Nipped in the Bud !

Dr San­jay Badri Ma­haraj ex­plores In­dia’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try with spe­cial fo­cus on how a clear and sys­tem­atic de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme for com­bat air­craft and train­ers was de­stroyed be­fore it could bear fruit. This has had se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the in­dus­try

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - News -

Dr San­jay Badri Ma­haraj ex­plores In­dia’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try with spe­cial fo­cus on how a clear and sys­tem­atic de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme for com­bat air­craft and train­ers was aban­doned be­fore it could bear fruit. This has had se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the in­dus­try, which was re­duced to be­com­ing a serf for li­cence- pro­duc­tion, with con­se­quen­tial loss of de­sign ca­pa­bil­ity. He laments the fact that there was no fol­low on to the HF- 24 Marut pro­gramme and the Te­jas LCA has con­se­quently suf­fered ow­ing to lack of con­ti­nu­ity in aero­space de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Also: ‘ Bye, Bye, Lynx, Wel­come Wild­cat’, ‘ Winds of Change at Gu­vercin­lik’ Book Reivew on IAF - ‘ We Dare, We Care’ .

In­dia’s de­fence in­dus­try is per­haps one of the most un­fairly ma­ligned ex­tant. From De­fence Pub­lic Sec­tor Un­der­tak­ings ( DPSUs) to the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries Board (OFB) and De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO), there is a litany of com­plaints, in­sin­u­a­tions and in­sults – some un­doubt­edly jus­ti­fied, but oth­ers in­cited ei­ther by malafide in­ten­tions or out of pure ig­no­rance.

As the coun­try has em­barked upon the ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive in de­fence pro­duc­tion, which is still wind­ing its way to­wards de­liv­er­ing us­able prod­ucts, it is worth ex­am­in­ing the pe­riod in In­dia’s de­fence in­dus­try be­tween 1948 and 1980 in which much progress was made, but such strong foun­da­tion be­trayed by a fa­tal com­bi­na­tion of mil­i­tary ex­i­gen­cies, fis­cal con­straints but mostly po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary my­opia.

It should be noted that ‘in­di­geni­sa­tion’ is a much used and abused word. It is not en­tirely clear whether the In­dian Navy has

any higher level of in­di­geni­sa­tion by value than ei­ther the In­dian Army or the In­dian Air Force, as in the lat­ter cases, li­cence-pro­duced equip­ment has in­creas­ingly high in­dige­nous con­tent by value and by com­po­nent (the Su-30MKI for ex­am­ple is 51 per cent in­dige­nous by value and 73 per cent in­dige­nous by com­po­nent). What the Navy has how­ever con­sis­tently done, is to sup­port in­dige­nous ship de­signs and im­prove the prod­uct ac­cord­ingly. This was not the case with the other two ser­vices.

Avi­a­tion – Op­por­tu­nity Missed

In 1948, In­dia tasked its nascent air­craft in­dus­try – in the form of Hin­dus­tan Air­craft Lim­ited (HAL) – to be­gin work on a ba­sic pis­ton-en­gine trainer to sup­ple­ment and then sup­plant the Tiger Moths and Per­ci­val Pren­tice air­craft in ser­vice. The re­sult was the Hin­dus­tan HT-2, which served with dis­tinc­tion from 1953 un­til its re­tire­ment in 1980. Over 170 were built, with a dozen be­ing used to form the Ghana­ian Air Force in 1959. By start­ing with a ba­sic trainer, HAL had em­barked upon its learn­ing process in sen­si­ble man­ner and in­tended to de­velop this core com­pe­tency into an ad­vanced trainer (the HT-11) and an armed trainer (HT-10), which would have re­placed the T-6 Har­vard in the train­ing roles.

