DAC decision to look beyond HAL for
plane-making evokes mixed response
By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: The Defence Ministry's decision to look beyond Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) as a viable option for plane-making is being seen as an opportunity for the private sector and as a wake-up call to India's pampered public sector. While the Indian Air Force (IAF) welcomed the move, considering it was a proposal mooted by Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and propelled by industry, HAL said they are always bound by government rules.
“We welcome the government decision as it gives more options to the armed forces. I am not going into the merits and demerits of HAL, but would certainly see it as an opportunity to boost the competition. For decades we saw one manufacturing philosophy and now we will get to see more,” IAF sources not wanting to be named, told Express.
The Defence Acquisitions Council had on Monday given the go-ahead to the IAF to replace the aging Avro fleet. Accordingly, a global tender worth Rs 12,000-crore for 56 aircraft will be issued soon, enabling foreign vendor(s) to enter into a tie-up with a private or public sector company in India.
HAL officials were cautious in their response. “It's not a set back to HAL. We are bound by the government decisions. What can we do? But is the private sector so confident that they can do everything what we have been doing all these years?” a senior director asked. “It is just one order and I am not sure why it should be seen as an anti-HAL stand. We have a number of projects running and there's absolutely no cause of worry,” a general manger at HAL's Bangalore Complex said.
Defending HAL was former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal (retd) S Krishnaswamy, who termed the government decision as a 'sad day for Indian aerospace'. “Even the basic trainer is being imported now and I am not sure what happened to the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT). You can't blame HAL and it is the whole government policy that failed to focus on our engineering capabilities,” Krishnaswamy said.
He said private entry into aerospace will become another form of licensed manufacturing. “HAL has the expertise and there's a great talent out there. But the lack of a national vision on aerospace has got a bad name for HAL. The delay in setting up an Aerospace Commission on the lines of Space and Atomic Energy Commissions, too added to the HAL's woes,” he felt.
Former vice-chief Air Marshal (retd) A M Barbora, welcomed the move to get the private companies onboard for aerospace projects in a big way. “The private sector in India was never given a level-playing field in military aviation. I have seen the capabilities of Indian PSUs and was never happy with them. The current decision by the government will increase competition, reduce cost and increase quality,” Barbora, said. He, however, felt that the deal for the IAF might not be a very lucrative affair for the private sector, as the order is less in numbers.
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