Mirage 2000 crash in Bengaluru, IAF chief B.S. Dhanoa had hit out at HAL for blaming it for delays. Former officers agree with chief’s assessment.

New Delhi: In the aftermath of the Mirage 2000 crash and plain speaking by Indian Air Force chief B.S. Dhanoa, former senior officers of the IAF have questioned the capabilities of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. However, they’ve also said there should be no blame game between the IAF and the state-owned aerospace and defence firm.

HAL has been under the scanner since a Mirage 2000 aircraft crashed in Bengaluru Friday, soon after being upgraded by HAL, killing two young pilots who were on an ‘acceptance sortie’.

Also read: Mechanical failure could be behind Mirage 2000 accident, death of 2 pilots

A day earlier, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa had launched a frontal attack on HAL, rejecting allegations that the development of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft had suffered because the IAF changed specifications and requirements frequently. Dhanoa said the IAF has “made concessions for HAL, but will the enemy make any concession for us when we face them in battle?”

He asserted: “IAF has not shifted any goal posts as alleged. We have maintained the Air Staff Quality Requirements (ASQR) of the first 20 LCA Mk-I at standards issued in 1985.” And even then, HAL has been able to manufacture only “10 fighters”, he said.

However, it must be noted that the IAF chief also praised HAL for its contribution in making Exercise Gaganshakti a success last year. In this exercise, HAL and IAF worked together to carry out a record number of sorties and maintain a high serviceability ratio.

More nuanced approach

Air Chief Marshal Srinivasapuram Krishnaswamy (retd), who headed the IAF from 2001 to 2004, called for a more nuanced approach and said Dhanoa’s statement should not be connected to the crash that took place a day later.

“Had it not being for HAL, we would not have been flying the MiGs for all these years,” Krishnaswamy said. He also highlighted that Tejas had done thousands of flying hours without any accident.

On the issue of concessions given, Krishnaswamy, who wrote the draft ASQR in 1985 that was later formally accepted, said they are something that even the French, US and Chinese military give.

Also read: HAL doesn’t fly because Sukhois aren’t Rafale

However, he added that the work ethos needed “drastic” change, and that IAF and HAL should swap personnel involved in maintenance and other arenas to understand each other.

“There needs to be a look into the managerial structure. There need to be drastic changes,” he said, adding that deployment of IAF officers to HAL needs to be done in a calibrated manner. He also underlined that industrial function must also go to the private sector.

In fact, several other former officers also stressed on the need to fix HAL’s work culture.

Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis (retd), who served as IAF chief 1998 to 2001, agreed that there are issues, but said they need to be discussed behind closed doors. He refused to say much more, saying the matter is sensitive, especially after the crash, but also spoke out against a blame game.

Scathing criticism of HAL

However, there were those veterans who laid the blame squarely at HAL’s door.

Air Marshal K.K. Nohwar (retd), former vice-chief of the IAF and director-general of the Centre for Air Power Studies, said HAL needed to ramp up its performance and get over the “slackness”.

He said a proper revamp of HAL was “long overdue”, and the delays in programmes was completely unacceptable.

Air Marshal Vinod Patney (retd) said the whole situation is a “terrible paradox”, since HAL says it is not getting enough support in terms of money from the government, and the IAF says it is a PSU and has to deliver on its promises.

“Something is terribly wrong with the systems at HAL and the way it functions. HAL needs to be overhauled completely. I want HAL to succeed, but it should not take anyone for granted,” he said.

Air Marshal P.K. Barbora (retd), former vice-chief of the IAF, said the delays in programmes hampered the fighting capabilities of the IAF.

“Even a blind man will tell you this. HAL has not delivered on its promises or its timelines. The worst part is that there are issues of quality control with the product manufactured by HAL. It is below the standard of any aviation industry,” he said.

Also read: Mirage jet crash after upgrade raises serious questions on HAL ability

Barbora said be it the Tejas or the upgrade programme of the Mirage 2000s and Jaguars, delays have hit the IAF.

“The IAF plans long term and when the planning goes for a toss, everything goes for a toss. HAL is like a big white elephant. Can we shut down HAL? No, we cannot. Whenever we have said that it needs to be run by a senior Air Marshal, the government has turned it down,” he said.

“HAL was set up before China built its counterpart, and now look where they are and where we are. Life lost is life lost, quality lost is quality lost, time lost is time lost, but we will not use the danda (stick).”

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd) said it is wrong to say that the IAF kept changing goalposts on Tejas.

“There is a Preliminary Air Staff Quality Requirement (PASQR) which is made jointly, only then is the ASQR is made up. It is natural for some requirements to be changed with time. Technology is galloping away while we sit and wait,” he said.