How­ever, even at this early stage, short-sight­ed­ness com­bined with bud­getary con­straints con­spired to stymie these plans. Nei­ther of the air­craft pro­gressed be­yond the mock-up stage, and a valu­able learn­ing process was ended pre­ma­turely. HAL then ini­ti­ated some work on civil air­craft with the HUL-26 Push­pak trainer be­com­ing a sta­ple of In­dian civil fly­ing clubs fol­low­ing its first flight in 1958. An en­larged ver­sion, the HAOP-27 Kr­ishak, formed the ba­sis of Army Air Ob­ser­va­tion flights un­til be­ing re­placed by Chee­tah he­li­copters from the mid-1970s.

The HAL HA-31 Bas­ant agri­cul­tural air­craft had a lim­ited pro­duc­tion run (31 air­craft) but proved suc­cess­ful in ser­vice. For trans­port du­ties, the Avro (HS.)748 en­tered pro­duc­tion in the 1960s and be­came pro­gres­sively ‘ In­di­anised’ with nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples still soldier­ing on in IAF and BSF ser­vice.

Till this point, HAL’s work had been un­pre­ten­tious but es­sen­tial. Build­ing the foun­da­tion for a vi­able in­dus­try ne­ces­si­tates start­ing from the sim­plest of air­craft. How­ever, the needs of the IAF re­quired HAL to branch into com­bat air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing at an early stage.

The first jet com­bat air­craft to be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia was the de Hav­il­land Vam­pire in its FB.52 and T.55 vari­ants. Un­der a li­cence granted in 1950, which in­cluded the Goblin 2 tur­bo­jet, In­dia was able to re­place its pis­ton-en­gine fight­ers with jet air­craft in sys­tem­atic and low-risk man­ner while si­mul­ta­ne­ously build­ing its avi­a­tion in­dus­try.

Although In­dia had to opt for pur­chase of Hawker Hunters ( 1954) Das­sault Oura­gans (1957) and Mys­teres (1956) to bol­ster its fighter strength, the in­tent to cre­ate an in­dige­nous fighter man­u­fac­tur­ing base was pur­sued with deter­mi­na­tion. The years from 1956 to 1959 were crit­i­cal for the In­dian avi­a­tion in­dus­try. In 1959, HAL re­ceived per­mis­sion to pro­ceed with the de­vel­op­ment of a ba­sic jet trainer to re­place the Vam­pire T.55s and the T-6 Har­vard. As one of HAL’s un­qual­i­fied suc­cesses, the re­sul­tant air­craft – the HJT-16 Ki­ran – first flew in 1964 and in a mod­i­fied ver­sion con­tin­ues in ser­vice to this day. To be sure, the Ki­ran did have a some­what pro­tracted de­vel­op­ment pe­riod be­fore en­ter­ing ser­vice and its Mk.2 vari­ant was late in com­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, the Ki­ran has been a suc­cess. It en­tered se­ries pro­duc­tion and serves the IAF com­pe­tently.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, HAL had laid the foun­da­tions for fur­ther fighter pro­duc­tion with a li­cence agree­ment for the Fol­land Gnat be­ing signed in 1956 while Dr Kurt Tank was en­gaged to be­gin work on de­sign­ing the HF-24 Marut.

The Gnat, de­spite its Bri­tish ori­gins, be­came an ‘In­dian fighter’. At its peak, HAL could build four Gnats per month and this diminu­tive fighter trans­formed the IAF’s com­bat arm. HAL also re­ceived li­cence to pro­duce the Bris­tol Or­pheus en­gine. This en­gine, de­spite its lim­i­ta­tions, pro­vided the Gnat with a then un­heard of thrust-to- weight ra­tio of 0.75:1 (in con­trast the F- 86F- 40- NA sup­plied to Pak­istan had a thrust to weight ra­tio of 0.42) and a de-rated ver­sion con­tin­ues to power the Ki­ran trainer. It was hoped that HAL’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the Gnat would have led to the de­vel­op­ment of a more ad­vanced ver­sion but here, as was the case with the Marut, in­her­ent lim­i­ta­tions with the Or­pheus B.OR.2 Mk.701 en­gine rated at 4,520 lbf (20.11 kN), ren­dered such ef­forts fu­tile.

