Pilots training to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy are flying jets fitted with inferior engines and “Category B” or “second-hand components” that seriously affect the “quality of the aircraft”, a recent audit by the Comptroller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) says.
Faced with an ageing fleet of intermediate jet trainers, India bought 123 Hawk – 106 for IAF and 17 for the Navy from British company BAES in 2004. Twenty-eight of these 123 jets were to be bought in flyaway condition whereas the rest were to be assembled by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with the engines being made by it based on technology transfer.
The total value of the deal was about $2 billion. The aircraft were ordered in three phases, starting March 2004.
The problem is with the aircraft assembled here, according to the audit.
In addition to using inferior engines, “a large number of second-hand components and parts have been fitted in the aircraft,” according to the audit report, which has been seen by Hindustan Times.
And, although India specifically bans using agents, a middleman was involved, the inquiry found.
The audit estimates illegal commission worth Rs 500 crore was paid.
“In our findings, a linkage between commission paid and compromises made on the quality of engines, which has affected the quality of aircraft has been clearly brought out,” the audit report says.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was asked to investigate the allegations of payment of commission which first surfaced in the British media. The case is still under investigation.
IAF, HAL and DGQA, or Directorate General of Quality Assurance, part of the defence ministry, and which independently vets the quality of equipment all seem to have turned a blind eye to the lapses, the audit says.
For instance, according to the audit, while India contracted for engines that could be used for 2,000 hours before overhaul and service, the engines which ultimately arrived had to be overhauled after flying for 1,000 hours. “Subsequently, to cover up this issue HAL, IAF and DGQA released a statement which shows that the life of Aero Engines is 1,400 hours and not 2,000 hours and that special inspection to be carried out to find whether it is capable of operations for another 600 hours,” the audit report says.
A spokesperson for HAL didn’t respond to queries. The Indian Air Force also did not respond.
A defence ministry official and an IAF officer, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, questioned the audit, which was conducted in 2016.
“Assumptions that the engine is of inferior quality are incorrect. HAL manufactured engines post transfer of technology from the Original Equipment Manufacturer Rolls Royce,” a senior defence ministry official.
Commenting on the issue of inferior engines and Time-Between Overhaul (TBO) a senior IAF officer said, “Engine servicing is supervised by the OEM every 500 hours till it reaches 2,000 hours. Based on the recommendations of the OEM, engines manufactured HAL are subject to additional inspections after they flown for 1,400 hours for three components. As on date, all HAL engines are accepted with a TBO of 2,000 hours.”
Every component, the IAF officer said, is subject to a “rigorous test,” and use of “sub-standard equipment” does not arise.
Explaining the issue of “Category B” or second-hand equipment being fitted in the jets as raised in the audit, another defence ministry official who asked not to be named because he is not also authorised to speak to the media, said: “Category B equipment is not second-hand equipment. It is a fly worthy component that is removed from a serviceable fighter for utilisation in another aircraft with necessary certified residual life.”