Arrival of Defence
The defence industry in India seems to be at a cusp. Can it be prodded to take off?
In 2002, I was in Belgium for my Internship at a Safran Group company. I was asked to work on an oil pump, that goes into the Gas Turbine engine used in jets. The one that I was working on specifically went into the engine that was being developed by the Gas Turbine Research Established (GTRE) which comes under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). For those who do not know, DRDO is the DARPA of India.
The Kaveri Engine into which this pump had to go had a crazy past.
It was commissioned in 1984, the year I was born. At the time the plan was to source a bunch of stuff from the Russians and make an indigenous engine. The Russians supplied the designs but the Soviet collapse was nigh and they did not have the ability to supply all the parts. This resulted in an effort to develop some of these things in-house. Safran was hired to deliver precision manufacturing. Safran did not have test benches for these engines because the designs were Russian.
So the manufacturing would happen in Belgium. The part would be shipped to India. Then it would be shipped from India to Russia to be mounted on the test bench and for the results to be sent back. Since this was defence related there were strict protocols and the Russians would send the parts back to India. If there were changes needed, the same would be updated to the Belgians and the parts would be sent back to them.
This was the late 80’s and early 90’s. There was nothing called the Internet or Autocad. Everything was painstakingly drawn by hand. Each iteration took 9 months.
As a result, in 2002 when I went for the internship, the plane has just completed its first test flight a year ago.
This clusterfuck approach was never going to succeed though. Eventually, HAL threw out this engine developed by GTRE and decided to bring in an engine manufactured by GE in 2004.
It would take another 11 years before it could go into production and enter service.
The Light Combat Aircraft was designed by HAL. The first indigenously built fighter named HAL Tejas went into service on the 17th Jan 2015.
31 years after it was commissioned.
As the Kargil war was coming to a close, the need for helicopters was felt. Maintaining low-altitude defence capabilities was important. In 2000, the development of the Light Combat Helicopter started at HAL. This time within a span of 10 years the first flight took place.
This is a phenomenal shortening of timelines. Companies like Lockheed Martin would take as much time or more to bring a new product to the market. Besides the whole project was delivered with a budget of just $47.1 Million.
The wonders of this machine do not end there. The helicopter packs a punch. The two-seater has a turret gun as well as an array for 4 missile launchers that it carries. The copter is at parity with the Eurocopter Tiger or the Boeing Apache in terms of armament. Armed with the Helina missiles which are almost at parity with the Hellfires used on the Apache the product is formidable.
Being a light helicopter it can obviously carry less load and hence cannot be compared to Apache.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Monday inducted the first fleet of indigenously-built Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs), which has been developed primarily for mountain warfare after a requirement for it was felt during the Kargil war in 1999.
Developed by the state-run aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the 5.8-tonne twin-engine gunship chopper is armed with air-to-air missiles, 20 mm turret guns, rocket systems and other weapons.
The fleet comprising four helicopters was inducted into the IAF at a ceremony at the Jodhpur Air Force Station
Source: The Wire
The operationalisation of this craft has taken a decade less and at the same time, it has capabilities that are commendable. This marks the arrival of India as a defence manufacturer.
If HAL or any of the other private companies that are now beginning to enter the defence industry could deliver advanced helicopters the cost advantage alone would make them a preferred purchase for many of the smaller economies.