Delhi-based Samtel Display Systems has vaulted a giant hurdle on the way to its declared goal of becoming a major supplier to the armed forces. After a year of rigorous flight trials in the Indian Air Force’s frontline Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, Samtel’s home-built cockpit displays have been certified as suitable for introduction into frontline service.
Multi-Function Displays (MFD), as these cockpit displays are termed, are ranged in front of the Su-30MKI pilots. They get digital signals from dozens of sensors on various aircraft systems and display these to the pilot on an easy-to-read screen. A quick glance across his MFDs tells the pilot how his aircraft is flying and fighting.
So far, a French company, Thales, has provided the Sukhoi-30’s high-tech MFDs. But Samtel has aggressively targeted this market, even choosing to go it alone rather than work through its joint venture with Thales. With Samtel’s price significantly cheaper than Thales’, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which builds the Sukhoi-30 at its Nashik facility, has placed orders on Samtel.
Just the start
Puneet Kaura, executive director of Samtel, anticipates MFD orders for at least Rs 250 crore. So far, HAL has placed only a modest order on Samtel but Kaura says that is normal. In a programme like the Su-30, which involves building 280 fighters over a decade, the aircraft’s internal systems are ordered in small batches.
“The Su-30 MFDs are just the beginning,” says Kaura. “Samtel and HAL have set up a joint venture, Samtel HAL Display Systems (Samtel, 60 per cent; HAL, 40 per cent), to design and build MFDs for all HAL-built aircraft, including transport aircraft. With offsets applicable on all aircraft sales to India, Samtel will be offering them the capability to indigenously build MFDs for their aircraft.”
Samtel’s success with Su-30 MFDs seems likely to bring in another set of orders. When Samtel HAL Display Systems had offered to supply cockpit displays for the HAL-built Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT), at a price significantly cheaper than the current foreign suppliers, HAL had responded with Yes, if your MFDs for the Su-30MKI pass the test.
Down the line
Samtel is also eyeing a major role in developing advanced cockpit displays for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), which India and Russia are building collaboratively. Cockpit systems and avionics, which can amount to 30-35 per cent of the cost of a modern fighter, fall within India’s work share in the FGFA’s Preliminary Design Contract, likely to be signed during Russian President Medvedev’s visit later this year.
Meanwhile, Samtel has partnered the Defence research and Development Organisation laboratory, Defence Avionics Research Establishment, and the IAF, in developing ‘Smart MFDs’, a new generation of cockpit displays for the IAF’s Jaguar fighters. In these, embedded software cards allow the display to do its own symbology, doing away with the need for a separate display processor. Puneet Kaura says Samtel Display Systems will produce a fully indigenous engineering prototype of the Smart MFD by March 2011.
Unsurprisingly, all six aerospace giants competing in the IAF’s tender for 126 medium multi-role fighters have signed memoranda of understanding with Samtel Display Systems for manufacturing cockpit displays in case their fighter is selected. While these are pure ‘Build to Print’ arrangements, aimed at meeting offset obligations, those foreign vendors, too, would consider designing in India and sourcing globally from here, provided offset benefits are clearly attractive.