Navy to HAL – We Dare, You Survive

It’s one thing to accept a hard reality and move on with ‘we fight with what we have’ spirit, and quite another to make a habit of it. When such weakness becomes a public relations tool in the hands of a public sector behemoth like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), it must be called out for what it is – an abject surrender to our collective incompetency.

On 24th July 2019, HAL proudly announced delivery of first of the eight Chetaks (Alouette III) to the Indian Navy (IN) at their premises in Bengaluru. The contract signed in 2017 specifies delivery of two aircraft in Aug 2019 and the balance in Aug 2020. Since the first airframe was delivered a week ahead of schedule, it is apparently reason to celebrate.

Such celebrations fly in the face of a long trail of blood spilt in numerous Chetak accidents. I have put on record why these beautiful machines have become anachronisms in the 21st Century. Not that I need to. A junior school student will be able to do that. A little more detailed explanation can be read here.

The Airborne Tuk-Tuk

To put it mildly, the Chetaks are the autorickshaws or tuk-tuks of aviation today. Sure, they save lives, are very adaptable, quick-off-the-block and delightfully simple to fly. Just like local trains of Mumbai, they take on the crushing load of basic tasks. But they lack basic safety devices that are a MUST even by road transportation standards. Today, the naval Chetak & Mumbai’s suburban train are the only two state-sanctioned, powered-transportation models without doors. Let that sink in.

State of the Art?

By no stretch of imagination can they ever be called ‘state of the art’. That would be a gross travesty of science and deliberate misuse of the phrase; in other words, nothing but a white lie. HAL’s use of this misleading term must be strongly rebutted by the services who have lost innumerable lives to Chetak/Cheetah crashes over the years. As if on cue, the Department of Defence Production tweeted out a poster today that further adds insult to injury.

How The Services Set Themselves Up For This

Regrettably though, these developments are neither surprising nor unplanned. This is the ‘system’ that is gamed by PSUs while the service watches-on awkwardly. To be sure, the order for these machines have come from the IN. Somebody must have written the specifications that qualified an Alouette III in 2019. The navy’s critical and long overdue replacement programme – the Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) – has become the subject of another experiment called ‘Strategic Partnership’ under the flagship ‘Make in India’ banner. To date, apart from wiping out a small patch of forest through writing/rewriting specifications, RfIs, RfQs, and file notings, not a single blade has turned on ground.

A number of companies, big and small, from the private sector, will watch money burn for the next few years in the hope that they bag an order for 111 NUH. Even as they sweat, HAL has made a backdoor entry into this program with two models  – the Kamov-226 fielded through an HAL-Russian Helicopters joint venture, and the ALH Dhruv, whether the navy likes it or not.

Foot in the Door Policy

This classic ‘foot in the door’ policy of HAL has paid them rich dividends. Their tall promises, buoyant optimism and ‘never say no’ policy ensures the services are gridlocked into a vicious spiral that blocks entry of private industry on one hand while leveraging the situation into selling outdated equipment to the services on the other. The services continue to confound themselves with complicated specifications while perpetually dancing the ‘one-step-forward, two-steps back’ tango. This shambolic and incestuous relationship, in sum, is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, buying and flying these anachronisms in the 21st Century.

All Glory Mine, All Faults Yours?

I have enough real life stories of these aircraft falling out of the skies for unexplained reasons, including many fatal accidents, to fill a book. So does every Chetak pilot. Yet we proudly flog them during bilateral exercises while other navies watch-on circumspect. Unlike us, those countries value lives. Some click selfies with our Chetaks just like you would when you come across a vintage car. In the latest accident in Apr 2019, a naval Chetak crashed into the Arabian Sea while on an overseas deployment due to ‘technical reasons’. It was our gallant crew who saved the day.

In almost all such cases of technical failure, it is the crew’s alacrity, training & good fortune that saved some lives, if at all. I do not recall a SINGLE case where evidence of poor quality control or technical failure led to fixing accountability at HAL or framing of charges against the guilty. In any event where crew was found at fault, it leads to a court martial or summary trial. The contrast and irony is hard to miss.

Smile Not OK Please!

With such a background, one would expect at least a whimper from the naval officials who took over the latest bird from the revived Chetak production line. Instead, we helplessly accept the situation saying “It is an honour to accept the first production helicopter one month ahead of schedule”. Deal with it while I go facepalm for a minute.

