Bengaluru: The activities at LCA Tejas Division of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) have reached a fever pitch. The engineers, designers and the shop floor crew are committed to beat the March, 2019, deadline and deliver the remaining five Tejas fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The IAF pilots from Flying Daggers are warming up to ferry out a new fighter from Tejas production line to AFS Sulur, the home of No 45 Squadron, Flying Daggers.
The squadron will get one more flying machine in two weeks after the Test Pilots complete the mandatory Customer Acceptance Flight (CAF).
The fighters from SP-12 to SP-16, the remaining from the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) block are all on the final equipping phase. While SP-12, SP-14 and SP-16 are with the LCA Tejas Division, SP-13 and SP-15 are with the second production line at the Aircraft Division.
This is the first time ever that the Tejas production line at HAL is witnessing so much of activities. There is a renewed energy seen all over and better synergy between all the stakeholders.
The recent review of the project by Dr Ajay Kumar, Secretary (Defence Production), is said to have given clarity to all stakeholders to overcome the bottlenecks and to find a way forward for stepped-up Tejas production. His interactions and assurances seem to have boosted the morale of team HAL.
“The production rate of IOC fighters has been really ramped up at the LCA Tejas Division. Starting from one aircraft in 2015-16, it has been gradually increased to two and five aircraft in the next two production years. During 2018-19 fiscal, we are confident of delivering eight aircraft. We had our share of issues in the past and all that is now sorted out,” said an official.
The SP-12 fighter is ready to undergo a full performance EGR (engine ground run) signalling that it will be ready to kiss the skies for the first time in a week.
HAL officials say that SP-13 and SP-15 will be ready for maiden flights in December. The Aircraft Division will hand over these two fighters to the Tejas Division after conducting the HSTT (high-speed taxi trials).
What clicked for LCA Division
After having taken the hit from all corners for poor delivery of Tejas, HAL handpicked some of the best brains and made them part of programme at the LCA Division. Huge strides have been made now on improving the supply chain management and most importantly the follow-up mechanisms.
The man who heads the LCA Division P G Yogindra, an Executive Director, is said to have a played stellar role at the Hawk assembly lines, ensuring deliveries ahead of the schedule. His expertise in supply chain management is coming handy for the Tejas project now.
The review mechanism, delegation of responsibilities, increased interaction with vendors and fast-tracking of part supplies have propelled the Tejas production plans.
As a result, the assembly cycle time and waiting period for parts have been reduced – an accusation often HAL faced in the past. “We have made all efforts to ramp up the production in phases. Now, we are able to source items in advance. The front fuselage structure of Tejas now takes 53 days to be completed and this used to take four to five months in the past. Various teams have sat down and brain-stormed and we have found many answers,” said an official.
HAL is awaiting a major milestone when L&T Aerospace delivers the wings of Tejas. This it says will be a major step in Make in India and its partnership with a private industry. The last fighter in the IOC series SP-16 will be the first to be integrated with the wings from L&T.
FOC fighters join the party
The team at LCA Tejas Division is excited as they have begun the preparations for producing the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) variants of Tejas. While the FOC announcement is expected next month, the division has already begun advanced stages of production of 10 sets of detail parts.
The assembly of two sets of air fame have already started for SP-21 and SP-22. The parts for SP-23 and SP-24 will be up by the first week of December.
The provisional DAL (Drawing Applicability List) for FOC fighters were released in October, 2017, and the amended one in August, 2018. DAL is the standard of preparation for production that forms the basis for the final product to be delivered to the customer.
“Structural assembly of major modules such as front fuselage, (FF), centre fuselage (CF) and rear fuselage (RF) of SP-21 onwards are already under progress, in the structural assembly hanger of LCA Tejas Division. Incidentally, the floor assembly of SP-21 FF Stage-1 has been provisionally cleared by qualifying authorities which is a significant milestone towards our FOC missions,” added the official.
HAL says that the first FOC fighter (SP-21) will fly out by October, 2019. It is hopeful of creating a new benchmark by delivering 16 aircraft during 2019-20 fiscal.
As reported by Onmanorama earlier, IAF and HAL seem to have ironed out their differences over Tejas trainers.
It is expected that the DAL or the build-standard of eight trainers in the FOC version will be now be ready by February, 2019, and the first plane will be likely available to IAF by September, 2021.
The 1,000-plus workforce of LCA Tejas Division probably is aware that the future of HAL is currently hinged on to their performances. A plane not wanted by many till recently has suddenly become the hope for a company, its user and the nation.
The upgraded versions of Tejas set to fly out in the future will be a testimony to the belief that making is better than buying.
(The writer is an independent aerospace, defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)