Ever since Congress president Rahul Gandhi decided to attack Modi government on the Rafale deal, he has been accusing prime minister Modi of snatching the contract from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and gifted it to Anil Ambani. He has been claiming that HAL is fully capable of making the Rafale plane, but the deal has gone to Reliance, despite the fact that all 36 Rafale jets are coming from France and not of them will be made by Reliance or any other Indian company. Rahul Gandhi had even gone to the headquarters of HAL and held a meeting with a few former and current employees of the company. He had claimed that the Rafale deal rightfully belongs to HAL and he will protect the future of the company.
But recently it had emerged that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the parliament had severely criticised Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Aeronautical Developmental Agency (ADA) over its failure in timely delivery of defence equipment to defence forces. The PAC is headed by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge. The report is based on CAG’s report on “Design, Development, Manufacture and Induction of Light Combat Aircraft”, or the Tejas fighter jet that HAL is making. Now we have accessed a copy of that report by PAC, here are some of the important points made in the report.
The report notes that the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project was sanctioned in 1983, and it had been running into delays for a long time. The delays in the project were highlighted in the CAG report in 1988 and after that in another CAG report in 1999. The ADA had started developing two prototypes in 1995, even before development and testing of two Technology Demonstrator aircraft as per the original plan. Due to this, several technologies could not be integrated into the LCA, as many of such technologies were still in development. The decision to advance the development of the first 2 prototypes had a cascading effect on later prototypes, the report notes, clearly hinting at the mismanagement of the project. This had led to delays in the completion of each stage of the project.
HAL was to manufacture and supply eight aircraft between 2006 and 2008. Against this, HAL supplied seven aircraft during April 2007-March 2013 with a delay ranging from 4 to 51 months, the report notes.
Despite the long delays, the Initial Operational Configuration aircraft that was completed in 2013 did not meet the specific requirements of the Air Force. The aircraft had increased weight, reduced internal fuel capacity, non-compliance of all-weather operations, nonachievement of single point defueling, fuel system protection, pilot protection, etc., as opposed to the prescribed requirement of IAF. Due to these shortcomings, the ADA had to obtain 53 temporary concessions/permanent waivers. 20 of them were permanent waivers granted by the air force, while the rest 33 were time-bound temporary concessions, which had adversely affected the combat potential of LCAs being developed during that period.
Due to delay in development of the LCA, several weapons and systems had become obsolete/out of stock/operationally irrelevant, and to retain an operational edge, newer weapons had to be inducted in the project. This new requirement had further delayed the project, the PAC report says.
The LCA was supposed to be powered by an indigenously developed Kaveri engine, but due to the inability to achieve the required power from the engine, the Tejas uses GE engines. Like the LCA, the Kaveri project also has faced long time and cost overruns. The jet engine is being developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), a lab under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The delay in development of the engine was also highlighted by CAG in its 2010-11 report.
HAL was to provide the test and prototype aircraft for test flights in 2006 as per the MoU signed with IAF. But due to several deficiencies, the planes were included for flight testing activities in November 2010. The report says that HAL was producing four aircraft per year as against the required eight aircraft per year. According to the original plan, the LCA was to be inducted into IAF by 1994 to replace the Mig-21 planes, but that has not happened even after a delay of more than 3 decades.
Due to non-availability of LCA, the IAF had to resort to other measures to arrest the depletion of squadron level due to phasing out of Mig-21 fighters. It had spent ₹2,135 crore on upgrading 125 MiG BIS aircraft, ₹3,841.87 crore on upgrading 62 MiG-29 aircraft, ₹3,113.02 crore on 61 Jaguars and ₹ 10,947 crore was spent on the ongoing upgrading of Mirage 2000 aircraft. This has meant that due to delay in induction on LCA Tejas, IAF had to up-grade other aircraft at a cost of ₹20,037 crore. Besides that, the phasing out of MiG-21 had to be delayed.