What We Deserve & What We Get

You want to know what state of art is? Here’s an example – Leonardo’s TH-119, a single-engine helicopter that recently received FAA certification for operating single-pilot under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

TH-119 Cockpit (Picture courtesy Rotor & Wing International)

As per a company media release, ‘the TH-119 is the only single engine helicopter in decades to meet current IFR requirements, allowing pilots to operate the aircraft safely in low visibility and challenging weather conditions, thanks to advanced avionics by Genesys Aerosystems and redundant helicopter flight systems’. Leonardo (formerly Agusta Westland) is banned by MoD after the VVIP helicopter scam.

A wide array of ‘state of art’ helicopters are available from any number of OEMs all over the world while we continue to garland a dead horse (read Chetak), grinning for the cameras.

New Chetak CH497 delivered by HAL to IN (pic from Twitter)

Chetak SAR flights live by the dictum ‘we dare, you survive’. Maybe this is navy’s message to HAL as well.


©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. Views are personal. An edited version of this article was published in South Asia Monitor on 2nd Aug 2019. You can access it here.

29 thoughts on “Navy to HAL – We Dare, You Survive

  1. I am not a fan of HAL but we do not have strategic culture. Overall, we as a nation has missed several opportunities to design and develop aviation products in India.It is a shame our engineers work for Boeing, Airbus, etc. and we continue to import. Our user mindset prevents us from developing products indigenously. PSUs are inefficient and users do not want to be part of designs teams (they want to do only testing). Participation of the private sector is needed but only those who would be ready to invest in design and not assemble in India. We need to invest in design and make in India with quality (whether public or private sector).

  2. While your ilk may try to make the masses aware of the shortcomings in the system, the people at the helm are really not interested…. 2 words (sadly though) describe the mind set ….
    Who Cares!!!!!

  3. Naval Aviation should borrow a leaf from the surface Navy. They have done well by co-operating with DRDO and the defence PSUs. And they design their own ships. Instead of forcing officers and sailors to stagnate in the Navy, some number should be released to DRDO and Defence PSUs after about 10 years service. Over a period of time, we will get a cultural change in HAL. And that is what is needed.

    1. Hi J,
      Surface Navy and Aviation cannot be compared. With 4 GTs or 02 diesels even if 01 fails the float , move , fight still happens. Hopefully you recollect a principle ship in the 90s which sailed on 01 shaft for a long time. Damn , even the grand ole lady of aviation floated around for 72 hrs with no shafts long ago and there was no harm to anyone. There in lies the difference. Your DG fails, seal fails, or you get a spares from trade, whatever have you fails ( barring water tight integrity) it’s all in the game. DRDO knows this and that’s how they play the game. Aviation there are no such luxuries. And enough lives have been lost trying to preserve that. So there is going to be culture change else since INS Nilgiri in the 70s , we d have been exporting surface combatants everywhere and not just gifting them. Why is it , that a principal combatant design which was showcased across the world in various Def Expos found no EoIs? I rest my case.

  4. Well said KPS. I think “We Dare You Survive” means that military Pilots have to DIE for HAL to survive,…Military family’s loss is HAL’S family’s gain. Military pilots have to spill their blood to ensure bread & butter in thaali of HAL staff.

    The narrative is clear. Once upon the flagship of HAL..The CHETAK was literally pushed to graveyard with advent of much fancied & hyped ALH(DHRUV).

    However even after close to 3 decades HAL has been unable to find a single buyer in civil market, to the extent that all civil players have refused to build ALH as partner of HAL. Only military has been thrusted down the throat with ALH. However there is definite room in military…so ALH alone can’t fill the stomach of helicopter division. The HAL was compelled to dig out Chetak from grave, put on some colour and made it state of Art(Art to Die) machine and pushed it to the ever ready to die warriors of military not fighting a war with external enemy but enemy within.
    Don’t worry this country has tradition of fluttering it’s flag over the dead bodies of its young shoulders and then drape them with the same….just to make some organisation survive….

    Our leaders(both military & civil) say…but you said..YE DIL MAANGE MORE so here are more CHETAKS…go ahead and DIE for the country.

    The fault doesn’t lie only with the survivor(HAL) it is also the Darer’s (Military) huge appetite to take hits and sticking to good old saying..

  5. We want to be regional power with borrowed muscles. In pre-independence era, Indian officers were made to fly and operate British aircraft and defence equipment while research and development remained prerogative of the British officers and legacy is carrying on. We do have research element in all the three Services. The narrative is that armed forces are meant to fight and design and development is the responsibility of R&D organisations. Globally, most great powers have their military personnel involved in R&D. USAF has Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), USN has Office of Naval Research (ONR), US Army has Army Research Command. It did not have impact on DARPA, NASA, & other R&D organisations. PLA has its research units. These aspects we do not study in India. The issue is that the involvement of defence forces in R&D does not make other R&D org redundant but strengthens their R&D effort. In India, Navy has design element, Army has recently formed Army Design Bureau and IAF does not have even design element. Is it time that we restructure and involve defence forces in research to strengthen our defence industry.

