NEW DELHI — In the first move of its kind, state enterprise Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has offered performance-based logistics, or PBL, support, under which the Indian company will ensure an integrated package of performance and logistics support for the homemade advanced light helicopter, Dhruv.
"PBL guarantee will ensure that the operational fleet availability improves from 60 percent to at least 75 percent," according to a senior HAL executive.
The PBL forms part of a $1.23 billion contract from March 30 for the sale of Dhruv helicopters. However, the PBL has been guaranteed only for the 16 helicopters reserved for the Indian Coast Guard and not for the remaining 16 helicopters set aside for the Indian Air Force.
"No foreign original equipment manufacturer has yet offered PBL to Indian defense forces since it [is] a very expensive proposition for them and the project cost would shoot up drastically if the volumes are low," a Ministry of Defence official said. "Moreover, a foreign [original equipment manufacturer] cannot be trusted to maintain war machines in times of conflict."
According to a HAL news release, the company chairman and managing director, T. Suvarna Raju, said: "The PBL is the purchase of Logistics support as an integrated, affordable, performance package designed to optimize system readiness and meet performance goals for the product through long-term support arrangements with clear lines of authority and responsibility."
PBL will increase the operational availability of the sensors and other equipment on board the Dhruv helicopters supplied to the Indian Coast Guard while retaining the existing technical parameters, according to an Indian Coast Guard official.
HAL has so far supplied more than 200 advanced light helicopters, or ALH, to Indian defense forces.
HAL is also discussing the possibility of exporting ALHs to Sir Lanka, and there have been inquiries from Vietnam and Myanmar for the helo.
However, the company's former executive director believes HAL shouldn't rush into an export deal.
"Currently there is need to sustain and improve ALH with further feedbacks in the next two to three years before we can go in for export," Murli Samarao said. "For export, there is a need to improve not only the helicopter but its ecosystem in terms of testers, ground handling and services equipment."
Last year, Ecuador terminated the contract with HAL for Dhruv helicopters after four of the total seven purchased helicopters in 2009 succumbed to accidents. That year, a report by India's autonomous auditing agency, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, noted that the ALH cannot fly above 5,000 meters, thereby defeating the very purpose of the project.
The ALH had been designed for the Indian Army and the Air Force by HAL to fly up to 20,000 feet, according to the report.
The MoD official, however, said the faults have since been rectified, adding that the Dhruv Mk III, with its improved Shakti engine, has resolved the two services' altitude requirement.
"Currently, most of the operational issues have been addressed including deployment of the ALH for glacier [in the Himalayas], which is a big success story in itself. Army is able to easily maintain its forces at glacier covering all aspects only because of ALH," Murli said. "All technical issues of engine have been addressed."