Five Tejas fighters to light up Aero India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 4 February 2011

Five Tejas fighters to light up Aero India

This new HAL production line expects to build 8 Tejas fighters per year at about Rs 180 crore apiece

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 5th Feb 11

India’s home-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is poised to grab a large share of the limelight at the five-day Aero India 2011 air show in Bangalore on 9th Feb. For the first time ever, a formation of five Tejas fighters will roar past the spectators during the inaugural fly-past. And, jostling with the world’s premier fighters, two Tejas prototypes will perform aerobatics displays that the pilots describe as, “well beyond anything that we have ever displayed before”.

Besides the seven Tejas in the skies, a fully built fighter will also be displayed on the ground. This will be the latest Tejas, built to the specifications that won it last month a landmark Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) for entering service with the Indian Air Force.

The growing momentum of the Tejas programme --- masked by the hype around India’s US $10 billion procurement of 126 medium fighters from the global market --- is evident at the production line that is nearing completion in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore. This week, Business Standard was the first media house to visit the four massive hangars in which HAL will assemble the 40 Tejas fighters that the IAF has already ordered and the trainers that the Indian Navy could soon ask for. A subsequent order of the improved Tejas Mark 2, expected to number more than a hundred fighters, will also be built here.

After years of seemingly endless development delays, the speed at which the Tejas is now coming on stream has apparently wrong-footed the IAF. The Sulur Air Base, near Coimbatore, the planned location of the first operational Tejas squadron, will only be ready by 2013. Consequently, HAL and the Aeronautical Development Agency, the agency that oversees the Tejas programme, have agreed to house the first IAF squadron in Bangalore, allowing the IAF the use of a runway and one of the four new hangars.

“It will be good for all of us if the first IAF Tejas squadron operates from [Bangalore]”, says PS Subramanyam, the chief of ADA. “We are here to deal with teething problems. By the time the IAF moves to Sulur, the IAF technicians will have gained the experience to maintain the Tejas, with some hand-holding from us.”

HAL, which has spent the last two decades building 15 Tejas developmental prototypes, is now making the crucial transition to commercial production. Even as it builds the last two developmental aircraft, which will be given to the IAF for user evaluation, the first production fighter is already taking shape in HAL’s older facilities. Over the next year and a half, the entire manufacture will shift to the new production line.

“By March 2012, the first four fighters from the Tejas production line will be handed over to the IAF”, promises Ashok Nayak, Chairman and Managing Director of HAL. “And from then onwards we will step up production to 8 fighters per year.”

This involves a radical change in the way that HAL builds aircraft. Benji Mammen, HAL’s manager for the Tejas production line, explains that each developmental Tejas incorporated multiple improvements, which meant that each aircraft was significantly different from its predecessor. Now, having obtained operational clearance, HAL would build a standardised fighter, using automated assembly line processes that would speed up the process, as well as improve precision and build quality.

“Take the LCA wing, which is attached to a metal framework with rivets and bolts”, explains Mammen. “So far we marked and drilled by hand the 3000-odd holes which are used to attach the wing. Now we will automate the whole process, perhaps through the use of robots.”

With ADA having spent a little over Rs 6000 crores so far in developing the Tejas, it is expected that the Indian fighter will cost about Rs 180-200 crores apiece, with the naval version of the Tejas costing about Rs 10 crores more. Amortising the development cost over a production run of 200 fighters would raise the price by another Rs 30 crores apiece.

Says ADA chief, Subramanyam: “The Tejas could be 10-15% cheaper if a bulk order was placed by the services. This would be significantly cheaper than the Swedish Gripen fighter. And considering that this amount has also paid for an aeronautical development eco-system across the country --- design establishments, human resources, testing infrastructure, upgrading of facilities, etc --- it is money well spent.”


  1. 8 Tejas per year!!!! Really we Indians love foreign systems. IAF will never accept anything Indian. Sigh!

  2. Wonderful article ... keep up the good work.

    Indranil Roy

  3. Ajai sir,
    Could you record videos of lca's aerobatics at Aero India?

    Could you also find out what will be the major difference between lca mk1 & mk2?

    Will models of AURA-ucav; ACA be displayed at Aero India?