  6. AARKAY and Thomas ideas are way ahead, borrowing a leaf from surface Navy we need to set up WESSE type of organisation with inhouse R&D to liase with private and public sector.
    KP I hope some is listening to you.

  7. What a crap article. The services have perfected the art of blaming everyone-the PSUs, the MoD, the Politicians and their grandmother’s, and acting like martyrs in the eyes of the public. Worse, they have convinced themselves that they are blameless. Let one helicopter,missile or bullet and let us see the response. Stop acting like innocent virgins, people at some level are benefiting.

    1. I will just let your insensitive remark sit here and age gracelessly while important matters of the state are handled by people, hopefully, with a better conscience than you. I am not sure if you have ever worn a uniform, held a rifle or stood watch. Those whom you have labelled ‘innocent virgins’ – they are the people who ensure our grandmothers sleep in peace and dignity. They deserve the best, and more. Don’t grudge them. Or maybe you are safely tucked into bed overseas, from where you write such lines?

      1. This guy Ravi seems to be high on dope ..Even his English is poorer than.a 4th grade student..”Let one Helicopter ,….etc’..What is he trying to say ?BTW , I feel with such insensitive populace , we better start putting pre conditions a la civil services , prior undetaking life threatening missions in obselete platforms. It is too the credit of the grit of Naval Aviators that so many people were rescued in Kerala floods. (To quote one of many examples).

    2. Ravi , I am an addict Googler and blog reader. You are a jerk. That’s the only comment I have

    3. Such remarks can only come from ignorant people. Interact with those who dare to fly this machine despite its shortcomings and u will know the truth.

  8. Well Mr Ravi, you have all the rights to air your view but before doing that you need to look within yourself.

    If a soldier asks for money you say he is greedy, if he asks for good equipment to fight you say…present one is good enough….It’s like tie your hand and legs and throw you in swimming pool and say swim. When you voice concern you will say soldiers are not supposed to.

    By the way soldier is not hungry of becoming martyr… it’s in his blood which you will not understand. Yes every soldier of Indian Armed forces has perfected the art of sacrificing his life for the country..and it’s men including few ungrateful like you.

    I am retired soldier…and I dare you to come and learn the art of giving your life for countrymen….

    You may not like an article but can not and I dare say can not rubbish the sacrifices of men in uniform for voicing concern regarding substandard equipment and treatment from people like you.


  9. Government has no business in business – they got to govern and provide services that market cannot provide. This is the dictum followed by most developed nations.

    Indian Government got get its hand off many businesses – especially the PSUs – where private players are very much available. Government got to be regulators only.

    HAL is also one such white elephant.

  10. KPS I hope you are aware of the difficulties HAL had to go thru to reopen an ancient production line after nearly 25 years. Building a new engine from scratch when the key personnel have long gone and the art has been lost is not easy. If you ask Airbus to make the Chetak for you ( after all they are the original designers), even if they accept your order, you would be paying 5 times the cost of a new Dauphin. You have trained your guns in the wrong direction, you should be congratulating HAL for “Opening a legacy production line after 25 years and yet managing to deliver ahead of schedule”. It is not for HAL to question why a customer needs a certain aircraft( by the way our hands are full with ALH & now commencing LCH production), if you need it it shall be made. The customer could have ordered LUH ( IOC just a few months away) which is a far better performer than the TH 119. Your articles normally show some depth of understanding, which however is lacking in this case. I am surmising that you read the tweet fleetingly, triggering a flood of emotions and a want to flog somebody. Well, HAL is always the easiest target. The mob mentality of the Indians is another curious genetical defect, as can be seen from some of the comments. I also request you to educate some of your readers about the complexities of helicopter industry and why private players are nervous to enter despite governments strong efforts. All the best and keep writing.

