The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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House rap on HAL

New Delhi, March 14: The country’s premier defence public sector undertaking, the Bangalore-headquartered Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, has its credibility on the line with a parliamentary committee doubting its ability to implement projects on schedule.

The Lok Sabha’s Public Accounts Committee has commented in a report on a project to develop a pilotless target aircraft that its failure “causes serious misgivings about the expertise of HAL in fructifying vital defence projects within a reasonable timeframe”.

HAL is showcased by the defence ministry’s department of defence research and development as a success story. It runs at a profit and it is where some of the cutting-edge research and development takes place.

HAL’s order book is also full and it has joint-venture or co-production arrangements with leading foreign defence industries, including those for multi-role combat aircraft such as the Sukhoi 30MKi.

The parliamentary committee’s observation is based on its study of the manner in which HAL is implementing the PTAE-7 project. In an earlier report, the committee said design and development of the Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA), along with its engine, was sanctioned by the government in 1980. It was to have been completed by 1985.

Nearly 14 years after it was sanctioned, the aircraft was cleared for limited series production by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s aeronautical development establishment pending bulk production by HAL. But production has not begun.

The pilotless aircraft is projected for use by the three armed services for target practice on flying objects. It is codenamed Lakshya. The defence research establishment took up the project to reduce foreign exchange drainage and give the armed services practice on unmanned aerial vehicles.

The committee said in its report that in the 15 years since the planned date of completion, the government had spent Rs 6.57 crore to import 14 engines. In its action taken report, the committee quotes the defence ministry’s reactions to its queries. The ministry claimed that the test flights of the vehicle have been moderately successful. However, the committee was not satisfied with the explanation.

The committee said HAL had not even created the infrastructure needed to produce the aircraft. The ministry explained that HAL could not begin production as there were no orders from the services. “A number of meetings have been held in order to determine further requirement of the Indian Air Force for Lakshya. IAF has indicated that they would like to place order for 65 Lakshyas. HAL will take up serial production on receipt of bulk order,” it said.

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