HAL also produces avionics, engines and systems. If there is an area where India still struggles, it is engines. Intended for the LCA, the Kaveri afterburning turbofan under development by India's Gas Turbine Research Establishment is short on thrust and has been deemed unsuitable to power the Tejas. But India may yet use the engine in unreheated form to power a planned unmanned combat aircraft.
LCA is not the only indigenous program to have problems. HAL's HTP-32 Deepak basic trainer has been grounded since 2009 after crashes caused by engine failures, forcing India to buy Pilatus PC-7s. Now the company is struggling to complete development of the HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer, which first flew in 2003. HAL performs some commercial subcontract work, including Airbus A320 passenger doors, Boeing 777 flaperons and Embraer Legacy 450/500 doors.
The Indian government has made several recent moves to open up its aerospace industry, to improve performance and increase competition. These steps have begun with the privatization of HAL; the government put an initial 10% stake up for sale this year. New Delhi has also changed the offset rules, allowing foreign companies to work with the private sector and not just state-owned entities, says Lakesh Srivastava, CEO of Tata HAL Technologies.
Private-sector companies are being encouraged to work with India's national laboratories as well. “The labs are still a bit bureaucratic,” Srivastava says. “But they are allowing the private sector to come in with foreign OEMs, which qualify with a multiplier for offsets, to force performance into the system.”
One of the main labs is the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL). Also headquartered in Bengaluru, NAL is working to establish an Indian civil aviation industry. Initially, NAL developed the Hansa, an all-composite two-seater that was commercially produced by Pune-based Taneja Aerospace and Aviation Ltd. (TAAL) for sale to India's flying clubs.
Subsequently, NAL designed the Saras, a 14-seat twin-turboprop aimed at the utility market. The first prototype was overweight and the second crashed, but a third is expected to fly this year with increased use of composites to reduce weight, more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67A engines and more advanced avionics. TAAL produced parts for the prototypes. The Indian air force has ordered an initial 15.
In its first public-private partnership, NAL teamed with Mahindra Aerospace to develop the C-NM5, an all-composite five-seat light aircraft. Acknowledging the delays endemic in Indian programs, prototype certification work was moved to Gippsland Aeronautics in Australia—a general-aviation manufacturer acquired by Mahindra in 2010. The prototype C-NM5 began flight tests in Australia in September 2011.
NAL and HAL have been working since 2007 on plans to develop the 70-seat Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA). Satagopan sees the yet-to-be-launched program, along with plans to develop indigenously the stealthy Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), as keys to taking the industry's capability to the next level.
“They are still mulling the regional transport. It will happen, but when is the question,” he says. Satagopan sees an opportunity for the federal government “to get into a public-private partnership role . . . to make it happen.” New programs such as RTA and AMCA are needed to build out the Indian aerospace ecosystem, he says. “What is missing today is we have no big Tier 1 suppliers apart from HAL. So how do we create Tier 1s like GKN [Aerospace] and Spirit [AeroSystems]?”