The report notes that the Full Scale Engineering Development (FSED) Phase-I was closed in 2004 after a delay of six years, that too without completion of all the activities, which were carried forward to FSED Phase-II. PAC notes that while LCA programme is being monitored by multiple agencies/bodies like General Body, Governing Body, involving the representation of Minister of Defence, Ministry of Finance, ADA, HAL, and Empowered Committee chaired by Chief of Air Staff, there was lack of coordination at various levels and monitoring of the program was ineffective. “The Committee are of the view that casual approach of the monitoring agencies in enforcing the timelines led to inexplicable delays of more than 30 years on an ambitious Defence project”, the PAC report states. It also says, “The Committee are disappointed to note that even after almost three decades, the ADA has not been able to develop the indigenous aircraft as per requirements of IAF in terms of combat potential and serviceability and opine that non fulfilling of requirements of the users has rendered investment of both time and money in the project, so far, infructuous”.
Another defect in the project pointed out in the PAC report is the low level of indigenisation, while the indigenous content of LCA was estimated to be 70 percent, actually it was only 35 percent in 2015.
Commenting on the failure to develop the Kaveri engine, the report says that “GTRE has failed miserably in its attempt to develop an indigenous engine”. The PAC says that since GTRE has been entrusted with the development of a strategic equipment, it may be upgraded from merely a lab under DRDO to a fully autonomous organisation empowered to take decisions on its own and capable of attracting and recruiting best talents in the field. Similarly, a review of the functioning and achievements of DRDO and HAL may also be carried out to suggest ways to improve their working, the parliamentary committee recommends.
The report further states that due to huge delays in development and induction of LCA, forming of LCA squadrons could not materialize, and IAF had to up-grade other fighter planes aircraft at a cost of ₹20,037 crore, and IAF is currently operating with 35 squadrons as against sanctioned 42 squadrons. Moreover, the squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 will retire over the next ten years. “The Committee are disappointed to note that the failure of HAL/ADA and Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide the required number of aircraft has adversely affected the combat potential of the IAF resulting in security threat to the country”, the report by PAC comments. Severely criticising the executors of the project, the report says that the HAL, ADA and its work stations are miserably failing in its R&D to have the much-needed technology in the aviation sector.
The Committee are aghast to note that, as on 31 July, 2018, IAF has only got 9 out of the 200 fighter and 20 trainer aircraft that it had ordered for. Moreover, the LCA aircraft that have been delivered to IAF as not combat ready. The ADA/HAL have also not been able to provide IAF with even a single production standard trainer aircraft till date. Further, since HAL could not augment its capacity in line with the demand of the IAF, the report states.
All these scratching comments on HAL and ADA have been signed off by Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha.
This is not the first time HAL has come under criticism for delay in projects, and the LCA is not the only project they are delaying. Almost all projects undertaken by the company are delayed. The production of Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft by the company is also getting delayed. Moreover, Sukhois made by HAL cost more than the same planes imported from the original maker in Russia. Other HAL projects like The Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT), Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) are also running behind schedule by several years.
While Rahul Gandhi talks about Rafale being made by HAL, the fact is that the original bid to buy 126 Rafale planes during the UPA government was cancelled due to HAL. Under the MMRCA bid for 126 aircraft, 18 planes were to be bought from Dassault and rest 108 were to be made by HAL under licensed production. But the deal didn’t go through as HAL wanted much more time to make the planes. While Dassault provisioned for 3 crore man-hours for production of the aircraft in India, HAL’s estimate was nearly 3 times higher, increasing the cost manifold. This was not acceptable to Dassault, and due to this disagreement, the deal had to be cancelled. More importantly, Dassault was not ready to take the responsibility of quality control of production for the 108 Rafale planes to be made by HAL.
The ability and efficiency of HAL are in question for a long time, given the inordinate delays in projects undertaken by the public sector company, which have been once again confirmed by the PAC report. But this will not dissuade Rahul Gandhi from continuing his ‘Modi snatched Rafale deal from HAL and gave to Ambani’ rhetoric, that is for sure.
Read the full PAC report below: