Monday, February 23, 2015

Life Or Death For Indo-Russian Multirole Transport Aircraft

Tucked away in a corner of HAL's generously spaced pavilion at Aero India 2015 is a non-descript little stall with a couple of tables, a few chairs, two small aircraft models and little else. This is immediately strange, given how in-your-face the HAL-UAC Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) programme usually is at shows (enough that HAL has proudly showed it off at the land forces show DefExpo too). As it happens, the low profile reflects the headwind that the MTA currently faces.

In September 2013, India and Russia completed preliminary design on the MTA, a derivative of the concept Iluyshin-214, but a design that officials at MTA Ltd (MTAL), the joint venture overseeing the project, insist is a "joint design from scratch", with large scale changes including "wing area and empennage area", the capability to operate from high altitudes, as opposed to largely sea-level operations envisioned for the original Ilyushin-214. Effectively, the preliminary design phase (PDS) locks in the platform's general characteristics, overall shape and possible LRUs.

For 15 months, HAL has been in conversation with the Indian Air Force, a process that hasn't been smooth. The IAF's concerns centre around the twin Aviadvigatel PD-14M turbofan engines intended to power the platform. Sources say the IAF has indicated four major critera in engine performance on paper that don't match stated performance requirements in terms of altitude, re-light characteristics (the official I spoke to requested that Livefist did not report specifics). It hasn't helped that late last year, the United Aircraft Corp. reported a rise in project cost, suggesting that HAL would need to be in for more than the $300 million initially agreed upon when the programme kicked off. Never good. A six-man team from HAL leaves for Russia early next month for what officials described as 'resolutionary discussions'.

However, HAL is still hopeful. Not that it has a choice. But so hopeful in fact that the leadership of the joint venture hopes to bring the IAF on board within the next five-six months, and close the crucial next step -- an agreement on the the detailed design phase -- before the year is out. Circumstances suggest gloom, but the team remains optimistic.

Taking the prospective signing of the crucial agreement on the detailed design phase as the starting point, the joint venture's timelines read like this: 24 months to complete detailed design, 42 months to first flight and 62 months to series production. Those are serious timelines by any stretch.

In an irony that's playing out in slow motion, the MTA has flown into the decision-making airspace of the Indian Air Force's high profile HS748 Avro replacement effort, a programme specifically designed to create aerospace manufacturing capacity within the private sector (and specifically beyond HAL). Expectedly, HAL's exclusion from the Avro replacement hasn't gone down easy, and has sparked an aggressive campaign to persuade the government that keeping HAL out is folly.

The fact that the Avro replacement programme is now presented with a sole bidder situation (an Airbus-Tata offering based on the C-295) puts the onus for a decision on the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), but gives HAL the leverage it needs to justify not just powering on with the MTA, but effectively expanding it. At this stage in the decision-making matrix, HAL will be hoping it doesn't matter that the proposed MTA and the proposed capability for the Avro replacement are significantly different at every level.

"It isn't obvious what we can do at this time. We're awaiting a decision," Airbus Defence & Space spokesperson Kieran Daly told me at Aero India last week. "We can't invent competition."



VP said...

It's better to accept Airbus bid on Avro replacement,they are a reliable supplier and with Indian partner getting some tech the deal is a gr8 opportunity for India's aerospace sector,and MTA issues need to be sorted out,if MTA is cancelled the airforce can try to increase the Airbus order as production line will already exist in India and related cost will be less.

Krish said...

Going by what you have reported, it looks like another Russian scam for Indian money. They want payment today to pump into their R&D while we wait a decade for the product, which comes with increased prices.

Much better for India to augment its C-130J fleet. As it is, I read somewhere that Lockheed was willing to transfer the production line if India ordered more than 20. This is the right time for that. Go for 50-60 aircraft and be done with this capability. Waiting for MTA can be done while producing C-130J too. At least then IAF will have a backup and the Indian production partner (preferablly a private company) can later be asked to further improve and produce a turbo fan version. A better road to mid-size airlift than Russian zigzag.

Gilberto Rezende-Rio Grande/RS said...

I Know that Brazilian KC-390 is not a full alternative solution for MTA mainly because relationship between Embraer and Russia became impossible by the recent rejection of the company for a visit by Russian officials invited by Brazilian gov.
But if MTA rails off one option could be buy the Brazilian project to be adapted to India and Russia needs...
It will not be an easy talk but is still a possibility.
One detail, the Brazilian project has nothing to do with Airbus A-330, but uses the same engine of the Avro replacement contender...

Anonymous said...

It may make more sense to use an existing aircraft for transport. Maybe a combination of .
Light C-295
Med : C-130
Heavy : C-17
Mid air refuelling/heavy AWACS : Airbus 330
Should suffice. C-295 & C-130 can be made in India, TATAs or Mahnidras, who have invested in Aviation.This way we can have reliable 2nd vendor in aviation.
Ideally to further institutional knowledge on aviation we need to have Design bureaus for Helicopter, Fighters/trainers and Transport.

Anonymous said...

I think we would have been better off if we had invested in Brazilian KC-390, the plane is already flying.

Anonymous said...

Tie up with European and American's are better. They are on time for delivery and provide high tech products. Boost desi manufacturing to argument component supply.

Jigga said...

Lockheed is willing to move the production line for a large order?That would be best to avoid Russian money grabbing again.

Where did you read this Krish? Is there a link?

The C17 Line is also closing this year in Southern California. Maybe its too much to hope for that production line to move to India.

BeasF137 said...

It is high time the IAF considered the KC-390 seriously. The specs are pretty close to the MTA.

If the IAF insists on the same specs, then a development costs will likely be a fraction of the cost associated with the MTA.

Anonymous said...

Get the K-390 from Brazil and learn how to build an aircraft, balancing and levering one's own skill and skills of others.

Shame on HAL & GoI

Krish said...


The above is the link which was widely reported by Economic Times, PTI and all.

Lockheed wanted a deal for more than 40 aircraft to transfer manufacturing plant to India. India has already bought about 12 and there is enough scope for going for another 40. Don't forget that India used to have 65 units of An-12 in its fleet during 1960-1990s. An-12 was very similar to C-130J. So the requirement now is even larger. Mind you, half of C-130J i.e. (empennage, wing box) is already made by Tata so transfer of rest half will not be a problem.

However, what I find till date is comments from successive Chief Air Marshals of IAF that they want to buy another 6 or 7 and induct even more in future, as they explore capabilities of the aircraft. So no confirmation of orders for a big deal (like 45 MTA in one go), scuttles any plan for plant transfer or local production. Are they intentionally trying to derail its localisation or any other reason is there, I don't know. But the fact is, this is the best aircraft for airlift to many of our far-flung airports and ALGs, where turbo-fan aircraft can't even think to go.

Anonymous said...

I donot think HAL or Govt (MoD) can deliver it, take it in writing

kaveri was waste of money, it will probably earn few millions to beurocrats

Sumit DasGupta said...

Well, India seems to fall into this trap all the time where costs creep up and schedules slip out but she keeps paying up more and more. India (HAL) clearly does not know how to write contracts with the Russians or manage feature creep from the IAF. Time to hire a few of the top IIM grads and put them to work on project management. Also, payments to Russian counterparts should be post-facto, i.e., payments should be made when a job is finished,... and there should be a penalty clause for missed dates and functionality. This is not rocket science but grass-roots, hard-nosed project management.

Anonymous said...

We are tring to get companies to work here in India and do not want a monopoly... looks lik a world war is approaching and might get to our doors too.... evry big country on d wld trying to build new wepons and develop their military....all at the same time which is spooky...