Nirmala Sitharaman at war with HAL, which comes under her own ministry
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is openly defaming her ministry’s high tech undertaking HAL, just to defend the choice of Anil Ambani’s company as offset partner in the Rafale fighter jet deal
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has done something unprecedented. She is openly defaming her Ministry’s high-tech public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for alleged technological incompetence, just to defend the selection of Anil Ambani’s new company as the offset partner in the Rafale deal. What is shocking is that the Defence Minister in her interaction with journalists in Delhi early this week remarked that the HAL did not have required capability to produce the Rafale fighter jets and later she observed that HAL and Dassault could not agree on production terms, so they could not go together. The responsibility of not concluding the agreement lay with the UPA government and not her government, she claimed.
The Defence Minister’s scathing attack on the capability of HAL has been immediately contested by the recently retired Chairman of the PSU, T Suvarna Raju in his interview to a leading daily on Wednesday, September 20. He said “When HAL can build a 25 tonne Sukhoi 30 from raw material stage, then what are we talking about? We could have definitely done Rafale”.
Sitharaman was not the defence minister in April 2015 when the announcement about the Rafale deal was made as a part of the India-France inter governmental agreement in Paris by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Manohar Parrikar was the defence minister at the time. But still, as Parrikar’s successor, she has to project the developments correctly. In her eagerness to depict HAL in bad light, she has distorted the history of the actual developments that took place leading to the PM’s announcement of the Rafale deal and the subsequent exclusion of HAL on April 10, 2015. The developments show that HAL was supposed to be the collaborator until just two days before the PM’s announcement, as per the senior-most Indian officials, and there was no rift between the French company Dassault Aviation, makers of the Rafale jet, and HAL.
HAL is considered one of the top- ranking aero engineering and manufacturing companies in Asia and throughout its six decades of existence, this PSU has been continuously upgrading its technology and expertise to compete in the burgeoning global aerospace market. In 2017-18 financial year, HAL recorded a turnover of ₹18,519 crore and the company has a order book position of ₹61,123 crore as on March 31, 2018, despite a highly competitive market. India is likely to be the third largest aviation market in the world by 2025 and the country is forecasted to have a demand for a record 2,100 new aircraft worth US$ 290 billion.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has done something unprecedented. She is openly defaming her Ministry’s high-tech undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for alleged technological incompetence, just to defend the selection of Anil Ambani’s new company as the offset partner in the Rafale deal
As the defence experts mention, the NDA government took power on May 26, 2014 and by that time, the final understanding with the UPA government was reached for the purchase of 126 Rafales which involved the outright purchase of 18 fighters and the manufacture of 108 more in India on the basis of transfer of technology. This is most important part as this helps in helping India through HAL to technologically upgrade the country’s R&D since generally the big foreign defence manufacturing companies are very reluctant on technology transfer. The UPA government got this done in early 2014 and Dassault Aviation signed a detailed work share agreement with HAL in March 2014 to have transfer of technology and production of Rafale in India.
Even in February 2015, eight months after Modi became Prime Minister, there was no change as far as the French company was concerned. On February 19, 2015, 50 days before Indian PM’s surprise announcement about new Rafale agreement, CEO of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier told pressmen that he was confident on completing the final negotiations and signing the deal for full complement. HAL was in the picture as the collaborator. Then again on March 25, 2015, Trappier said in the presence of HAL officials, “You can imagine my satisfaction to hear from the HAL chairman that we are in agreement for the responsibilities sharing, considering as well our conformity with the REP in order to be in line with the rules of the competition. I strongly believe that contract finalisation and signature will come soon”.
Thus, even 15 days before the PM’s announcement scrapping the role of HAL and bringing down the number of Rafale fighters India would purchase from 126 to 36, HAL was actively involved as far as the French are concerned. But through Modi magic, things went in a different direction at the time of the announcement. The dropping of HAL and induction of Reliance Defence was the Indian decision and not the decision of the French company. PM announced his decision on April 10, 2015, but even just two days prior, on April 8, then Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar had no inkling that such an announcement would be made and HAL would be excluded. So all indications suggest that this monumental decision having prime importance to the future security of the defence forces of India, was taken by the PM without going through the normal procedures with checks and double checks in such vital security area.
The Indian Government announced a ‘Strategic Partnership Model’ for defence manufacturing, under which Indian firms will be allowed to enter into strategic partnerships with non- Indian OEMs in key defence sub-sectors such as fighter aircraft, submarines, helicopters and armoured fighting vehicles. The Strategic Partnership Model aims to enhance India’s self-reliance index in defence procurement, including technology transfer.
HAL is considered one of the top- ranking aero engineering and manufacturing companies in Asia and throughout its six decades of existence, this PSU has been continuously upgrading its technology and expertise to compete in the burgeoning global aerospace market
Who will be responsible for the damage to the image of HAL built over the last 60 years?
Considering the changing economic and business environment, HAL has formulated strategies aligned to the government’s initiatives and implementing them to maximise the benefits for the company and support the development of Indian Aerospace and Defence Manufacturing Industry.
HAL is jointly working with premier R&D organisations like DRDO laboratories, CSIR-NAL and CIPET towards self-reliance in the aviation field. HAL also works closely with premier educational institutes and has established chairs at IIT Madras, IIT Roorkee, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur and IISc Bangalore, to enhance its R&D efforts.
The Company has achieved major progress in various R&D/Development Projects viz. Light Combat Aircraft, Hindustan Turboprop Trainer Aircraft (HTT-40), ALH-WSI (Rudra), Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), Jaguar Darin III Upgrade, Mirage 2000 Upgrade, Hawk-i, 25 KN Turbofan Engine (HTFE-25), 1200 KW Turboshaft Engine (HTSE-1200) and Mini UAV (8 Kg Class).
HAL has recently filed 114 IPR applications, which takes the cumulative number of IPRs filed by the PSU to 1,533. Yhe cumulative IPRs held by the company are 108, as of March, 2018.
At a time when support is urgently needed for HAL, the defence minister herself is slandering the company. Who will be responsible for the damage made to the image of HAL built over the last 60 years?
This is an opinion piece; the views expressed are personal
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