The HAL Ajeet, while in­tended to im­prove on the Gnat’s per­for­mance, was only marginally suc­cess­ful as by 1975, the de­sired per­for­mance could only be achieved with some more pow­er­ful en­gine and more ad­vanced avion­ics. While four squadrons of Ajeets served be­tween 1975 and 1991, the type never achieved its po­ten­tial. The Ajeet was also con­sid­ered for con­ver­sion into an ad­vanced jet trainer (AJT), which should have been en­cour­aged as no fewer than 105 Gnat T.1s served the RAF with dis­tinc­tion as an AJT. How­ever, lack of sup­port, lack of ref­er­ence to the Gnat T.1, cou­pled with the loss of a pro­to­type ended this ef­fort and the IAF re­mained with­out an AJT un­til 2008, when the first BAE Hawks en­tered ser­vice.

It was In­dia’s short- sight­ed­ness in en­gine de­vel­op­ment that wrecked not only the prospects for a high-per­for­mance Gnat but also the po­ten­tially su­perb HF- 24 Marut. The HF-24 was de­signed around the Or­pheus B.Or.12 en­gine rated at 6,810 lbf (30.29 kN) dry and 8,170 lbf (36.34 kN) with after-burn­ing, which was be­ing de­vel­oped for the pro­posed Gnat Mk.2 in­ter­cep­tor and a NATO light- weight strike fighter. Un­for­tu­nately, the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties can­celled their re­quire­ment for the type and In­dia, be­ing un­will­ing to pro­vide the mod­est sum re­quired to com­plete de­vel­op­ment, was stuck with the non- af­ter­burn­ing Or­pheus B. OR. 2 Mk.703 rated at 4,850 lbf (21.57 kN), which ended up be­ing used on the Marut. An In­dian ef­fort to fit af­ter­burn­ers to this en­gine re­sulted in be­tween 18 per cent and 27 per cent in­crease in thrust, but the loss of the test air­craft with Group Cap­tain Su­ran­jan Das in 1970, ended this ef­fort. An at­tempt to re-power the Marut us­ing Brand­ner E-300 tur­bo­jets be­ing de­vel­oped for the Egyp­tian Hel­wan HA-300 fighter ( an air­craft which in many ways was a su­per­sonic Gnat-type light in­ter­cep­tor), each rated at 6,275 lbf (32.4kN) dry and 10,582 lbf (47.2 kN) with af­ter­burn­ing was po­ten­tially promis­ing. How­ever, form drag was con­sid­er­able and while test­ing was sat­is­fac­tory, the 1967 six-day war ended this av­enue of de­vel­op­ment.

To say this lack of a suit­able en­gine had a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on per­for­mance would be an un­der­state­ment. The Marut’s air­frame

was de­signed for speeds ex­ceed­ing Mach 2, but with the ane­mic Mk.703 en­gine, the air­craft barely went su­per­sonic. The Marut first flew in 1961 and ini­tially en­tered IAF ser­vice by 1964. In the 1971 war, the type served with some dis­tinc­tion but its lack of en­gine power led to it be­ing over­shad­owed by the more pow­er­ful Su-7 and, most of all, more ca­pa­ble vari­ants of the MiG-21. It should be noted that while un­der­pow­ered, the Marut was an ex­cel­lent weapons plat­form and though some­what short on range, its per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics – even with the Mk.70 – were not dis­sim­i­lar to con­tem­po­rary types like the French Das­sault Eten­dard IVM (which served un­til 1987) or even the Das­sault Su­per Mys­tere B.2 (which con­tin­ued in ser­vice un­til 1996 with Hon­duras). In con­trast, the last Maruts left squadron ser­vice in 1985.

