With the ongoing Rafale controversy, suddenly the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has become the most favoured company for Rahul Gandhi and opposition. But, serious concern has been raised in official quarters over delays in production of Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighters by the company, according to a report.
India bought 50 Su-30 MKI jets directly from Russia in “flyway condition”, and 140 the jets were to be manufactured by HAL in its Nashik plant. Later, IAF placed two additional orders for the jet with the company for 40 and 42 jets respectively, thereby increasing the total order for HAL to 222 jets.
The first order of 140 jets was to be delivered by 2014-15. But HAL has built 107 fighters for that order and 33 planes are yet to be built. For the next two orders, HAL directly bought some fighters from Russian and delivered them to IAF, to bridge the gap in deliveries.
The production of the Sukhois has been delayed despite “production concessions” that IAF has granted to HAL. Such concessions are in various forms like the use of short-life components and delay in supply of role equipment etc. According to a senior IAF official, without these concessions, the delays would have been even more, which would have impacted the operational capability of the Indian Air Force. Against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, IAF currently has only 31 squadrons, due to the retirement of old MiG21 aircraft and more than a decade-long delay in inducting new aircraft.
HAL assembles the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jet from knocked-down kits imported from Russia. As there was no technology-transfer agreement in the Sukhoi purchase deal, HAL can’t make the jets on its own.
Delays are not the worrying part with Su-30 made by HAL, the cost is also a major concern. While a fully built Su-30MKI imported from Russia costs ₹330 crore, but HAL charges ₹415 crore for the jets assembled at Nashik. The cost of knocked-down kits for a jet is around ₹270 crore, means HAL charging around ₹150 crore for assembly the jets alone.
The same cost difference is seen for other jets to made by HAL. According to a report by defence expert Nitin A Gokhale, India bought Hawk jet trainer from the UK in 2004 at unit price of ₹78 crores, but when it was licensed produced by HAL in 2005 it cost ₹88 crore, in 2010 it cost and ₹98 crore and in 2016 the company demanded 1.5 times the last procurement price.
In fact, most of the projects undertaken by HAL are running behind schedule, not just the Su-30MKI. The Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) project is delayed by 14 years, the work on IJT, which is christened as HJT-36, started in 1997, and the plane has completed hundreds of hours of test flights. But it is still not ready for induction, as according to IAF it remains “unfit” for service due to technological issues. The HTT-40 trainer being developed by HAL is also delayed by 6 years.
There are delays in Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) as well. The LCH is delayed by seven years, while the LUH is delayed by four years.
The most ambiguous project of HAL, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCT) Tejas is also marked by long delays. IAF placed an order for the 20 Tejas aircraft in the year 2006, and 20 additional Tejas fighters were ordered in 2011. But till now HAL has delivered only 9 Tejas jets.