“Everyone is hit... Almost all projects will be affected and we are trying our best to reduce the impact,” says HAL Chairman and Managing Director R Madhavan.
The Centre on Thursday cleared acquisition of fighters, missiles etc to further boost the capabilities of the armed forces, but the Covid-induced crisis threatens to delay the ongoing defence projects including the manufacturing of fighter jets in India.
In an interview, Madhavan tells Ramu Patil of The New Indian Express that despite the disruption, HAL will be able to recover in the fourth quarter of 2020-21 by putting in extra efforts.
What is the impact of the pandemic on HAL’s ongoing projects?
We opened up a bit earlier in April as our customers, the armed forces, wanted our services during that period at border areas.
By May first week all our divisions were open. We lost 26 lakh man-hours. But our main problem is with the supply chain.
All our vendors in the country, basically MSMEs and a few large companies, couldn’t open. In fact, many of them are not open even now and material that was to come from foreign countries, too, was a concern.
International freight has been closed.As for the demand, it will not make any impact as they are all long-term strategic requirements that are placed by the armed forces and that forms around 80 per cent of our sales.
In fact, with Atmanirbhar Bharat it will further increase.
What about the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas?
In LCA, we have five major suppliers. We have to get equipment from them. That is getting delayed. But they too are hit…everyone is hit.
Sixteen LCAs have to be delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF) this and next financial year. We will still try to meet the requirements. We got FOC (Final Operational Clearance) in February 2019 and the first squadron was formed in Sulur within 12 months.
That was an achievement. At present, one aircraft is ready to fly out to the base and five more are on the assembly line. We are confident...but we have to see how it works.
Has the LCA manufacturing capacity been enhanced?
Once the order for 83 aircraft is placed, our manufacturing capacity will also be increased to 16 aircraft per year.
Currently, the second line set-up is almost completed and we can enhance even now. Once we get the orders, that will have a three-year lead time.
It has to be designed and developed as new systems have to be added on the aircraft. We expect the final clearance by October or December this year.
Which other projects will be impacted?
Almost all the projects will get affected. If we have to deliver aircraft next March, material should have come by this time, and we should start integration now as it has a long period on the jig and also testing lead times.
If material has not come in March, April and May, it will affect in the last quarters and even further and first quarters of the next year also.
Even now, there is a problem in getting material from abroad for Su-30 repair and overhaul, and for some equipment for Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).
Engine material is stuck in France and other places and that will affect engine delivery, which in turn will affect my aircraft delivery.
Maharashtra is worst-hit by Covid-19. How has that affected HAL’s Nashik plant and the Su-30 MKI project?
Nashik is a contained place. Most people coming from our townships are safe. SU-30 project has come to an end as far as manufacturing is concerned.
Same assembly lines will be continued for the next orders (12 aircraft). IAF has to collect two aircraft, but since it (the plant) was closed on March 22, that could not happen.
After that it was difficult. It will happen now. Maintenance of aircraft is increasing, depending on flying activities.
What is the update on the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) project?
Spin is the only issue. Aircraft modification has been completed and waiting for the Spin Recovery System to start trials.
When the aircraft goes into a spin, it has to recover. The system is an attachment at the back of the aircraft to help it to recover. It was stuck because of the Covid situation. Once that comes, within a month we can start the trials.
How are you managing the workforce?
Initially, we started with three shifts, and now we are working in two. Lunch time has been shifted to ensure there is no crowding.
We are also taking regular sanitization measures on the premises. It is challenging, but we are managing it.
We keep sending teams and officers to IAF units. They are sent for maintenance support, overhaul and design clearances and other tasks.
We have to ensure that they are free of Covid-19. They are airlifted from contained areas and they enter IAF bases, which are safe areas.
How is HAL supporting MSMEs?
We are paying their dues as quickly as possible and also providing material support. For them, the problem is with the labour force. Many MSMEs depend on other industries too. We have an active list of 2,000 plus MSMEs. We depend on each other.
Is there any increase in workload due to the situation on the border?
Workload continues to be the same but (our) support role has increased.We started with three shifts, and now we are working in two. Lunch time has been shifted to ensure there is no crowding.