HAL's struggle for excellence: Can India's aerospace giant fight bureaucracy? | The Financial Express

HAL’s struggle for excellence: Can India’s aerospace giant fight bureaucracy?

In the absence of a full-time Chairman, organisational irregularities have begun to emerge, such as cost overruns that cash-strapped HAL cannot afford and vendor payment delays resulting from a lack of cash flow.

HAL’s struggle for excellence: Can India’s aerospace giant fight bureaucracy?
LCA 'Tejas' being manufactured by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).

Girish Linganna
The great bulk of our military services’ aircraft and helicopters, as well as their engines and ancillary components, are manufactured, repaired, and serviced by different divisions of the Indian Aerospace behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The effectiveness and expansion of this aeronautics giant are crucial not only for the combat effectiveness of our military but also for the future of our aerospace sector.

HAL is one of the two companies from India in the SIPRI index for 100 big arms companies for 2022. HAL saw its revenue rise by 6.7 per cent and was ranked 42nd among the 100 names.

Paradoxically, HAL still needs to live up to its obligations or meet the timelines that it set. The most problematic component is that there are issues with quality control for products created by HAL. It does not satisfy the standards that are required by the defence aviation sector, as articulated by retired Air Force officers in sections of the media.

Most analysts feel that HAL needs to eliminate its burdensome bureaucracy, streamline its processes, and make a decisive step toward being a professional organisation focused on producing results. In addition, it should put a stop to the turf war that they wage against the private sector. It is high time for them to emerge from their isolation. HAL has grown in size but has yet to gain expertise, technology, or capability. Delays have plagued the Indian Air Force’s Tejas and Mirage 2000/Jaguar upgrading programmes, among others.

The IAF is considering 20 Tejas squadrons, including 12 Tejas Mark-2, a wholly different aircraft. First, a Preliminary Air Staff Quality Requirement (PASQR) is formulated jointly with IAF and HAL, followed by the Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQR). It is natural for certain requirements to evolve over time. While the IAF waits, technology advances at breakneck speed.

HAL was established before China established its counterpart, and look where they are now compared to HAL. HAL needed to improve its performance and overcome its sluggishness. However, the government has yet to choose a full-time director for several months. Instead of relying on a pool of ‘generalist’ bureaucracy and PSU cadres to select CEOs, the Indian government should implement a paradigm change and seek out the best available people for such demanding positions. The extended ‘gene pool’ to identify adequately competent individuals to lead strategic initiatives, such as HAL, could include industry and business, but preference must be given to easily available technical competence, managerial abilities, and leadership talent inside the military forces.

It is necessary to examine the HAL’s management structure. The deployment of IAF officers to HAL must undergo severe adjustments and be carried out in a calibrated manner. Additionally, the industrial function must be allocated to the private sector.

A series of unsuccessful or abandoned aircraft projects and a history of failures (sometimes resulting in fatalities) in the IAF’s MiG-21 fleet and other HAL products showed that HAL had failed to acquire adequate aircraft/engine design and production skills. Surprisingly, neither the Ministry of Defence nor the airworthiness, quality control, or aviation regulatory bodies in India have ever held HAL accountable for errors that led to accidents.

As the single largest customer and revenue provider for HAL, the Indian military entirely depends on this PSU for product maintenance. The sluggish attitude of HAL’s unionised staff results in low production and late deliveries. Inadequate manufacturing engineering standards can cause maintenance issues and prevent fleet standardisation—poor quality control results in component failures and accidents. The ineffective product support frequently hurts HAL’s customers.

The fact that HAL was not found fit to build Rafale in its 79th year of existence is evidence that the organisation has to have its most significant flaws addressed.

It is “far past time” for a comprehensive revision of HAL and the accumulated delays in development are unforgivable. Something severely wrong is going on with the systems HAL uses and how they work. A substantial update is required for HAL.

In the absence of a full-time Chairman, organisational irregularities have begun to emerge, such as cost overruns that cash-strapped HAL cannot afford and vendor payment delays resulting from a lack of cash flow. HAL cannot continue to function in this fashion if it wishes to maintain its position as the industry’s preeminent aeronautical corporation, particularly one that vies for a share of the international defence market. The organisation’s leadership needs to take the initiative to infuse the organisation with fresh vitality.

The accusations are fair, yet HAL has aided the Armed Forces by keeping their aircraft flying even during times of crisis, such as an embargo following nuclear tests, the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union, spare parts shortages during wars, and so on. No one in India wants to see HAL collapse, but HAL needs to get its act together.

Author is Aerospace & Defence Analyst.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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First published on: 01-01-2023 at 14:03 IST