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What HAL plans to do after Sukhoi-30MKIs

By Ajai Shukla
May 15, 2021 13:08 IST
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Top HAL sources say the AMCA, which is being developed as the IAF's next-generation stealth fighter, is slated to be assembled at HAL Nashik.
Ajai Shukla reports.

 

IMAGE: The Indian Air Force's Republic Day tableau displays a Sukhoi-30 with a BrahMos missile. Photograph: ANI Photo

Since 2005, when Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Nashik, delivered the first 'Made in India' Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, it has been HAL's most lucrative cash cow.

Referred to as the 'MiG Complex' since it was established in 1964 for licence manufacture of MiG-21FL aircraft, the Nashik division has traditionally generated 30-33 per cent per cent of HAL's annual turnover.

Last year, it generated Rs 7,000 crore (Rs 70 billion) out of HAL's total turnover of Rs 22,700 crore (Rs 227 billion).

This year, however, HAL's leadership in Bengaluru is staring at the drying of its steadiest and largest income stream -- the licenced manufacture in Nashik division of 222 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, the delivery of which was completed last year.

Used to totting up over Rs 6,000 crore (Rs 60 billion) each year from the assembly of 15-16 Sukhoi-30MKIs, HAL's Nashik division is now scrabbling for orders that would occupy its 4,190 skilled personnel at Nashik and 3,100 at Koraput in Odisha, where Russian aircraft engines are built.

This amounts to almost 27 per cent of HAL's total workforce of 28,345 personnel.

There is limited relief for HAL Nashik from the impending order for 12 more Sukhoi-30MKIs to replace aircraft that have crashed over the last 15 years.

After those are delivered in 24-30 months, HAL would again find itself staring at an empty assembly line.

Another income stream that HAL Nashik is developing is the periodic overhaul of Sukhoi-30MKIs, which falls due after 11 years of operational service, or 1,500 flight hours.

This has been allocated to the overhaul division at HAL Nashik, which currently overhauls 15-16 fighters each year and looking at increasing that to 20.

With the cost of each overhaul estimated at about Rs 75 crore (Rs 750 million), that would bring in about Rs 1,500 crore (Rs 15 billion) annually.

Furthermore, with the Sukhoi-30MKI airframe considered capable of 8,000 flight hours, each fighter would undergo three overhauls during its four-decade service life, creating a long-term income stream for the MiG complex.

HAL Nashik also generates a steady, if small, income stream from the manufacture of spare parts for the Indian Air Force's operational Sukhoi-30MKI fleet.

A large number of spare parts and rotables is also required for Sukhoi-30MKIs that come for overhauls.

In addition to this, HAL Nashik is also a designated 'centre of excellence' for undercarriages of other IAF fighter aircraft, such as the Tejas light combat aircraft.

With 20 Tejas Mark 1 and 83 Mark 1A on order with HAL Bengaluru, the undercarriages of these 103 fighters would all come from Nashik.

The IAF is also planning a capability upgrade for the Sukhoi-30MKI, which is to be carried out when each fighter comes in for its overhaul programme.

This is expected to raise both the quantum of work with HAL Nashik, as well as the income.

It has been decided to build the HAL-designed Hindustan Turbo Trainer -- 40 HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft at Nashik.

HAL has submitted its financial bid for 68 HTT-40 and cost negotiations are under way. An order is expected by October 2022.

It is learnt that HAL has bid about Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million) for each BTA.

With a planned manufacturing capacity of 20 trainers per year, the Nashik division will enjoy an additional income stream of Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) annually.

In addition to the 68 HTT-40s already being negotiated, the IAF requires at least another 38 BTAs.

HAL is also anticipating major interest in the HTT-40 from the export market.

There is an expectation that this assembly line could go on for 8-10 years.

A major work shortfall for HAL Nashik arose due to the collapse of negotiations for building 126 multi-role medium fighters under transfer of technology and the purchase of 36 fully-built Rafale fighters instead.

That, however, could be made up for through the tender for another 114 medium fighters from the global market, which are to be assembled at HAL Nashik.

If that procurement materialises, HAL Nashik's production line would be fully engaged for at least 6-7 years.

HAL executives say that each of the six fighter manufacturers vying for that contract -- Sukhoi, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Eurofighter, Dassault and Saab -- are also in talks with HAL for building their fighter in India.

Top HAL sources say the AMCA, which is being developed as the IAF's next-generation stealth fighter, is slated to be assembled at HAL Nashik.

The Defence Reasearch and Development Organisation says the first flight of the AMCA is likely by 2027 and, after flight testing and certification, manufacture would begin by 2035.

It is planned to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle, co-opting a private sector firm, to build the AMCA's fuselage and aerostructures at Nashik and final assembly in Bengaluru.

HAL Nashik is also considering fabricating indigenous missiles and bombs, which are currently manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Ltd and the Ordnance Factory Board.

HAL Nashik's concerns about empty production lines originate to a significant degree in the cancellation of three major aircraft production projects.

The cancellation of the Indo-Russian project to co-develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, which HAL planned to build on the Sukhoi-30MKI line in Nashik, has led to the current situation.

This was exacerbated by the cancellation of the 126 MMRCA tender.

Finally, the cancellation of the Indo-Russian project to co-develop a Medium Transport Aircraft led to another empty assembly line.

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Ajai Shukla
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