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Naval helicopters will be Modi govt’s first challenge in its ‘atmanirbhar’ push in defence

With HAL pushing for its inclusion in the programme, the Navy, which is desperate for utility helicopters, fears the project will be delayed.

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New Delhi: The nearly $3 billion deal for Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) could become the first challenge for the Narendra Modi government under the new ‘atmanirbhar’ initiative in the defence sector.

This is because the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is pushing for its inclusion in the programme. The initiative is being pursued under a strategic partnership model focused on the Indian private industry meeting manufacturing needs through tie-ups with foreign vendors.

The Indian Navy, though, is worried that the whole programme will be delayed if HAL is brought in, which the Bengaluru-based firm denies. The Navy has been desperate to replace its Chetak of 1960s vintage with NUH.

The NUHs are to be utilised for multiple roles, including search and rescue, casualty evacuation and low-intensity maritime operations, besides torpedo drops.

The Navy had received eight responses to the Expression of Interest (EOI) issued in February last year as part of its plan to purchase 111 helicopters for Rs 21,738 crore.

HAL had submitted two bids at the time, one by itself and another through its joint venture with Russian Helicopters to produce the Kamov chopper, a Russian utility chopper.

Apart from the Navy, other private players have also objected to HAL’s inclusion.

The Ministry of Defence is yet to clear the file for issuance of Request for Proposal (RFP) for selected vendors and may take a fresh look at the proposal to include HAL.

Defence sources said that the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had already considered the participation of HAL when it decided on pursuing the project through the strategic partnership (SP) model.

“Discussion in 2018 DAC for AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) regarding inclusion of HAL and then DAC directive to progress through SP model indicates that HAL is not to be included,” a source said.

Also read: HAL ties up with Larsen & Toubro, others as Modi govt taps private talent for Tejas Mark 1A

HAL says it has the tech but Navy needs to be clear

Speaking to ThePrint, Wing Commander Unni Pillai (Retd), executive director (CTP-RW) at HAL said, “The essence of SP Model is to bring in technology into the country that we don’t possess.”

He added that the transfer of technology (ToT) in the heavier weight lift class makes sense because HAL is still trying to design one.

“But getting something, which is in the same weight class as ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter), it does not make sense. Whatever they (Navy) are trying to get in is 1970 design,” he added.

He argued that the foreign chopper “the same configuration as the ALH” will be nearly Rs 10-15 crore more.

“And then what happens is that the actual expenditure comes in every 5-7 years when the aircraft requires upgrades, including when new systems have to be put. And that is when the foreigners start bleeding us … we will keep paying money to people,” he said.

The senior HAL official said “Atmanirbarta will never happen” if we depend on imports.

“If we have a design and needs to be done up to somebody’s requirement, the two parties need to sit together. The Navy has never engaged HAL in what exactly they want. Initially, in the 1990s, they wanted a replacement for Seaking (helicopter) which is a 10-tonne class. They wanted all the equipment to be fitted on an ALH, which is a 5-and-half-tonne class. This is not possible.

“So now, what they want is a smaller utility class helicopter which is a five tonne class. We have something in that class. Whatever adaptation needs to be done will be done,” he said.

Pillai underlined that the HAL’s chopper meets the Navy’s requirement. On the issue of folding blades, a requirement for Naval operations, he said HAL has segmented the blade.

“There are two bolts there. You remove one and it can be folded. It takes about six minutes to fold on the LUH (Light Utility Helicopter). On the ALH, we are planning to incorporate the same which we would be able to do at the same time,” he said.

Asked about fears that HAL will not be able to deliver on time even if it is able to meet all requirements, he points to its performance in the last five years to say the state-run firm has delivered ahead of time.

“In ALH for example, the Army had placed an order and we delivered one year in advance. We are capable of delivering in advance,” he said.

Also read: HAL needs new orders to prevent complete halt of production after 2021-22

Navy’s HAL problem

Defence sources told ThePrint that if HAL is included, it will erode the level playing field for private players since it already has government-funded infrastructure, which cross subsidises Transfer of Technology and indigenous content.

According to provisions in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), HAL cannot be included at this stage since the process has already begun.

“If HAL has to be included, then DPP has to be modified and ratified by DAC followed by issuance of fresh Request for EOIs to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and SPs,” the source explained.

