Price row prompts HAL to look elsewhere for chopper engine
BANGALORE: A dispute over fees may hamper French firm Turbomeca's chances of participating in the development of Shakti engines for Light Utility Helicopter programme.
Turbomeca has asked for a higher fee to fit the LUH, with Shakti engine, jointly developed with Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), prompting the state-owned defence undertaking to look elsewhere. "We have been in dialogue with other engine manufacturers," P Soundara Rajan, managing director of HAL's helicopter complex, told The Economic Times in an interview.
The LUH, which will have both civil and military variants, will replace the obsolete Chetak and Cheetah helicopter fleets of the forces. The Shakti engine currently powers the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter-Mark-III as well as HAL's Light Combat Helicopter.
However, the Shakti has a twin-engine configuration, and HAL has been re-evaluating its options in converting it to a singleengine platform on which the LUH is based. "We will have to take a call shortly on whether the twin-engine platform will be a good fit. This should be done by the end of the year. There are design and qualification changes that have to be worked out," Soundara Rajan said.
The country's largest aeronautics company will also have to consider certification issues, such as the changes in the gearbox design, in order to incorporate the Shakti engine into the single-engine LUH, he said. "There are a number of costs involved, plus efforts in design, engineering, qualification and certification. One has to look at economic viability. These are techno-commercial decisions that have to be taken," the helicopter complex managing director said.
It is yet unclear whether the French manufacturer has drawn up a fresh proposal for the programme. In response to an email questionnaire sent by ET, Turbomeca said the Shakti engine would be "well-suited to meet the propulsion requirements of the LUH programme".
"Therefore, the possibility of its installation on this aircraft is under discussions between HAL and Turbomeca," an email from the company said. Soundara Rajan has also confirmed that HAL-Turbomeca joint venture was not under evaluation. However, companies such as Honeywell and Rolls-Royce are believed to be in talks with the state-owned defence undertaking. General Electric and Honeywell did not respond to emails sent by ET.
In an email statement, Prat & Whitney spokesperson said: "Prat & Whitney is not in discussion with HAL for engines on the LUH". In a statement, Rolls-Royce declined to comment on specifics.
"Rolls-Royce has class-leading helicopter engines that are wellmatched to LUH requirements. An opportunity to power the platform, in collaboration with Indian partners, is of high potential interest and such collaboration would draw upon our over 200 million flight hours of helicopter engine experience and decades of working in partnership with Indian industry, to serve the needs of the Indian military . However Rolls-Royce does not comment on specific on-going campaigns," it added.
Discord between partners in the defence industry is nothing new. In 2002, HAL entered into a joint venture with a Russian consortium that included aerospace giants Irkut Aviation, Ilyushin Aviation Complex and Rosoboronexport, to develop a multi-role transport aircraft for India and Russia, only for Irkut to pull out six years later. The project got back on track only in late-2009.
The Cassidian-Larsen & Toubro JV also ran into trouble after government regulator, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board , rejected their earlier proposed equity structure. The three-tonne LUH has been designated as one of HAL's future flagship products.