In a serious blow to both India’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ project and the country’s desire to export of military hardware, Ecuador grounded its entire fleet of HAL-made Dhruv helicopters after losing four of the seven choppers it bought from India.
Worse is that the country has terminated its contract with HAL.
Ecuadorian Air Force had bought the Dhruv helicopters from HAL in 2009 under a deal estimated to cost about USD 45 million.
That very year, Ecuador lost two of the helicopters. Those two crashes were blamed on pilot error. One of them was assigned to transport the President of the country when it went down, though he was not on board.
But in January, EAF lost two more Dhruvs in crashes in a span of 14 days. Mechanical failure was held responsible behind these accidents.
“Three aircraft have had their operations restricted because they are undergoing a complete check,” Security Minister Cesar Navas was quoted as saying by El Universo newspaper after the last accident on January 27. The last crash happened while an HAL team was in the country to inspect the third crash of January 13.
Now the government in the South American country unilaterally terminated blaming HAL for not ensuring timely supply of spares.
The TOI reports that HAL holds EAF “principally responsible” for maintaining the helicopters after the first two years. They claimed that spares had been shipped on time.
Though the Indian Armed Forces use Dhruv extensively and have flown a total of around 1,50,000 hours, crashes have happened here at home, too.
At times, entire fleet had to be grounded following crashes due to technical snags, including being found unsuitable for multi-role requirements due to excess weight and limited engine power.
At least one Dhruv has crashed in India every year since 2010. The last crash happened in February this year in J&K which killed two crew members from the Indian Army.
HAL Dhruv is India’s sole Utility Helicopter. It plays a more important role in the aviation arm of the Indian Army compared to the other two services.
The primary choppers in use by the Indian Navy are Kamovs and those in Indian Air Force are Soviet-era Mils.
Based on the HAL Dhruv platform, the state-owned aircraft maker is making the attack helicopter version called Rudra.
But HAL is notorious for delay in manufacturing aircraft, which often leads to scrapping of entire projects.
The development of Dhruv was announced in 1984, but it took 18 years for it to enter service.
The most disappointing progress – the one that threatens the ‘Make in India’ project – is with HAL Tejas. This Light Combat Aircraft was announced and approved in 1983. It has been 32 years, but HAL has been able to deliver only one Tejas to the IAF.
This indigenously manufactured fighter is expected to replace the ageing (almost grandfather like) MiG 21s. As of now, the lone Tejas too is yet to get operational clearance, which will allow it to enter combat roles.
HAL is planning to make a Tejas Mark-II version of the fighter, which will have more advanced weaponry and equipment.
But due to the immense delay in manufacturing of even the basic variant of the fighter, HAL asked the IAF to make do with Tejas Mark 1A, an improved version of the Tejas.
Delays in manufacturing of indigenous fighters and the government forcing the the air force to not purchase foreign-made fighters will take a severe toll on the IAF which is at its weakest operational strength since the 1962 war against China.