As of today, the private companies have got a miniscule percentage of the overall orders to Indian companies placed by the Navy.

According to official statistics, since 2014, almost 95 per cent of the orders to Indian companies have gone to Defence Public Sector Undertakings and Public Sector Undertakings. HAL has an order book of approximately Rs 1 lakh crore, including that of Light Combat Aircraft.

Navy sources said that HAL was provided naval requirements from as early as 1990 to make a helicopter, but till date, the helicopter cannot meet requirements of the Navy.

“HAL will take another two years to meet blade folding capability. If at this stage HAL is included, the process will come to a halt as the Empowered Project Committee cannot clear ALH as a platform since it does not meet the quality requirements,” another source explained.

The source added that a higher body like DAC will have to accord this dispensation.

“However, if this is accorded, then other helicopters will also be added in the fray. The whole process would need to be recommenced, delaying the project further while diluting the operational functionality of the NUH,” the source said.

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd) said all platforms have to meet the Navy’s requirement for it to be considered. Automatic blade folding is an essential necessity which naval helicopters require since they operate from decks of ships.

“Also, HAL order books are loaded. The whole idea of strategic partnership is to allow Indian private industry to come forward and provide the services with an alternative R&D (research and development) and manufacturing line. This would help bring in real indigenisation that every government has been wanting to usher in,” he added.

Also read: INS Arihant, Chinook, P-8I — game-changing Indian military inductions in the last decade


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  1. What the hell! This level of red tape bureaucracy is killing our military’s capabilities. On one hand China is modernizing its military at a very high pace and testing new technologies frequently and here we are lingering and fighting with one another to prove the other wrong. Why to keep the rule-book if it causes this much delay? Throw the rule book in dustbin and work to design and make weapons.

  2. All defence forces must freeze the specs for 3 to 4 years. Once the prototype is made test it thoroughly and start production. At this time advancement can be made in specifications. This is how product development goes.

  3. It seems that the basic premise of the DPP is being misquoted in the above article. I quote from the website in the public domain https://mod.gov.in/dod/sites/default/files/Update060519_0.pdf
    Paragraph 2 of the quotes “Enhancing the role of MSMEs in defence sector is one of the defining features of DPP. ” and ” Enhancing the role of MSMEs in defence sector is one of the defining features of DPP. ”

    Please note that the key words ar PRIVATE sector and MSME and not PSUs.

    After so many years of independence and technical expertise, India has not been able to produce anything worth its name, in terms of effective utilisation by our Defence services. Most of the Western Nations know that any government sponsored establishment is going to go the Socialist way and bound to produce stuff that will not be world-class. The Soviet model was something that can be discussed later, but all other Western powers buy from private contractors.
    We in India have this self-imposed sense of Righteousness and feeling that anything private is bad, anything government is good. So came the Defence PSU behemoths. HAL was initially run by Walchand Industries, just like Air India was run by the Tatas. Both have been privatised and the results are there to see.
    First off, if HAL is allowed to participate, then we are not alowing any lateral talent, manufacturing experties and capabilities to grow. It is only through competition that anything can improve. Think telecom. Do you remember waiting years to get a black telephone – a piece of pride for anyone. STD booths with long queues so that we could call at half-rate? This was when the state owned P and T department had the monopolies. How many of us remember that mobile calls would cost us 16.40 Rupees a minute to start with? It was the gradual entry of private operators that today, we can call to our heart’s content with an ANNUAL recharge of just Rs 2,399? Finally, BSNL/MTNL had to compulsorily retire a whole set of people, that were not doint their jobs efficiently – and the exchequer paid a whopping sum or 70,000 crores just to let them sit at home and get paid 10 years’ salary!!! https://www.theweek.in/news/biz-tech/2020/02/14/bsnl-mtnl-vrs-92300-employees-opt-for-retirement.html

    Telecom may have nothing specific to do with the Aviation sector or Defence production, but the principles are the same. In today’s world if you want quality then you need competition and you need an open and level playing field. NOT the behemoth PSUs and Ordinance factories that produce stuff that is mostly in knocked down kits. Why should the Jabalpur Ordinance Factory produce re-assembled Ashok Leyland trucks?