    1. I welcome your views. Please consider the following:
      1. The navy was finding it difficult to maintain a frontline of 30 Chetaks with a holding of 60 at the point when the decision to order 8 was taken.
      2. That amounts to an astounding maintenance reserve of 100%. Then there are peacetime losses (many unexplained). Against this background, navy ordering more of these obsolete machines – and HAL agreeing to it – are both questionable decisions in my view. It is myopic and leads to a path of diminishing returns.
      3. Should the bright engineers, designers & workforce of HAL be committed to building Chetaks in the 21st century? Whom are we doing any favours? When will we (Navy & HAL) ever learn to say NO?
      4. I have not singled out HAL. Please read more closely. Navy is equally complicit in glossing over the safety, reliability and maintainability of Chetaks while ordering more.
      5. Your point about why not LUH instead of more Chetaks is plausible. That’s for the navy to answer.
      6. I wouldn’t yet compare the T119, which is the first single engine heptr to get FAA certification for single pilot IFR, with the LUH. Whenever the LUH gets FAA/EASA certification, and civil operators line up to buy it, may perhaps be a good point in time to make that comparison.
      6. That poster calling Chetak state of the art and the tweets that followed are condemnable, don’t you agree? What’s there to celebrate? Ahead of schedule? Have we forgotten the weeks & months frontline crew languish in HAL to accept Chetaks ex-servicing? Delivery is one thing and quality is quite another.

      HAL is not an easy target for me. I have worked with you all and have a deep respect for the talent & capability of our workforce. They are better employed in launching futuristic aircraft competing on a global stage for quality. That would be something to celebrate.

      Maybe we have set the bar too low for ourselves?

      Once again, thanks for contributing to the discussion. Yours is an important voice. I appreciate it.

      Warm regards, kps

    2. Dear Unni Sir,
      We have very high regards for developmental team and product designers of HAL and also know their competence level is of global standards.

      However when it comes to HAL for mass production and support system it’s way below the acceptable standards leave alone global.

      The problem is not the competence or knowledge of engineers & test pilots but there is severe shortage in ATTITUDE and ETHICS while dealing with military products. The disdain with which it treats it’s military customers is etched in hearts of most of we Chetak pilots from all three services.

      It’s not figment of imagination but my own experience with HAL while representing not only NAVY but ARMY too for Cheetah.

      The military is taken for granted by HAL as it knows that come what may happen military has to come to it. Otherwise why will a military acceptance pilot keep doing ground runs and check flights for weeks when the aircraft was supposed to be test flown and ready in all aspects by HAL for acceptance ?

      The ethargic attitude of HAL Barrackpore took three weeks to hand over a CHEETAH required for Kashmir during Op Parakram. There was no sense of urgency even when the nation was facing war.

      HAL will dare not do it with Civil customers otherwise the civil.pilots wouldn’t have been accommodated in posh hotels and military pilots put in military messes.

      Now coming to professional aspect.

      CHETAKS like MIGs is fast taking up the dreaded role as they call it “Flying Coffin”.

      Apart from system failures the material failures in CHETAKS have been horrible, out of the world and disastrous ones. Few of them are..
      Main Gear Box getting uprooted in air, Tail Gear Box getting uprooted in air, Collective lever uprooting, Pilot Seat uprooting from floor while flying and pilot falling back, Spacing Cables snapping in the air, Turbine holding bolts breaking in the air….and the list goes on which has consumed many lives. These are the failures which can send chill down the pilot’s spine.

      I am yet to see any accountability being taken by HAL or accepting sub standard product for any of the said failures.

      All these I can say with conviction because I have interacted with HAL several times apart from surviving certain death.

      My chetak’s turbine bolt broke in the air while flying at night with explosion in Engine and aircraft was on fire. Could force land the aircraft with engine on fire in pitch dark situation because of naval training. Till date I get nightmares of that 40 seconds free fall in burning aircraft

      There are scores of such deadly experiences where few of us are alive to tell the tale but others were not so fortunate and for you the reaction here from few is Mob mentality, a curious genetical defects in we Indians ?

      You know sir, another genetic defect in we Indians are that we are one of the worst in the world as far as taking care of our own safety is concerned. Then how can we expect HAL manned by same Indians to bother about hundreds of lives lost and safety of hundreds still flying those machines falling from skies.

      You said if customer will ask you will give. Even a toy shop recalls a defective toy which is unsafe for a child…many car companies call back unsafe cars…Boeing had to call back MAX.
      When will HAL recall MIGS and CHETAKS ?
      Both these machines have taken as many lives as the MAX from Boeing had taken due faulty and hurriedly designed product.

      I do accept that making of helicopter is complex idea. But telling that this is the reason why private players are not daring sounds quite absurd. It’s because of unequal playing field and monopoly of PSUs that private players are not venturing. Rafael is the burning example..

      By the same yardstick may I ask if ALH is truely world class then why there is not a single CIVIL order in last 2 decades of its commercial production ?