  4. With 8 jet per year HAL is not going to complete delivery of first 40 LCA even by 2016.

  5. Hello,
    I have been an avid reader of your blog, but of-late I am feeling a bit let down.
    The article feels a bit too much pro-establishment, we all know TEJAS is not the fighter is was deemed to be, I hope it does not go the "AJEET" way.
    I would really appreciate a more objective article on Tejas.

  6. That plane, though a great achievement has a use by date on it and now the production line circus is gonna delay this further. 8 a year!. Suggest employees cut down on their snack time and deliver a few more per year. For the MKII/AMCA find a private sector player like Mahindra or Tata to license manufacture it quickly. If they are tapped on the shoulder well in advance I am sure they would double or even triple the production rate compared to HAL.

    Any news on the status of Vikrant class carrier. Have we forgotten Varyag[PLAN] is coming soon to an ocean near you.

  7. Why can't India have a unified training and transport command instead of each of the services have their own training centres even for the initial training requirements ? Initial training requirements can be catered with the combined training command. Same for transport too.

  8. Sandeep Tandon:

    Too bad there is no mandatory cover-my-ass sentence in the article about "The Tejas has overshot time and cost targets during its development". I guess I'm just not a cover-my-ass kind of journalist.

    So here it is for you. While everyone who has read a newspaper in the last two decades knows the Tejas has taken longer to develop than was initially planned, those who know what goes into developing a Gen-4 fighter, which the Tejas Mk II will certainly be, are amazed that this has been done at all. And that too for a total sum of Rs 6000 crores, i.e. US $1.5 billion.

    The Tejas might well be 8 years too late, and the MCA, in turn, might be 4 years late. But by playing the game and staying on course despite criticism from those who don't know the difficulties of playing technology leap-frog, the aircraft that comes after the MCA has a very good chance of being the time-technology equal of its peers being produced in advanced defence industries.

    What exactly do you mean by "go the AJEET way"? There is absolutely no similarity at all in India's ToT-build of the Ajeet and its development of the Tejas. Do give us an explanation of what you mean...

  9. And for those who are bemoaning the 8-Tejas-per-year build rate... what is your alternative? Building 20 a year for two years, and then closing down the line for four years until the Tejas Mk II is ready?

    Much better to have a slow, steady build rate and a functional line when the Tejas Mk II has to enter production in 2015.

  10. I am hoping the lighting up by the Tejas is in a good way! The last time at Aero India it crashed on the airfield in shame & injury. As did the Dhruv aerobatic team. The comparison will be and should be to the Marut, similarly underpowered. A comparison to the Gripen is laughable.

  11. I am the anon @5 February 2011 16:44

    I agree that you can't build too fast and then have an idle assembly line.But with MKII figures in excess of 100 were spoken about. Does this mean HAL will take 12+ years to deliver all. That was the main reason I felt, that for manufacturing MOD might do well to think out of the box and ask a few private players to get ready now.

    Some of them have decades of assembly line experience. At the very least they could provide backup to the DPSU.

  12. Thanks for the article. Great to see the LCA program reach this stage. I remember speaking to some of the people who had conceptualized the program in the early 80s, the battles they fought to convince the powers that be that India could do it. And the hurdles, both avoidable and unavoidable that came their way. Salutes to all the people who contributed to get this project to this stage despite the odds being stacked against them.

  13. Shael Sharma:

    At least get your facts correct. No Tejas has ever crashed during any Aero India show... nor, for that matter, at any stage of testing. The aircraft that skidded off the runway after its canopy opened was the IJT Sitara.

    And, since we are getting facts right here, the Dhruv that crashed did not do so during the Aero India show. It crashed during rehearsals a few days before the show.

  14. Anonymous 20:24

    The figure of 8 per year has been deliberately kept low because there are only 40 Tejas Mk I on order. The day an order for five squadrons of Tejas Mk II comes in, you will see HAL boosting its output.

    As for getting a private company to set up a Tejas assembly line in order to speed up output... well, what can I say to that!

  15. Actually 8 Tejas a year is not bad and putting up a 20 jet per year production line is not commercially feasible considering small order(only 40 jets). But despite this, there is a need in IAF to fill the empty squadrons ASAP. And it will only get desperate with any more delay in M-MRCA procurement which is very likely.

