Are too many projects spoiling the broth for defence enterprise Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd?
On a day its new Chairman from outside the organisation took charge four months after the previous one retired, the junior Defence Minister clearly said HAL was not meeting critical aircraft delivery schedules of its primary customer - the Air Force - as it had far too many projects on its plate.
Dr M.M. Pallam Raju, Minister of State for Defence, who was in the city for the MSME Defexpo event on Friday, told the media: “It is not that competence is not there or the facilities. It is more a question of project management. We don't want them to be producing each nut and bolt – which is what they were doing.”
Committee report soon
HAL, he said, “is doing a commendable job in absorbing various technologies from France, Britain, Germany and Russia. But they are in a number of programmes. Sometimes, they may not be meeting the expectations of the Services, mainly the Air Force, and not producing in time as they are handling too many projects”.
The remarks come at a time when the Government has set the ball rolling for disinvesting its shares in the Rs 13,000-crore aircraft maker; four merchant banks were chosen in a quick development last November. It has also appointed a seven-member panel led by Mr B.K. Chaturvedi, Planning Commission Member, to suggest restructuring of HAL. The Chaturvedi Committee is due to present its report later this month.
The Chaturvedi committee's recommendations, Dr Raju said, would “definitely be of great benefit to HAL”. It was tasked to “give greater focus to enable HAL to be more efficient player, enable it to deliver on time and to streamline itself and get more focussed on its priorities”, he said.
HAL has slipped up on deliveries of Sukhoi fighters, the Hawk advanced jet trainers and the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) and the Light Combat Helicopter meant for the IAF and the Navy. At the same time, it is also spearheading large programmes to design a new basic trainer; develop helicopters; a military transport plane and the ambitious Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, the last two with Russian companies. Once the Government signs the purchase deal for 126-plus multi-role medium fighter planes, HAL will be manufacturing them, too.
On the MMRCA for which French company Dassault's Rafale fighter has been selected for price negotiations, Dr Raju said he expected the contract to ‘happen within this year'.
Asked if the choice of Rafale was final, he said it can only be said now that “the decision is final as far as selection is considered”.