      Sir like KPS brought out HAL has talent and global expertise like ISRO but all seems to be nullified by attitude of disdain towards its largest and only customer…military and also it’s lack intent.

      HAL need to take some leaf out of ISRO’s success story… from carrying a simple rocket on Bullock cart to Launching CHANDRAYAAN 2 from world’s one of best launch pads. Moment ISRO realised fault it gracefully accepted it and recalled the launch.

      And yes the blood of hunfmdreds of air warriors is not only on HAL’s sleeves but also on Military’s decision makers sleeves who also have shown the same attitude towards human lives and for whome pilots lives is just another commodity.

    3. Dear Unni Sir,

      1. My opinion for incorrect culpability of supplier (HAL) instead of buyer (IN), and a DPSU’s inability to turn down request by an ‘armed service’ is explicit. However, I align with ‘Captive Customer’ treatment of Armed Forces surfacing in other comments on the article. I am also intrigued with following insights in your reply:-

      (a) Based on cost estimate wrt Dauphin, IN’s order of eight Chetaks being comparatively economical is implied. Known higher cost per manhour in PSUs (including HAL) with similar cost of restoration of facilites and skilled manpower as Airbus, keeping the price tag below par by HAL indeed deserves accolades. However, my curiousity about cost optimisation lies with differential treatment of other HAL’s platforms where respective higher cost and its acceptability is justified by indigenisation oriented arguments. The cost argument is therefore aptly placed under ambiguous category instead of supporting IN’s Chetak program.

      (b) In reference to IOC of LUH, it is a surprise that it’s an IOC under consideration instead of FOC, even when ‘Services Qualititative Requirements (SQR)’ were formulated with HAL’s inputs. Please consider my concern about LUH FOC’s timeline against analogy of a five year time period taken even for ‘proof of concept’ programs by contemporary OEMs while HAL had a generous experience with Dhruv and Rudra platforms. Nevertheless, it’s apparently a natural case of ‘a bird in hand’ by IN.

      2. Finally, in light of other comments on the article, there are two queries that we may like to answer to ourselves. For, it might help to frame an accurate ‘problem statement’ to contribute positively tomorrow, if not done yesterday:-

      (a) Do we have contemporary quality standards in finished products delivered by DPSUs to armed forces (if yes, then separate manufacturing/QA/QC teams and facilities for machines slated for foreign customers may not be required)?

      (b) In accidents/incidents of past, is there a single case of documented communication about a shortfall to services (Or a respective service has attributed faultline with HAL in final investigation reports). If the number is zero in favour of HAL, is there a reason to raise eyebrows?

      As in opening statement, I am convinced that accepting IN’s order for eight Chetaks was a DPSU’s obligation without option. Supporting their viability may be best understood by IN instead of HAL’s management explaining the balance.


  11. Dear KPS
    Starting with your first point, as per our records, serviceability status of Chetaks in Navy is around 80 %, same as in other services, making it’s availability highest of all military helicopter assets in India. You also need to understand and I will reiterate that HAL can not say no to an order from Services, however if it was a request from a customer for civil Chetaks the answer would have been NO. So please do not smear shared culpability on to HAL. Given the fact they are still in service, the Chetak & Cheetah are remarkable & reliable machines. The Artouste engines, given it’s vintage did an excellent job of holding the Nr within the narrow band, unlike the machines of that day. This requirement puts a heavy toll on the engine and it’s reliability suffers over it’s life, which is the cause of most accidents. Because of multiple engine failures at high altitudes, HAL had su-moto re-engined both helicopters and the Cheetal & Chetan were born. While the Cheetals are flying well in Siachen for last 10 years (and with orders for more), there were no takers for Chetan. In my opinion the reliability and safety are many times greater in the re-engined ones. Coming to TH119, please bear in mind that the award of IFR certification to a single engine helicopter has more to do with engine manufacturers convincing FAA on the greater reliability of engines, than any major work by the Air frame builder. A lot like the award of ETOPS to airliners for flying over seas. All that Agusta has done is fitting a good twin lane AFCS & integrating a state of the art avionics suite. Flying qualities can be tweaked with a good AFCS, but not performance, which is needed for operations in India. Please read the poster again, it is not calling Chetak a state of the art helicopter, and every one knows it is old tech. It plainly implying that a Chetak with state of art avionics asked for by the customer.

  12. Dear Unni Sir..

    Thanks for the inputs which are indeed encouraging coming from a professional like you. There is no doubt about intent of few hardcore professionals in HAL who are keeping HAL afloat. As I said earlier the scientists in ISRO and Test pilots or designers at HAL are from same background with same competency, however one is ready to set its mark on moon and the other is struggling for its relevance.