De­spite some half-hearted ef­forts to find a suit­able en­gine for the Marut, the IAF was never en­tirely sup­port­ive of the project. An at­tempt to in­te­grate Adour tur­bo­fans (used in the Jaguars and Hawks) was con­founded by an IAF de­mand that the thrust of the Adour be in­creased by 20 per cent. This de­cid­edly un­help­ful at­ti­tude was caused, at least in part, be­cause the IAF’s im­me­di­ate re­quire­ments were be­ing catered for by a sub­stan­tial in­fu­sion of Soviet air­craft – the Su-7 for tac­ti­cal strike and the MiG-21FL/M and MF vari­ants. A very re­al­is­tic and cost-ef­fec­tive pro­posal to cre­ate a strike- fighter based around the Marut air­frame and the R-25 en­gine ( the HF- 25) re­ceived no sanc­tion and while ef­forts to pro­cure RB.199 tur­bo­fans were se­ri­ously con­sid­ered for a Marut Mk.3 – the HF-73 – the project failed to ma­te­ri­alise.

Fer­di­nand Brand­ner, de­signer of the E- 300 was far more blunt and firmly be­lieved that the fail­ure of In­dia to de­velop an E-300 pow­ered Marut, and of Egypt to com­plete de­vel­op­ment of the HA-300, was due to Soviet pres­sure and the de­sire of the lat­ter to sell MiG-21s and the li­cence to man­u­fac­ture them. Whether this is true or not is hard to say, but what is clear is that the avail­abil­ity of li­cence-pro­duced MiG21s sounded the death knell for any fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the Marut.

As MiG-21s were aug­mented by MiG23s, and later MiG-27s and Jaguars, the IAF was not sup­port­ive of con­tin­u­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the Marut. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments failed to seize the ini­tia­tive, and in so do­ing, de­sign ex­per­tise, in­fra­struc­ture and ex­pe­ri­ence were frit­tered away. Thus, when In­dia restarted a project for an in­dige­nous fighter – what would even­tu­ally be­come the Te­jas LCA – it had to be­gin from scratch.

As for HAL, its de­sign ex­per­tise at­ro­phied and ini­tia­tive was dis­cour­aged. Its HPT-32 Deepak trainer was un­til re­cently its last suc­cess and even then HAL’s up­grade of the type into the HTT- 34 re­ceived no en­cour­age­ment. Its ef­forts to re­place the type with the HTT-35 also met with no sup­port. It must have been par­tic­u­larly galling for HAL to then see the IAF go in for the pur­chase of 75 PC-7 Mk.II train­ers which were very sim­i­lar to their pro­posed HTT-35.

[The HTT-40 pro­gramme will hope­fully re­verse the tide: Ed]

In a real sense, the Marut power plant saga was the begin­ning of the end for HAL as a de­signer and de­vel­oper of air­craft. While li­cence- man­u­fac­ture of MiGs, Jaguars and Alou­ette he­li­copters con­tin­ued (some projects with greater in­dige­nous con­tent by value than oth­ers) to meet the re­quire­ments of the IAF, HAL’s po­ten­tial was squan­dered. It would not be un­fair to say that for want of an en­gine, an in­dus­try was lost.

The writer is a lawyer prac­tic­ing in Trinidad and Tobago, and has a PhD from King’s Col­lege, Lon­don, on In­dia’s nu­clear weapons pro­gramme and is the au­thor of ‘The Ar­maged­don Fac­tor – Nu­clear Weapons in the In­dia-Pak­istan Con­text.’

HAL HF-24 Maruts at Ban­ga­lore

The Ajeet was a do­mes­tic de­vel­op­ment of the Fol­land Gnat, but em­bod­ied only mod­est im­prove­ments over the orig­i­nal

In­dia has li­cence-built and up­graded air­craft such as the SEPECAT Jaguar, but has not

The Te­jas LCA pro­gramme has suf­fered ow­ing to a lack of con­ti­nu­ity in aero­space de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in

he­li­copters have been an en­cour­ag­ing suc­cess story

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