    My amature idea to solution - Maximum Outsourcing. I believe if HAL outsources sub-assembly(wing assembly, landing gear assembly and similar) to an interested manufacturer (TATA or Mahindra Aerospace) then it can manage higher production rate without recruiting extra technicians and engineers. Since this offer will be their ticket to defence production it is very likely that they will accept the offer despite being commercially unattractive .


  16. Hmm. Don't get taken in too much by the HAL's alibi of only 8 Tejas a year. Maybe you should whisper something called "flexibility" in the ears of the HAL management!

    Well, HAL has it's order book overflowing. If only they had a flexible manufacturing line, they can easily build 2 planes in a single assembly line.

    It happens in civilian industry all the time! Multiple platforms and vehicles get built on the same assembly line. Minivans and SUVS and cars all sharing same assembly line, something like a Minivan , immediately followed by a car etc are routinely and then a minivan again are routinely done! Why visit any of the large number of 2 wheeler and 4 wheeler guys in India itself to see it first hand,in case you dont want to go abroad to see it.

    Oh. Before you say, a plane is not a car, don't forgot that a car /2 wheeler is typically built in a moving assembly line while outside of Airbus and Boeing commercial jets, airplanes are not built on such a line and it should be lot easier to have flexibile manufacturing.

  17. Ajai ji

    Lovely responses.

    To the guys bemoaning the 8 per year rate ... Rafale's production rate is 11 per year and the reason is pretty much the same.

    Indranil Roy

  18. Anon at 5 February 2011 22:09

    Could you provide a single instance of an fighter aircraft manufacturing line where 2 aircrafts B were made in a aircraft line of A.

    I mean 2 Mig-29s were made out of the Su-30 line.

    Your suggestion is quite hilarious ... I would just leave it at that.

    Indranil Roy

  19. Hey ajai,

    how is the GE engine integration going on for MK2.

  20. @Shael Sharma

    Big words for someone who is clearly not a defense enthusiast... At least get your facts right. It was the IJT that had skidded off the runway after its canopy opened unexpectedly...and the Dhruv had crashed during rehearsals, not the airshow.

    Then you say the comparison should always be the Marut..why? The Marut was designed by Germans and wasn't even 4th gen. There was never any plan to develop an engine for it whereas the Tejas had to wait for the Kaveri to lumber around until they delinked it from the program in 2008.

    As for the gripen, SAAB suffered two crashes during development and it has a hisory of "skidding off the runway". Take a look

  21. Yawn. nothing we (or Biz Standard readers, for that matter) didn't know already.

  22. a fine article ajai sir. answers lot of questions. @8/year it just sits perfectly with mark 2 taking over in 2015. but sir at the IOC function HAL chief was on record saying - they can build '10 aircrafts per year which could be increased' if there are more orders. does this mean they have cut from 10 to 8/year just so that the lines are not idle before the mark 2 takes over??

    sir even now LCA mark 1 is far far superior to the Mig 21bisons and are more than equal to Mirage 2000s.

    why does not the IAF order more of LCA mark 1s (atleast 1-2 squadrons) which will clearly mitigate the squadron strength and ofcourse older mig 21s can be retired - which is long due. also the assembly line stabilises for the better. subject to ofc the LCA mark 1 getting FOC in 2012.

    are there any hopes of order being increased post 2012 for the mark 1s??


  23. Sir.
    The reasons provided for manufacturing only eight Tejas per year is not convincing. India has to phase out the MIG21. HAL will surely obtain order for atleast 100more Tejas as IAF will try to achieve its sanctioned strength. The Tejas Trainers should immediately replace the AJTs. This provides them an additional domestic market. Orders for Naval Tejas also are awaited. Tejas Trainers will have an expoer market as well after five years from now. HAL will need more than five years from now to manufacture the above number of LCA-Tejas. By this time ADA / HAL will be able to develop new models of aircrafts which will keep the HAL manufacturing line loaded.
    It has been observed that indigenous weapons and equipments are not generally encouraged by our defence forces. This is only because of deterioration of moral values and corruption prevalent in our society.


  24. Indranil Roy,

    Go back to highschool and take reading lessons. What was actually meant was building a Mig29 AND SU30 on the same line, not building 2 Mig29s instead of one SU-30!

    It is common practice in civilian industries. You dont know which model the demand is going to come for. With flexible manufacturing, you can respond to market in near real time and not keep a large inventory of finished products or a specialized line idle!