    Sir, in no way we are trying to target individuals. It’s the Organisational culture which is making the difference.

    Value of LIFE is same…be it civil or military ? If HAL can say NO to Civil why it can’t say same to military…and by not doing so it sends wrong signal.

    Like a true soldier you have talked very sensibly about the core area of development…your domain, but larger question remains to be answered…the Attitude and Intent of HAL after sales of product.

    80% serviceability state of CHETAKS ? This aspect we can not discuss in open forum…ask Chetak pilots in closed door about it. There are more than what meets the eyes. Yes in doing so HAL can’t be blamed… it’s services inhouse problem and needs to be be addressed urgently. What is happening is that HAL is taking credit without seeing the problems under the skin.

    We pilots are ready to help stem the rot but then the HAL needs to take lead and call for inputs from stakeholders, those in fields and not in AC environment.

    I will share the difference of organisational attitude…

    In HAL I tried to discus and sort out many basic issues in service days but it was not even taken lightly…it was brushed aside and I had to remain content with “Do or Die don’t ask why”

    Few years later while flying MD902 in Phoenix I just requested the management of Mc Donald Douglus(manufacturer) to sit and listen to few problems I had. I was shocked to see their response. A team of around 15 specialist including Chief Pilot, Chief Safety, Marketing , Engineering and Design headed by VP(Engineering) awaited me in conference hall. We sat for close to 3 hours and discussed the problems. The company later on my suggestion also conducted the World wide MD helicopter operators conference in USA to exchange views. All this response was to a pilot whi didnt hold any appointment..I was just a trainee pilot for them…but they made a KING out of a customer.

    I hope it is understood what is ailing the organisation and why there is so much of heart burn.

    We sincerely wish and pray that like ISRO our HAL too crosses the boundary of India if not space…and each and every aviator shall be the proudest persons on earth for the same.

  13. Dear MK
    The points you brought out in your third para were spot on at a given point in time. My belief is at that time the national attitude itself was that of “Chalta hai”, and HAL reflected the same. But now the things are much much better as is the national intolerance to “Chalta Hai”. The decision to continue flying MIGs & Chetaks is a government one and HAL has no role in it. If some replacement aircrafts were selected 20 years back HAL would have happily made those.
    Some of the material failures that you mention are not due quality of manufacture. To better understand it we need to look at other chetak operators. If all have a particular type of failure on all chetaks across various operators, then the reasons are clearly design related or poor quality, but if only one operator is having these failures it could be the type of operations, the environment of operation or poor maintenance. The structural related issues that you mention were only unique to your aircraft, a good scrutiny of your storage & maintenance practices would have truly made a big difference in controlling failures.
    Coming to your question on civil ALH. Initially we supplied 14 civil h/c but did not pursue civil sales as we were way behind on meeting military requirements. Now DGCA has certified the mk 3 civil which will be offered for civil customers. Next 3 years we are busy with the new Army, Navy & CG orders. In addition we are detuning the control power of the MR, which is not a civil requirement (unless he wants to do aerobatics), thereby giving a much longer MGB TBO.
    By the way all the ISRO satellites and structures are made by HAL in it’s Aerospace Division.

  14. Dear Sir,
    It’s indeed heartening to know the attitudinal changes being brought about in HAL. And why not. Our hearts should swell with pride for this national asset.

    What the real well wishers like KPS is wanting to highlight is how “penny wise pound foolish” attitude is stopping PSUs like HAL from becoming a global player in the industry.

    It’s like Pawan Hans should have been a company with atleast 500 helicopters by now mapping not only India but entire Middle East and South East Asian countries. But look at them…they are struggling for survival with in India today inspite of best of support and infrastructure….it’s again because of organisational failure and attitudinal deficiency.

    We all are looking ahead and we all are wishing our PSUs the best and hope with changed scenario in the country they give any company in the world run for the money.

    And Yes…like MD Helicopters why not HAL organises open heart conclaves with field workers (pilots& engineers). We have a lot to give with nothing to take.

  15. Allow me to add a few rejoinders to the preceding discussion thread:

    1. Private players in India are nervous to enter the helicopter industry primarily due to the huge entry barriers, uncertainties of firm orders, penchant for policy reversals, a legacy of failed cases and, most importantly – the oligarchy of PSUs such as HAL to which the services have a marriage of convenience rather than love or respect.

    2. The same does not hold true in the civil market where quality, economic viability and safety rules supreme. A private operator could well face close down or be sued to bankruptcy due to a failed product.

