HAL’s ‘one-stop solution’ chopper factory in Karnataka opens today - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla

Prime Minister to inaugurate India the world’s largest helicopter facility to build machines like the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (pictured above in the IAF Helicopter Aerobatic Team)

Ajai Shukla

New Delhi, February 5, 2023

In 2016, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the new helicopter manufacturing plant of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Tumakuru, Karnataka. On Monday, the Prime Minister will dedicate the factory to the nation.

“The Greenfield Helicopter Factory, spread over 615 acres of land, is designed to be a one-stop solution for all helicopter needs nationwide. It is India’s largest helicopter manufacturing plant and will initially produce Light Utility Helicopters (LUH),” the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Saturday.

The LUH is a three-ton, multi-purpose, single-engine utility helicopter of local design.

“Initially, this factory will produce around 30 helicopters per year and could be increased to 60 and then 90 per year gradually. The first LUH has been flight tested and is ready for unveiling, the MoD said.

In fact, HAL’s ambition for the Tumakuru plant extends well beyond the LUH to an entire ecosystem of local light helicopters.

“The factory will be expanded to produce other helicopters, such as Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and Indian Multirole Helicopters (IMRH). It will also be used for maintenance, repair and overhaul of LCH, LUH, Civil Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and IMRH (Indian Multi-Role Helicopter) in the future. Potential exports of [a civil version of the LUH] will also be supported from this plant,” the MoD said.

HAL plans to build over 1,000 helicopters in the 3-15 ton range, generating business of over ~4,00,000 crore over the next two decades.

Apart from job creation, the Tumakuru facility will boost the development of surrounding areas through its CSR activities, the defense ministry said.

With facilities such as a helicopter pad, flight hangar, final assembly hangar, structural assembly hangar, air traffic control and various support service facilities, the Tumakuru plant is fully operational. The Ministry of Defense says it will allow India to design, develop and manufacture all of its helicopter needs locally, reinforcing the Prime Minister’s vision of “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India).

While only a dozen LUHs are currently authorized for purchase, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Army will need 400 light utility helicopters to replace their obsolete Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. In this sense, New Delhi and Moscow signed an “Intergovernmental Agreement” (IGA) in 2015 to jointly build 200 Kamov-226T light helicopters. During this time, HAL will build and supply 200 LUH.

However, India and Russia have sharp disagreements over work-sharing issues in building the Kamov-226T. If these are not resolved, HAL might end up building the 400 LUH the army needs. The LUH could also capture large export orders.

Another helicopter success story came on October 3, 2022, when the LCH, named Prachanda, was cleared for service. The Union cabinet approved the purchase of 15 LCH for ~3,887 crore, or about ~260 crore each. Beyond this preliminary order, the MoD has forecast a need for 162 LCHs: 65 for the IAF and 97 for the army. This will bring HAL a revenue stream of over ~42,120 crores.

These orders are expected to increase the share of helicopters in HAL’s revenue stream. HAL’s record revenue, which exceeded ~24,000 crore last year, stems from the production of 44 helicopters/aircraft, 84 new engines and the overhaul of 203 aircraft/helicopters and 478 engines.

Since the early 2000s, when HAL began assembling the Sukhoi-30MKI in Nashik, most of its revenue has come from fighter jets. With the delivery of the Sukhoi-30s, the MoD placed an order of approximately 46,898 crore, in March 2020, for 83 Tejas Mark-1A fighters.

The Shakti success story

HAL’s helicopter successes — the LUH; the Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv (ALH), the Attack Helicopter Rudra and the LCH – all have one feature in common: the remarkable Indo-French Shakti engine, powerful enough to propel a helicopter to the dizzying heights of Saltoro Ridge above the Siachen Glacier, where the Indian Army is deployed in posts like Sonam and Bana Top, at elevations above 20,000 feet.

Infantrymen at these oxygen-deprived altitudes cannot carry heavy weapons over long distances. However, a high-altitude attack helicopter can provide them with fire support, using its on-board 20mm turret gun, 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles and anti-tank guided missiles.

For the soldiers at these posts, the arrival of a helicopter could mean the difference between cold and heat; evacuation of the injured or pulmonary failure – effectively between life and death.

To enable its light helicopters to operate at these altitudes, HAL and Safran Helicopter Engines have jointly developed the Shakti engine, which powers HAL’s Dhruv, Rudra and Prachanda helicopters. The Ardiden 1U variant of the Shakti powers the new LUH. HAL says more than 500 Shakti motors have already been produced.

On July 8, 2022, HAL and Safran created a new joint venture that will develop helicopter engines for India’s future needs.