  25. Anon 6 February 2011 16:07

    I am ready to go back to my reading lessons if you provide one instance of a "flexible" fighter aircraft line.

    Otherwise stop making near stupid comments just for the heck of writing a comment.

    Indranil Roy

  26. Dear Ajai Sir,
    Please upload a video of LCA flight and aerobatics in Aero India 2011.
    Will wait to see this on your post.
    Please also write when the LCA will be equipped with Kaveri engine or any other engine providing the thrust exceeding 94KN or 100KN

  27. Hi Ajai,

    You can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

    You can write twenty thousand times about why the LCA is such a great achievement, but people will still say, "30 years late, F22 is better, 3000% overbudget"

    It makes me very sad when these vitriolic comments keep coming inspite of all facts being to the contrary.

    Hats off to you for keeping your professional etiquette in place and for continuing to inform Indians about the truth, when it would be so much more easy, so much more popular, and maybe even "profitable" to follow the prevalent narrative.

  28. Anon @ 16:07 Feb 6:

    Indranil got exactly what you meant. You on the other hand are probably reading things that he has not written.

    So forget suggestions about him going back to reading class, and start reading up yourself.

    Also please give an example of an assembly line in which sometimes one type of fighter aircraft is assembled and sometimes another. Like for instance a line where sometimes a Rafale is made and sometimes a Mirage is made interchangably, or maybe a line in which Su 30s are sometimes made and at times a few Mig 29s are made if the orders are there.

  29. 8 Tejas per year!!!! So, 33 years to build it and 25 years to induct 200 odd tejas. That is the final Tejas will enter IAF around 2041 if production of Mk2 starts in
    2016. Last tejas will enter when the first tejas is bound for retirement. Hope our enemy airforces will still not phase out their 4th gen fighters, waiting for a chance to engage the tejas in the skies.....Good job done ADA,DRDO,HAL and last but not the least MOD.


  30. Ajai, you seem to be a supporter of 8 Tejas/yr instead of 20/yr for 2 yrs till Mk2 enters service. Just need one feedback from you.When IAF retires those old Mig21's, do they do so in batches of 5-6-7/yr or more than that? Even if they do so in small batches my point is simple. We are short of squadron strength and the Mig's are retiring at a faster rate. Can the MOD guarantee us that there will not be war like scenario that may need deployment on both fronts till we get those 200 Tejas or 126 MMRCA's(after missing the file, getting it, enquring it to what happened, deliberating it on offsets etc etc)? And that too when IAF chief had gone on public saying 50% assets are verge on obsolesence and security scenario in our neighbourhood is like a volcano.

  31. To Rahul(Kolkata) @ 7 February 2011 15:43

    "Can the MOD guarantee us that there will not be war like scenario that may need deployment on both fronts till we get those 200 Tejas"

    MOD cannot guarantee anything to you, all they can guarantee is that they have an emergency escape plan arranged for the VVIP's to fly them to countries like Italy, Russia or US. Where our VVIP's will spend time in their Vacation homes burning our tax payers money while your homes burn under a nuclear umbrella.

  32. Excellent and informative article on Tejas.

    If the two front security scenario in our neighborhood is of now or in near future developing like a volcano, then it can be tackled effectively only by the means of nukes and not by any slow or rapid inclusion of the fighter jets. We may be much lagging behind their combined military strengths at present.

    So attempts for the fastest possible but cost effective rates of inclusion shall be done.

    BTW, if the acrobatics of Tejas-mk1 come out to be spectacularly beyond expectations, then its order quantity may increase to 60 and MMRCA contenders may be under greater pressures. I hope it happens.

    It is best if they perform all the requisite tests of MMRCA on the Tejas-mk1 and if any inadequacies found shall be corrected on Mk2.

    As expected, Tejas is going to be another success story like Arjun rather more than it.

    I also agree that once India passes through the pangs of developing AMCA, then it may be ranked among the best fighter builders in the world.

  33. @Rahul (kolkata).

    Get the maths right. First it is not 33 years in making. Proper funding for full scale development came only in 1993 and a 6 year kid will tell you since then it's +17 years not 33. Second, this 8 jet per year is not going to stay static forever. This production rate is only for first 40 jets and as acknowledged by Ajai sir is a deliberate move to keep the production line busy. Atleast this is the plan till this date. By the way once the picture on Mk-2 gets absolutely clear production can be stepped up any time. HAL can even deliver one squadron per year if not more.