    But coming back to the crux of this story. Having flown the ALH, for about five years, I had flagged several of the issues that are currently being faced. The most prominent was the Blade folding. Let the automatic blade folding sit aside for a bit, its unlikely that the the Navy would have asked for this, but mainly asked for a quick blade folding kit (the Chetak blade takes about 5 minutes to fold and the Kamov about the same, with just a spanner and a ladder, perhaps) The Navy had long back specified a certain blade folded width. If the HAL did not produce something that fit the bill, is it really correct to blame the Navy? The requirement was specified when giving the design for the helicopter, which is based on the width of the hangar on the ships. The SHIP is the main object and the helicopter is meant to land ON the ship and be stored INSIDE the hangar. HAL knew this. HAL has seen this with the Chetak. So why did not HAL provide what the customer wanted IN THE FIRST PLACE? The Navy had done enough trials on the ground and on board ships and found that the blade folding ‘procedure’ that was specified by HAL was too cumbersome and required at the least about 20 minutes – on firm ground. During folding, parts from the main rotor head used to come off. All this was pointed out in 2005. Nothing has changed since 2005.
    Now the Navy is looking to go beyond what is locally available and clearly not suitable for the Service. This is the time that HAL sniffs an opportunity to get a foot into the door and scuttle the hard work of selection of a helicopter by PROMISING things.
    To quote from the article “There are two bolts there. You remove one and it can be folded. It takes about six minutes to fold on the LUH (Light Utility Helicopter). On the ALH, we are planning to incorporate the same which we would be able to do at the same time,” the key term to note is “Planning to incorporate”. This simply means that they have done nothing to address the shortcoming that was pointed out in 2005, clearly stated in the basic requirements two decades earlier, but now suddenly there is a magic bullet with which they will be able to provide for everything the Navy wanted. Coincidence or something else?

    If we let ourselves fall for this self-reliance stuff now, we are sure to lose out in the next war.
    Of course the point about self-reliance and totally Indian helicopter is open to discussion, but will take another whole ream of paper to write on.

    And please, those of you who may like to accuse naysayers of being sponsored by foreign companies, should go and visit the graves of all the crew that died flying HAL machines, whether it is the MiG 21, or the ALH or the Chetak/ Cheetah that suffered from quality issues, and had no real Indian content.
    We must go by Realpolitik and not blindly follow the Socialist model that set us on the path of the Grand Five-Year Plans (which always stretched into more then five years)

    I’m of course proud of our Nation, but I’ll be prouder of a Nation that has REAL capability to produce something, and be able to do this through its on R & D rather than depend on PSUs that have not served the Nation well.

    Jai Hind

  4. Looking from far everything seems to be super, marvelous. When you go near, the real picture shakes your mind. So accept the country’s condition. We have many world class IITs, technical institution. Train them give jobs.
    If really they are trained, definitely a world class products you get. Administration and politics are ruined in country. With reservation you never get a world class products. All talented persons are going outside the country. Identify and provide them the country’s requirement. Definitely it can be achieved.

  5. To advance the vision of “armanirbhar”, HAL must be challenged to design and produce state-of-the-art engines for all these so called “indigenous helicopters” and not just buy the solution of some bolts and nuts to make the ALH navyworthy. If HAK argues that foreigners will bleed us then what has HAK been doing all these years? They have bled the taxpayer with ordinary products. Now 2020 is the right time to get into a strategic partnership to create the indigenous infrastructure and in due time HAL can supply Indian engines to the NUH if they can prove their worth. Future India can make or lose money if we don’t have control on the engine technology , materials and coatings. Also MIDHANI must pull up their socks. It’s too late to change the procurement process, rather MoD must accelerate the selection of SP and foreign OEM.

  6. Isn’t it Indian Govt.,,,, why Modi govt.??What does The Print want to show or prove by referring Indian govt as Modi govt.

  7. Achievements of HAL and DRDO
    1. Overweight and unreliable Arjun Tank. Engine of the tank of foreign origin.
    2. Tejas has American engine, Israeli avionics, British ejection seat and Israeli missile.
    3.Ashtra missile has Russian seeker.
    4.Unreliable Insas rifle.
    5.Reliability problem of Aakash missile.
    These PSU organizations can’t even reverse engineer properly. Chinese have atleast successfully copied SU 27 and Mig 21.

  8. HAL or foreign companies – Make in India and आत्मनिर्भर भारत

  9. Govt should not award any new requirements to HAL as the initiative started to atmanirbhar by our Beloved PM will ruin.