    3. Civil certification of aeroplanes and helicopters is still evolving in India while it has reached leagues ahead in more developed countries. While the civil certification of Dhruv Mk3 is certainly a landmark, the proof of pudding lies in the successful adoption of this machine; not only in India, but abroad. Symbolic efforts by HAL while, admittedly, focusing on military customers, is unlikely to yield fruit in my view. There is a gross need to consider this as a separate, dedicated vertical. Also a need to put ear to the ground and be sensitive to inputs from civil operators.

    4. I leave the serviceability state of Chetaks quoted at 80% for the services to digest and defend. I do not agree to this. Moreover, serviceability, availability and fitness of purpose are different and need to be evaluated separately, each on its own merits.

    5. The comment that ‘HAL cannot say NO to an order from services’ while they would have said NO to a civil order for Chetaks leaves one with the feeling that services set themselves up for sub-standard products that wont pass muster in civil aviation. At best, it betrays a misplaced sense of duty or purpose and the inability to call a spade a spade. Both are damaging to the cause of safety.

    6. The Artouste engine is a high RPM, single-spool turboshaft engine. If as admitted by Unni Pillai that ‘it puts a heavy toll on the engine and it’s reliability suffers over its life, which is the cause of most accidents’ – then where is the case for supplying more of this to the Navy? If the ‘reliability and safety are many times greater in the re-engined ones’, why did HAL not advise the customer accordingly?

    7. Naval Chetaks primarily operate at sea level and low altitudes. In this envelope, engine performance should rarely be the weak link. Rather, it is the main gear box and transmission chain that can get overwhelmed, if at all. Then what explains the long chain of engine failures and malfunctions encountered by the navy?

    8. Having seen both sides of the civil-military fence, I can attest that in the services, we walk the extra mile to ensure best practices, storage and maintenance. Secondly, the operating environment is not of our choosing and the machine should be able to support the mission rather than other way around. Any comment that alludes to a lack of proper maintenance, storage or operating methodology of any single service does not stand scrutiny in the absence of such data in public space. Perhaps, the services may like to think about this. This is exactly what i headlined one of the sub-paras in my article – “All glory mine, all fault yours?”

    9. A question has been posed that why did navy not order LUH instead. That is for the navy to answer. However, the question also begets another question: What is the PDC for LUH FOC? How many years has the project already slipped? If the same strategy of promising more than you deliver has continued, then hasnt this in some measure disrupted the services’ decision making process thereby giving rise to sub-optimal choices such as the instant case? This is what i called a ‘shambolic & incestuous’ relationship in the article.

    10. All in all, I see the decision to order more Chetaks by the navy as a ‘Hobson’s Choice’. The arrival of new airframes may pave the way for retiring some of the old. Or else, airframes designed for 15 years would get stretched to 60 years – a situation nobody wants. Open assembly lines at HAL also reduces dependency on ‘cannibalisation’ of other aircraft for rotables. Such a decision can be seen as ‘win-win’ or ‘lose-lose’, depending on which side of the divide one stands.

    I thank you all for reading and contributing to the discourse. My only hope remains that no more lives are lost because of a faulty understanding of the problem.

    With regards, KPS

  16. 1. No country in the world has ever become self reliant with only inhouse production of highly advancd products like Ships, Aircrafts, Tanks and other war machines.

    2. It’s one thing to produce a product and claim success but it’s all together different ball game to thrust that product on user (Armed Forces) and blunt the edge of security knife of the country.

    3 At best, to encourage inhouse products, the Armed Forces should give some space to try those products and at the same time ensure that the fighting edge of services is not blunted and replacement of main fleet of ships, aircrafts and machines continue as earlier from proven sources inside or abroad.

    4. However where the narrative has gone horribly wrong is that Indian military, either by its own volition or forced by the government has accepted replacing its entire fleet with not so proven (battle worthy) products like ALH and LCA.

    5. Main forces like Surface Navy, Airforce and Army has been wiser in this regard. Though they have given space for indeginous products, they have not shut the door on replacement by proven products from outside sources.

    6. Surface Navy has been buying ships from abroad while many are being built in Indian dockyards. While building own aircraft carrier it bought one from outside in the mean time.

    7. Airforce while inducting LCA (TEJAS) and giving it time to thunder the Indian sky with real battle boom has gone for Rafael in the mean time to keep the skies clear of flying FODs from due west across the border. While giving adequate space to ALH (DHRUVA) Airforce has still gone for Chinooks & Apaches to fill the vaccum.

