With an eye on the future and fed up with the "bureaucratic culture" pervading Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the country's only aircraft manufacturer, IAF now wants the control of the navratna defence PSU.
IAF has asked the defence ministry (MoD) to appoint one of its three-star officers, instead of a bureaucrat, as the chairman and managing director of HAL once the present incumbent Ashok Nayak retires on October 31.
MoD sources confirmed IAF had even proposed the name of present assistant chief of air staff (operations & space), Air Vice Marshal M Matheswaran, a top-notch fighter pilot now approved for the air marshal rank, for the HAL post.
"The matter is being examined...no final decision has been taken," said a source. Simultaneously, a panel of names has also been drawn up to include Pawan Hans chief R K Tyagi, a defence accounts service officer S N Mishra, who earlier was joint secretary (aerospace) in MoD, and MSTC chairman S K Tripathi, among others.
IAF's revolutionary proposal, on the face of it, makes a lot of sense. As HAL's biggest customer, it has every reason to be worried that most projects being handled by the PSU, which has a sales turnover of over Rs 13,000 crore, have been plagued by time and cost overruns.
IAF contends the HAL chief should be someone who "understands aerospace concepts" and can "transform" HAL into a cutting-edge company, capable of delivering on time, to stem its fast-eroding combat edge. The force is down to just about 32 fighter squadrons from a "sanctioned strength" of 39.5 squadrons.
Most ongoing HAL projects like the ones for the Tejas light combat aircraft, Dhruv advanced light helicopters and indigenous production of Sukhoi-30MKI fighters as well as Hawk AJTs (advanced jet trainers) are all running behind schedule.
Moreover, HAL is also going to handle new programmes worth billions of dollars with foreign collaborators in the near future. They range from the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) and fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) to light utility helicopters and multi-role transport aircraft (MTA).
The $10.4 billion MMRCA project to acquire 126 fighters, for instance, is all set to be sealed by December. With just two contenders now left in contention, Eurofighter Typhoon and French Rafale, the project will see only the first 18 jets come in "fly-away condition", while the rest will be manufactured by HAL after transfer of technology.
An even bigger project will be the joint development of the stealth FGFA with Russia for which the $295 million preliminary design contract was inked last December. The cost of designing, infrastructure build-up, prototype development and flight testing of FGFA is pegged at $11 billion. India and Russia will chip in $5.5 billion each.
Moreover, each of the 250-300 FGFA India hopes to begin inducting from 2020 onwards will cost around $100 million each. Consequently, India will spend upwards of $35 billion over the next two decades on the FGFA.