  34. @Mr.Ra 7 February 2011 23:58.

    We have a no first use nuke policy I hope you know and this policy was made way before we were any close to operationalise our nuclear triad!!!!! See, nuclear weapons are not for starting a war, its there to prevent a war.Presence of nuclear weapons in India has not prevented a Parliament attack or 26/11. So nuclear posturing will not deter Pak,however different Broadsword may think it to be. As far as China is concerned, any war if fought will be of short duration and fully conventional(assuming cyber and space warfare are conventional methods). These are not my words but words of senior Army officials. You can check Operation Divine Matrix and Cold Start in Google.

  35. To Rahul 8 February 2011 01:06

    Poor, poor argument chap....I know my Maths pretty well and don't need to learn from a 6 yr old.If the original plan was to start funding from 1993, then why was the plan sanctioned in 1983?? Why did we waste 10 years?? To build castles in the air????? And I said 33 years becasue Mk2 will hit production line in 2016(sincerely hope so).See, for IAF, and for aam admii like me, it doesn't matter when you got IOC, when you will get FOC etc etc. What matters is when will our fully capable jets engage enemy aircrafts in skies......I am in software sector and I can assure you bro that at the start of any new project, estimated time required for completing it is the sum of times required for requirement gathering, feasibility study, team build up, execution, testing and delivery... and not execution, testing and delivery...

  36. To Anonymous 7 February 2011 22:29

    Ha ha ha ha, well said brother....

  37. @Rahul(kolkatta)Why the time lag till 1990s?
    Money!The 89s to early 90s were bad years for us.Our economy was down in the dumps and we had a serious resource crunch.We wanted to have a modern fighter at the cost of peanuts. It is only in the 90s,along with the India growth story(BTW your growth story too) that our guys started to have access to serious money and tech,which flowed in more as the we could buy more and people began to realize the potential of the Indian defense market.

  38. @Rahul(kolkatta)Why the time lag till 1990s?
    Money!The 89s to early 90s were bad years for us.Our economy was down in the dumps and we had a serious resource crunch.We wanted to have a modern fighter at the cost of peanuts. It is only in the 90s,along with the India growth story(BTW your growth story too) that our guys started to have access to serious money and tech,which flowed in more as the we could buy more and people began to realize the potential of the Indian defense market.

  39. @ Rahul(Kolkata) Hahaha! Seems like that hurt too much.

    Yes it is 1993 not 1983 and will remain so no matter what. You don't consider a beginning until the project gets fully sanctioned and sufficient money is released........

    And yes it is 33 years as it will be +40 years when LCA MK-3 will roll out. BTW it seems like F-16 is 51 years into development.

    Won't say where i work but in automobile industry people continuously work on concept segment. Some designs out of these concepts becomes reality but that period is never added.

    Reiterating. There is no start until fully sanctioned.

    What matters is when will our fully capable jets engage enemy aircrafts in skies
    This is just 'The Hilarious'. Nowhere in the world a fully capable jet engages enemy until war erupts. Want to know about LCA's capability then pray for war?

  40. @Rahul 9 February 2011 00:47

    No man it didn't hurt but
    MOD and DRDO will be the happiest person on reading your views......You have given them a lifeline for ever......Any time a new project takes shape now, they will say "nothing official about it. So plz no timelines now".And whenever there are delays, they will say "Funds were allocated 20 yrs after the project materialised. So plz don't blame us. Look at Country.X or Country.Y. They took Z number of years like us to build their's". No accountability, no punishment, only alibi...It took 33 years,plz look at F-16; cost escalation 300%;plz look at Gripen.If they have committed a mistake, does that give us an alibi to commit the same mistake again??? Ridiculous... We Indians have this habbit of comparing ourselves with the worst.When shall we learn to respect ourselves??

    What matters is when will our fully capable jets engage enemy aircrafts in skies

    What I meant was when will the LCA Tejas become fully cabale of engaging enemy aircrafts....Sorry if my English meant otherwise.

  41. @Anonymous 9 February 2011 00:26

    Right man, we didn't have money back then... Our economy was in dumps.....But still the kickback amounts in Bofors deal was reaching the intended pockets.... Well said man, well said.


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