Refer LIVEFISTDEFENCE.COM article by Shiv Aroor ‘The Truth Hurts’ authored by Commander Yashodhan Marathe (Retd.). The article is on naval ALH, which elaborates his assessment of ALH quality and design capabilities vis a vis Naval Requirements.
The article is an emotional outburst on quality and design deficiencies which the Pilot (now retired from Navy) had encountered during his tenure. Sometimes the emotional outbursts are good to drive a point but delayed outbursts (almost two decades) reeks of ulterior agenda and has the pitfall of not being in touch of what has happened in those 15 – 20 years of ALH development and the present status. Helicopter designing and manufacturing is not a family drama for emotional outbursts but a concerted effort in developing a product and taking it to maturity level in the midst of constant feedback and working on it.
A defence equipment is conceived, designed and manufactured as per Defence Procurement Plan document and the guiding specifications are in terms of requirement of the services called General / Air/ Naval Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR/ ASR/ NSQR). It is a classified document and is based on threat perception gathered, acquisitions made by adversaries, their development plans and information about contemporary technology and equipment available. The documents consist of specifications of equipment which the services would like to acquire to remain fighting fit. Care is taken so that single vendor situation is avoided.
Naval requirements of helicopter NSQR mainly have statements about requirement of hover for long periods and stowage on the ships. Army and Airforce requirements GSQR/ ASR for helicopter talk about capability to deliver goods at high altitudes such as in Siachen Glacier at 5 to 6 Km above sea level. The requirements of Navy and Airforce/ Army are at variance and no helicopter in the world would be able to meet both the requirements with equal ease and there will be some shortcomings somewhere. In 1980s -1990’s designing two different helicopters (for Navy and for Army/ Airforce) was not possible considering availability of funds and time at hand.
Services placed their requirements in 1980’s- 90’s for development of ALH. India never had any capability to design and manufacture any helicopter. From mid-1960’s HAL was manufacturing Chetak helicopter under license from SUD Aviation, France. It was not designed by any firm in India and till then India had no capability to design and manufacture state of the art helicopters which would be a mainstay of Defence services in India. Private companies had no interest in pumping capital and money in a product which has unusually high gestation period. Private companies were happy in becoming middlemen for foreign companies for such high-end state of the art high gestation period product as the returns were attractive in being a middleman rather than becoming a designing and manufacturing agency. Nobody had stopped private players in bringing out a helicopter or say a bypass jet engine (which is also a high-end state of art high gestation period product). The work of designing a helicopter had to be under taken by a government public sector company.
As a nation, acquiring a capability for the first time in any field has its associated costs which the nation has to bear in terms of shortcomings in design and delay in the product fructification. Defence PSU took on this task. Some shortcomings were accepted at a later stage by higher ups without compromising on the threat perception requirements and flight safety. India (HAL) for the first time entered into Helicopter design field with the help of Germany’s MBB to start with and after the initial confidence building entered into designing the first helicopter on their own. This helped in building the national capability.
After rigorous testing and establishing the design, deliveries of ALH started in the first half of the first decade of this century. In the mean while HAL went through the learning curve and this learning is still going on. During the initial phase of ALH deliveries there were many design limitations and shortcomings vis a vis Army / Navy / Airforce and each service gave requisite concessions without compromising on threat perception requirements and flight safety. When CDS Bipin Rawat says for indigenisation and Atmanirbhar Bharat we should accept 70 % fulfilled requirements, he actually means higher ups (in government and services) should accept concessions arising from design short comings on such high value long gestation period products without compromising the requirements based on threat perceptions and flight safety. In case of ALH, there were shortcomings in the design and manufacturing quality as we as a nation were attempting the product for the first time. There will always be room for improvement, and many improvements were achieved over a period of time. Today there are more than 300 ALHs manufactured and around 3 lakh flying hours clocked with numerous contributions during national calamities which have been chronicled by media and other enthusiasts.
When the ALH was developed and designed it had enough growth potential. This potential was used when ALH was integrated with four different kinds of lethal weapons and other crucial mission systems. Constant upgradation and design improvements also kept the product state of the art. Its glass cockpit is futuristic and can compete easily with any other contemporary helicopter cockpit and win with flying colours. This all happened when the pilot writer was out of touch with the product development phase.
The shout out in ‘The Truth Hurts’ from ex Naval pilot is delayed piece of writing since ALH induction started 15 - 20 yrs back. With the constructive feedback from the services and sincere improvements in the product (ALH) by means of modifications, upgradations resulting in newer versions of ALH (MK I, MK II, MK III, MK IV) associated with improvements in quality, ALH has matured. The article gives a feeling that it is ill timed for DPSU and in time for the vested interests as Navy is scouting for 111 NUH helicopters and thousands of crores of business and commercial aspects are involved in the project.
Instead of doubting the capability of a DPSU from a far distance divorced from reality, be serious, let Navy be a lead service, fund the project, have a say in design, have a dialogue and see the superlative result of Atmanirbhar Bharat. This particular deal if it happens with HAL would be a torch bearer of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Give chance to the DPSU to compete in the race and then adjudge the best player. Ab initio striking off the name from the race is not a fair game.
This and many more articles would come up like monsoon mushrooms against the Defence PSU till the contract is clinched or the interests of vested parties satisfied. The best is to ignore such timed articles.