Lucknow: India’s lone aircraft maker, state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), today signaled the future of its business, by signing up with Israeli and Indian firms to carry out marketing for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to domestic customers, even as its order book for Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer and Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI jets are fast drying up.
At the 11th episode of the Indian signature defence event, DefExpo 2020, here, HAL signed a strategic collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Indian firm Dynamatic Technologies Limited (DTL) through a Memoradum of Understanding for “marketing, manufacturing and selling” of IAI’s UAVs to the Indian armed forces, paramilitary and central armed police forces.
This was the first MoU of this year’s DefExpo, as India’s prime minister Narendra Modi kick-started the event, announcing that the nation would emerge as a global defence manufacturing hub, “not only for India but also for the world” by achieving ‘Make in India‘ through joint ventures.
Truth be told, the MoU is just the first step and it has to translate into a joint venture company or an agreement. As is the case with most MoUs, that transition and transformation is dependent on orders for the products that companies like HAL and its partners such as IAI and DTL are pitching to the Indian government customers. And that is where the challenge lies for most of these partnerships.
“The collaboration will provide excellent opportunity to HAL to expand its product offerings to defence customers, absorb critical technologies and strengthen the Aerospace Ecosystem in the country, especially for UAVs,” HAL Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan said on the occasion.
“India is an important strategic market for UAVs and am confident of IAI’s extensive experience and the technological capabilities of HAL and DTL will lead to significant advancements in the field,” IAI President and Chief Executive Officer Nimrod Sheffer said.
“This collaboration will provide a boost to ‘Make in India’ and we are committed to establish a broad technological and industrial eco-system within the country,” DTL Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Udayant Malhotra said.
UAVs are playing significant role in wars and other tactical missions such as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). In the coming years, the Indian armed forces are likely to induct a large number of UAVs to meet such requirements.
HAL has the capability and infrastructure available in India to manufacture UAVs of IAI. IAI as the design authority, HAL as principal contractor and DTL as principle sub-contractor will complement each other.
The partnership between HAL and IAI would help in the depot level maintenance of all Medium Altitude Long Range and Short Range classes of UAVs supplied by IAI to the Indian armed forces such as the Herons. The partnership may grow further to become the first in the country to manufacture IAI designed UAVs such as Short Range Tactical Long Endurance UAVs. This collaboration will also serve in enhancing technology sharing and business partnership between India and Israel.
HAL also signed another MoU with Israeli company Elbit Systems’ ISTAR Division at the DefExpo venue, aimed at assessing the feasibility of joint development of a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) rotary UAV of the 2000 kg class for both maritime and land-based military operations.
The partnership will, in the future, cater to the domestic as well as the global requirements. “This will promote mutually beneficial cooperation between HAL and Elbit in terms of technology, manufacturing, marketing and maintenance of the UAV globally,” an HAL statement released on the occasion said.
The proposed VTOL UAVs have a tremendous potential in carrying out maritime military missions with higher efficiency compared to a manned helicopter. Deploying a VTOL UAV will bring down the huge costs associated with inducting operating and maintaining manned helicopters on the deck.
It will also benefit the Indian armed forces in deploying a VTOL UAV for a routine surveillance mission or operating in unsafe areas both during day and night, which otherwise would have to be carried out by manned helicopters. It may also open up new business avenues for HAL culminating in both domestic and export orders.
With Elbit Systems, HAL signed a second MoU today for promoting and marketing the Digital Head Up Displays (HUD) units. The MoU envisages extending cooperation for new HUD technologies and promote Digital HUD to the Indian defence services and other potential customers.
The digital HUD would incorporate new features like Wide Instantaneous and Total Field of View with Minimal Binocular Disparity, Large Eye Motion Box and Digital Image Source for increased pilot’s situational awareness. The HUD system is also compatible with Night Vision Imaging Systems having improved maintenance features.
HAL also extended its partnership spree on the first day of DefExpo by clinching a Non-Disclosure Agreement with New Space Research and Technologies Private Limited to explore cooperation for joint development and manufacturing of various products and systems in the area of unmanned systems, swarm technology and space systems.
HAL has been reeling with financial difficulties after its order books for fighter jets have dried up and the company either completing or is on the verge of completing orders for BAE Systems’ Hawk advanced jet trainers of which over 120 have been delivered, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI’s last of the order for 272 being delivered, and the order for ‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft’s Mk1A order for 83 jets still being awaited to be signed.
The HAL has been forced to reinvent itself with new business models and opportunities, apart from futuristic products to keep its machinery running and operations going full steam ahead.