“The IAF is looking at 20 squadrons of Tejas, including 12 Tejas Mark-2, which is a completely different aircraft.”

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  1. HAL,OFB,and all PSUs drain money and deliver trash. Nation, media common tax payers font bother, currupt IAS,IPS officers decide what Army Navy or Air warriors need,The user is silenced and kickbacks bribes bad quality equipment given to triservice who fie more due to equipment under performance in battles. Time to kick the butt of currupt, incompetent bureaucracy PSUs and neta nexus.

  2. People here comment so many things even not knowing slightest. Firstly such being the case HAL also employed retd IAF and other defence services personnels , also in the top management . Some of its previous and current top bosses come from IAF only. And further there are so many watching eyes put by customer (other than HAL’s own quality control) for any stage clearance of any part manufactured, that only blaming HAL is just their ignorance of correct situation. Decision making is slow because there are so many guidelines it has to follow being a government organisation. Yes it needs competetion to get better and there are lot of scopes where it has to improve, but people have to be made aware that IAF also is really poor in aircraft maintenance and delays so many decisions. And think about it, which private company would appreciate IAF holding around 10000 Crs of payments just because they don’t have budget.

  3. I just want to quote Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy and say that HAL is a strategic asset… IAF needs to also understand it’s symbiotic role and complicity in every aspect of HAL’s work or its ability to deliver projects and products on time.
    As regards the LCA, the ASQRs are top level requirements. Second and lower order requirements for the aircraft have been constantly changing…so is the IAF chief right in his assertion?!

  4. Companies such as HAL, Mazagon dockyard, Ordnance factory should not be the sole producers of defence equipments. Instead private counterparts should also be encouraged to produce defence equipments but there should be proper quality check done by govt. officials like directorate general of aeronautical quality assurance (DAQAS). Also technology transfer should be done from developed countries like Russia, US, Korea, Japan, Canada etc

  5. Here lies the secret how the executives working in quality control departments get fast track quicker out of the system promotions when the executives toiling in other supporting departments are deprived of their rights.

  6. I agree with the argument that there should be no blame game.However, at the same time one has to realise that there is no use eulogising achievements of 1970s and 1980s. Times have changed, so are the requirements and expectations. We are now in the era of fifth generation fighter planes and western powers and China are already thinking in terms of sixth generation. The Indira Gandhi era confining everything to the public sector is dead. The mindset has to change. Private sector defence industry is in a nascent stage, but is fast picking up and will pose competition. Can HAL, by virtue of being in the public sector, have monopoly rights on everything including offset largesse? Rahul Gandhi is wrong in crying foul if an ADAG company gets 3% share in offset contracts of Rs.30000 crore. Indian Defence manufacturing sector has to open up and HAL has to face competition and be a cost-efficient, lean and trim organisation.

  7. Can someone do what Titan did to HMT watches, to HAL? Tatas never knew how to make watches. Ambanis…are you listening?

  8. HAL work culture is slowly changing after this government took charge people will see HAL will come out of the mess will deliver the required aircraft in record time it’s just a matter of time before any adverse comment

  9. We are sad and saddened by these missing lives. We understand the reaction of the airmen. But this questioning of HAL, founded or not, falls badly. In a context polluted by the Rafales affair, this position of the airmen must be nuanced. Finally, it is not only HAL that must be criticized – what is the amount of the claims not paid by the state to HAL? – it is the entire military, industrial, and administrative organization that is involved . And lastly, the men and women who shaped the defense of the country, fearing the military.

  10. HAL acquaintance told me that senior staff just warm their chairs and go home. Another defence psu employee laughed at our products and their quality which is some 30 years behind Western counterparts. Itchy socialist governments should stay away defence industries and rather produce cowdung cakes instead

  11. In high technology areas, experts who may not be citizens of India should also be given a chance to work in India. America is today great because it gives opportunities to foreigners to work. Collaboration with Canadian and South Korean companies will be highly beneficial.

  12. I am not a fan of an RM who visits Siachen thirty times to be with the troops. The entire PSU ecosystem – HAL, Mazagon Dockyards, DRDO, BEL, etc – needs to come up fully to the needs and expectations of the services. The system of defence procurement, including large purchases from foreign suppliers, needs to be streamlined, become functional, much faster, reasonably clean. It takes so long to finalise the rifle a jawan will use. This and continuously improving welfare measures – within budgetary constraints – for serving and retired personnel. That includes drastically reducing the litigation they must sometimes face to get their legitimate dues.

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