The Defence Ministry’s decision to look beyond Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) as a viable option for plane-making is being seen as an opportunity for the private sector and as a wake-up call to country’s public sector.
While the Indian Air Force (IAF) welcomed the move, considering it was a proposal mooted by Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and propelled by industry, the HAL said they were always bound by the government rules.
“We welcome the government decision as it gives more options to the Armed Forces. I am not going into the merits and demerits of the HAL, but will certainly see it as an opportunity to boost the competition. For decades, we saw one manufacturing philosophy and now, we will get to see more,” IAF sources told Express.
The Defence Acquisitions Council had on Monday given go-ahead to the IAF to replace the aging Avro fleet. Accordingly, a global tender worth `12,000 crore for 56 aircraft will be issued soon, enabling foreign vendors to enter into a tie-up with a private or public sector company in the country.
HAL officials were cautious in their response. “It’s not a set back to the HAL. We are bound by the government decisions. What can we do? But is the private sector so confident that they can do everything, what we have been doing all these years?” a senior director asked. “It is just one order and I am not sure why it should be seen as an anti-HAL stand. We have a number of projects running and there’s absolutely no cause of worry,” said a general manger at the HAL’s Bangalore Complex.
Defending the HAL was former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal (retd) S Krishnaswamy, who termed the government decision as a ‘sad day for Indian aerospace’. “Even the basic trainer is being imported now and I am not sure what happened to the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT). You cannot blame the HAL and it is the whole government policy that failed to focus on our engineering capabilities ,” said Krishnaswamy. He said private entry into aerospace would become another form of licensed manufacturing. “The HAL has the expertise and there is a great talent out there, but the lack of a national vision on aerospace has got a bad name for the HAL. The delay in setting up an Aerospace Commission on the lines of Space and Atomic Energy Commissions, too, added to the HAL’s woes,” he felt.