  10. What is mentioned in the above article is perfectly right. NAVY needs to be very clear in their objectives. When ALH was designed 20 years back NAVY kept on modifying their requirements during the design phase. The fact that NAVAL helicopters are more difficult to design dictates that all stake holders (both the design and manufacturing agency and the customer) need to be clear of their requirements and should hold them constant during design . ALH would have come out as a good NAVAL helicopter at that time itself provided NAVY had course corrected the design at that appropriate time during design when different elements like rotor head and blade configurations were chosen. There is no point lamenting that we failed to produce a naval helicopter after spending 300 crores with some delay in getting ALH out in market. Even now it is not too late to take a crucial decision of modifying ALH to include automatic blade folding which NAVY badly desires, but the policy makers should be clear on this. There is no point buying everything from other countries when we have adequate talent and infrastructure within the country. Only thing is WE NEED TO BE CLEAR WITHOUT CLUTTER. HAL should be given a chance in this regard. Only prime minister seems to be clear on ATMANIRBHAR. DEFENCE ESTABLISHMENT NEEDS TO LEARN AND ALIGN TO ACHIEVE IT

  11. Talking about military technology both India and China are the same the Russian tech . If these two will go to war today I don’t know who will gonna to win? Perhaps India should not rely most of their weaponry to mostly Russian made or technology. If Indian don’t like US made then French or other tech are available . In time of war both India or China knew the character of their weapons because both are the same technology the better rely other tech.

  12. why is the PM and the defence minister talking if bids,,,, when they openly vouched for, ,Be Vocal For Local,, can they, ,Nooooo because someone has to make money, HAL is capable irrespective of price. They should be given the orders

  13. HAL (govt undertaking) is a Well from where many horses drink water and eat melons. Let’s stop putting in more supply there so we can have some hand pumps(private companies) dug for supply of better water with less efforts (more players means more competition, better products and easy availability).

  14. I don’t trust HAL. Teaming with kamov and this ALH is not interested by Navy, after this slim chance in joint venture they are desperate to win this deal with paper technology. What this? In this current situation and Geo political scenario we must not play dirty politics in defence procurement. Not satisfied with this kind of system. In very near future we will all face all this consequences. Love my country dearly Jai Hind.

  15. No body wish to have your opinion keep it to yourselves. Except for a few hiccups this govt is doing fine as far as defence is concerned…hundred times better than the UPA govt.. so keep shut.

  16. HAL must first adhere to production and delivery schedules for Tejas. The delay in delivery of the aircraft is unique and disgraceful. Let them not put their fingers in every pie.

  17. Indian Navy has never been keen on a n indigenous helicopter. They have more confidence as well as aspirations for an imported helicopter.
    While Navy has indicated that details for a helicopter were provided in early 1990s, they have never participated actively in its development.
    While an Army team had a dedicated team deployed with HAL for developmental participation with both technical and flying qualified officers, Never has never done so. Army’s participation has given them the results.
    Indian Navy should be clear, they aren’t going to get an imported product. It’s only then, Navy will actively participate and assist in designing, developing, producing, exploiting, maintaining as well as upgrading an Indigenous helicopter with HAL’s participation.

  18. No doubt self reliance is best option but then quality and quantity and time can not sacrificed. Let Navvy buy some handful imported Helis but also coordinate with HAL on domestic helis with strict quality and Timeline followup. Let is start with 50-50 import and local Helos. By the time we recive imported one, local one shd be also ready by then. In today situation going domestic is wise idea but no compromise on quality and timeline

  19. HAL helicopters are far more reliable than the imported helicopters. They will be half the cost of the imported helicopters. Indigenous products will give jobs to Indian workers. Indian money will be in India.

  20. Now under the coronavirus situation, the Indian economy is in such a bad state that even if government wants, it cannot afford to purchase imported helicopters as it has no money. The only option left before the Indian government is to go for HAL helicopters. In the name of atmanirbhar, it will be a face saver for the Indian government as it can cancel the tender and award the order to HAL. But if Indian government will cancel the deal on the ground of paucity of funds, it will definitely send a wrong message to the world community.

  21. PM Modi seems to have forgotten that decades of atmanirbhar socialism shit has produced only shitty products for the armed forces.

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