BANGALORE: Defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) new helicopter factory, spread across 615 acres in Tumkur is all geared to start phase-1 operations with establishment of the manufacturing, structural assembly, final assembly-line facilities, helipad, flight hangar, ATC, equipping hangar, admin building and other facilities having been complete.

According to HAL, the factory is built on industry 4.0 norms and is equipped with IT services, Integrated Building Management System (IBMS), operational nerve centre of the entire campus having total control and monitoring of all the services.

In fact, HAL CMD R Madhavan told TOI: “The facility’s first helicopter — a light utility helicopter (LUH) — has already been manufactured and will be rolled out during the inauguration, which is expected to be attended by the PM. We are hopeful of doing this in the coming weeks.”

The new factory — the foundation stone for which was laid by the PM in January 2016 — will manufacture LUHs and eventually the Russian Kamov-226 (Ka-226) helicopters.

“As part of the phase-1 operations, capacity to build 30 LUHs per year has been created and this can be upgraded to 60 choppers per annum. So far as the Ka-226 goes, we’re awaiting clearance from the MoD (ministry of defence). Land has been earmarked for this within the Tumkur plant,” Madhavan added.

If the deal is finalised, the Ka-226 will be produced in Tumkur by a joint venture between HAL and Russian Helicopters. As per an inter-governmental agreement between New Delhi and Moscow, the deal is for 200 helicopters — 135 for the Indian army and 65 for IAF — and will involve some transfer of technology too.

While defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had estimated the Ka-226 deal value to be a tentative Rs 20,000 crore on the floor of the Lok Sabha, commercial negotiations for the same are yet to begin.

As per MoD the initial operational clearance (IOC) for LUH has been granted and HAL is expected to produce 12 limited series production (LSP) helicopters, six each for the army and IAF, by 2023-24. The first four are expected to be completed by the end of this fiscal, while the other eight will be built in the next one, which is expected to be followed by series production aircraft.

While HAL is hopeful of eventually bagging an order for 180+ LUHs, Madhavan said: “We have no formal order for LUH as yet, it is in the process. We’ve built the first LSP at the Tumkur plant. Before this, we had built three prototypes which have flown extensively during trials.”

Earlier, Madhavan had estimated that the value of the order for the first 12 LUH to be in the range of Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 2,000 crore. Revised estimation for the same was not available immediately even as insiders said that the cost may have gone up from the initial estimates.

Also, while the government of Karnataka, which handed over the 615 acres of land to HAL for the new plant had said it had approved the HAL helicopter project in Tumkur with an investment of more than Rs 5,000 crore, no official confirmation on how much HAL has invested in the plant so far was available.

“There are further expansion plans in Tumkur. The second phase will see an engines facility, carbon filament and composites factory and other facilities come up,” Madhavan said.

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