By Girish Linganna
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) recently signed a contract with US defence major and integrated technology company- Honeywell for supplying and manufacturing 88 TPE331-12B engines that will be fitted into the Hindustan Trainer Aircraft (HTT-40). The deal, worth over $100 million, also includes maintenance and support services to power the basic trainer aircraft.
Authorities have noted that the signing of the license agreement for the Manufacturing & Repair for Honeywell TPE331-12B Turboprop engine is a significant milestone in fulfilling the contract for providing 70 HTT-40 aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The High-performing TPE331
Honeywell’s first Turboprop engine, the TPE331 was designed for the military from scratch in 1959. The series has since grown to include 18 engine models and 106 configurations. The MNC claims to have delivered over 13,000 engines to date. Honeywell also maintains that the engine is one of “the most reliable and proven turboprop engines in the world”, with more than 122 million hours of flight time.
The TPE331-12Bs, part of the aforementioned series of powerhouses, have powered the HTT-40 since 2014. This is a single shaft turboprop engine. It possesses an integral inlet and gearbox alongside a two-stage centrifugal compressor. It also features a gearbox, a power turbine, a three-stage axial turbine, a turbine exhaust diffuser, and EEC for power and operational characteristics.
The TPE331-12B boasts a maximum power output of 950 shaft horsepower (shp) and comes equipped with a full-authority digital engine control (FADEC) system as well. The latter combines throttle, prop, and other controls into a single control, enabling pilots to realise fuel economy to an extent earlier considered impossible.
The engine allows the HTT-40 to offer pilots quick acceleration and low-fuel consumption in addition to high reliability and flexibility. The latter two empower the conduction of a wide variety of training missions. Moreover, having a reliable engine also means that HAL has room to develop a range of variants that could potentially deliver higher performance levels.
This engine is the face of HAL’s long-standing relationship with Honeywell and the potential growth story that the two plan on sketching out.
Honeywell has had a presence in India since the 1930s. The company’s aerospace legacy in the country spans a period of close to five decades.
For the longest time, the development of the TPE331-12B engines was the primary focus of the collaboration that HAL and Honeywell had embarked upon. Over the years, the partnership’s scope broadened to cover the defence sector in general. This was stressed over a decade ago when officials confirmed that the two companies were developing aircraft for India’s ‘homeland security,’ which included patrolling maritime borders and observing vital installations. They had then stated that Honeywell and HAL would also indulge in manufacturing engines for smaller aircraft.
At the time of this announcement, Honeywell had already provided 225 engines for aircraft belonging to the IAF, the Indian Navy, and the Coast Guard through HAL. The company had moved on to talking about the export potential of the “made in India” TPE331 Turboprop engine- which had a worldwide market back then, too.
By 2014, the collaboration between the two companies had moved forward from this engine- the first one to be entirely manufactured in India. Honeywell’s systems and subsystems became key components onboard HAL’s other indigenous platforms, most notably the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Reports also stated that the US-based MNC had licensed the Primus 500 Weather Radar to its Indian partner.
Honeywell’s top leadership, who had been vocal about the headway the company had made in the Indian defence industry, reiterated their optimism regarding the firm’s defence outlook in India, presenting this intention in light of the government’s announcement to allow 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence in India.
In 2016, a time when the overhaul and upgradation of military fleets occupied the centre stage in the Indian defence sector, Honeywell was quick to identify this as an opportunity to offer its avionics systems, engine and auxiliary power unit (APU) product lines.
By this time, their long association with Indian defence had already ensured “a robust and well-established business and logistical processes.” The additional advantage was that Honeywell’s work in India- from manufacturing to procurement to commercial operations- had been aligned with the make-in-India concept even before it was formally introduced as an initiative. This made it easy for the company to adapt to the road the government had decided to embark upon.
Over the years, the company has iterated its interest in the Indian defence market over and over. They have also kept up with technological advancements and sustainability trends. Now, in addition to fulfilling the local demand, HAL is also working closely with the American giant for its support for the export potential of HTT-40. The Indian PSU and Honeywell are reportedly exploring areas such as 1MW Turbo Generators and Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) of TPE331-10GP/12JR engines for variants of Dornier aircraft.
The $100 million contract is expected to pave the way for further future collaboration between the two firms.
India is actively looking to become the MRO hub of Asia for military and civilian aircraft. Since Honeywell has years of expertise in the field and a strong working relationship with HAL and multiple airlines in India, it is bound to be a great asset to the country in this journey. Per past reports, work in this direction is already underway.
Moreover, it has already proven its role in India’s ambitious goal of becoming self-reliant when it comes to defence. The company has gone a step further, collaborating with HAL (amongst other Indian companies) to help with the export potential of indigenous products. There is likely to be much more development in this arena in the future. Besides engines, systems and subsystems designed for a variety of aircraft, as well as maximum efficiency-oriented practices that the company specialises in are also likely to make further headway into the Indian defence market. In light of Honeywell’s stellar past record in India, as well as how its current collaboration with HAL complements New Delhi’s self-reliance and defence export ambitions, it is safe to say that the US-based conglomerate has a bright future here.
Author is Aerospace & Defence Analyst.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.