    8. However, the communication aircrafts specislly helicopters doing the bulk of flying task in all three services have become the worst victim of unimaginable planning and vision.

    9. 20 years back as a young pilot after having seen the weakening anatomy of CHETAKS for few years I asked Senior Naval Aviation officer, “What is the long term replacement plan for Chetaks ?”
    Answer was ALH (DHRUVA).

    10. Two decades have passed and the Question and Answer still remain same. The number of helicopter fleet of Navy can be counted on fingers. The old war machines have now started falling from skies and lives are being lost at regular intervals.

    11. It’s been double whammy for helicopter word of Armed Forces. In order to gives full bread and butter to indigenous production by HAL all doors have been shut for procurement from outside to sustain the peacetime vital missions.

    12. Armed Forces are suffering badly on account of lack of proven machines and old ones not only consuming money but also valuable lives by way of increased fatal accidents.

    13. We still have time and it can be stitched….as it is rightly said, “Stitch in time saves nine”

  17. Kaypius and MK,

    Armed forces have an assigned duty. Part of that is to procure, develop and nurture materiel for meeting their tasks.
    Be it Chetak or ALH or LCA, it’s the services as the customers whose decision matters.
    You seem to be suggesting HAL, when given orders for Chetak by Navy, should have refused. Don’t know how that’s possible… HAL is the designated agency to meet armed forces’ requirements. Govt mandate to HAL is precisely that. Had the Navy decided in favour of the Chetan… HAL would have delivered the same. If you wanted IFR certification and compatible equipment and systems, HAL would have delivered that too.
    I can’t seem to understand what’s the issue here? HAL’s work ethic?…both of you stated. Let’s for the sake of argument accept this as reality. How does that account for Navy’s decision for Chetaks in 2019? As regards the management of the fleets in service, it would be useful to assess the accident and incidents statistics. How many accidents and incidents attributed to which cause? Today targeting HAL and being judgemental about it is a fad! Nothing illustrates it better than some- infact many, responses you have rec’d KPS. Guys have no clue..but opinion yes! Even on operational philosophies or highly technical issues. In the end, Guys, we can say things are not ok…but to suggest HAL refuse Navy’s requirements and to voluntarily downgrade the value of its own production in this case is far fetched!
    If the services plan and manage their resources efficiency, you wouldn’t have these anomalies. Military economics has to be accounted for always!! I would recommend the latest UK Strategic Defence Review report for a perspective on this. KPS… would be happy to debate this issue with you anytime…
    But like I have always said… your writing style is great! Lucid and flowing! Keep it going. I seldom miss reading your articles. Thanks.

    1. Dear Venu Sir,

      1. We are missing the point. What we want to bring out is not the fault line with HAL alone….but yes HAL and it’s existence is certainly part of critical requirements of armed forces. The web of military requirements, its production, sole reliance on indigenisation and PSUs are entangled and one finds it difficult to find the beginning and end.

      2. I do agree that military has its own task of protect and procure. It has an established norms. However, you will agree that oflate outside influence us greater than it use to be before. Otherwise why there was a hue & cry when Rafael didn’t make HAL it’s partner ? While country saw that it went political and huge pressure was exerted on Airforce.

      3. Sir, problem us not the financial…but when fall out of these decisions starts consuming lives….it needs serious relook.

      4. You said if Navy asked why or how should HAL refuse ? As I said there is a norm worldwide to recall defective products even after sales leave alone selling it with defect. I think ethics comes into play here. Knowing it very well that the product can damage the user the company owns up fault line and saves the users from damage. Yes it takes lot of courage to own up the defect/ deficiency in product by the company.

      5. Only two fatal accidents took place while operating thousands of flights worldwide by BOEING 737 MAX. Why then ground hundreds of aircrafts world wide. For example if some country still wants to buy MAX knowing this aspect should BOEING resume sale ?

      6. By saying so I am in no way exonerating the Services for demanding vintage aircraft in modern times. They are equally responsible and accountable for the mess.

      7. By the way it’s not HAL bashing nor it’s a fad but anguish which is reflected in words of few who are from outside domain and Chetak/ALH pilots who are living it day in day out and every one will have his own story or experience to arrive at the outburst.

      8. It’s high time that we all look with in ourselves and identify the chinks in the armer and value human life more that economics.

    2. Feelings are mutual, Sir. It is because of our mutual respect as professionals cut from the same cloth (maybe different colour but the same cloth) that we are able to discuss this out in the open with no damage to friendship. A beer with you, Unni and your entire team is highly overdue and just like the replacement of Chetak, it brooks no further delay 🙂

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