A week after a Livefist interview sparked an acrimonious war of words between the Indian naval aviation community and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), chairman of the state-owned military broke his silence.
Taking questions in an exclusive interview to Livefist, R. Madhavan said, “This is something that shouldn’t have happened, and we didn’t like it. Sometimes when they hit below the belt, some of our people have retorted. We hope that it comes to a stop now.”
The ‘below the belt’ comments Madhavan refers to are likely former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash’s description of HAL as ‘lethargic, deadbeat’ in his interview to Livefist linked above. The spat hinges around HAL’s insistence that the Indian Navy’s proposed acquisition of 111 shipborne utility helicopters from a foreign vendor should be set aside in favour of HAL’s Dhruv helicopter. Livefist has published Part 1 of the interview with the HAL chairman, which includes his comments on the current controversy, as well as an official update on the company’s other rotorcraft programs.
Here’s Part 1 in full:
Asked specifically about concerns that the Dhruv hasn’t met specific Indian Navy requirements for nearly two decades, compelling the quest for foreign helicopters in the shipborne utility role, the HAL chairman made what could be construed as a serious allegation against the Indian Navy, saying, “The Dhruv needs a couple of changes that we are working on, which includes blade-folding and boom-folding, which will bring it to the dimensions required by the navy. The Indian Navy is looking to acquire its NUH through the Strategic Partnership route targeting foreign aircraft, particularly one aircraft. The NUH RFQ/RFI was designed for that. If the Dhruv can be modified to meet requirements, then why not an indigenous product?“
It is unclear which ‘aircraft’ the HAL chairman is referring to. As things stand, the NUH program is a toss-up between Airbus Helicopters H135M/Panther and Sikorsky S-76D. Bids by both companies, along with a bid from Kamov for a naval version of the Ka-226T were submitted last year. Madhavan’s comments also come despite these details put out by key Indian Navy officials involved with the origins of the NUH program, including affidavits declaring that the Dhruv could not meet naval requirements.
While the Indian Navy hasn’t officially reacted to the current controversy, the naval aviation community is of the view that HAL elbowing itself into the NUH program now is a deflection from past performance, promises and priorities. Livefist understands that HAL will be reaching out to naval aviation veterans, including Admiral Arun Prakash, to apprise them of progress and answer their concerns.
Providing the first concrete timeline to HAL’s promise on the Dhruv, Madhavan has told Livefist, “I can categorically say that the Dhruv will meet all requirements of the navy. Within 24-36 months from the time an order is placed, we will develop and deliver the product. Our rate of production is also far higher. So project time will be much shorter than what the navy has envisaged in its request for quotation.”
Away from the Dhruv story, the HAL chairman also told Livefist that the company has begun production of five Light Combat Helicopters in anticipation of a near-certain initial order for 15 airframes by the end of this year. Livefist‘s Shiv Aroor took a backseat flight in an LCH prototype in February last year. Full video report:
In addition, HAL’s Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) heads into its final high altitude trials for the Army this August, with certification to be completed this year and possible entry into service thereafter. Livefist had a detailed report on LUH trials recently.
Meanwhile, the HAL-Kamov joint venture to produce the Ka-226T light utility helicopter near Bengaluru continues to drift, with the HAL chairman calling the project ‘overdue’ and delayed over MoD-level negotiations on the level of indigenous content.
The full Part 1 of our interview with HAL’s chairman is higher up on this page, but do head over to our recently energised YouTube channel and subscribe.