Making the Tejas fly - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 10 December 2012

Making the Tejas fly

HAL is the problem with the Tejas. It has little interest in bringing the fighter to production, focusing instead on its own programme, the IJT (pictured here)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Dec 12

Ask any of the 20-odd Indian Air Force (IAF) test pilots who have flown the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and they will all swear that it is a great fighter to fly. It handles beautifully, screams along at Mach 1.6 (2000 kilometres per hour) and fires the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry. With 2000 test flights under its belt, has already proven that it can fly and fight better than most fighters on the IAF inventory. It is vastly superior to the Mig-21, and is not too far behind the Mirage 2000.

It certainly outclasses the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) JF-17 Thunder, a light fighter like the Tejas, which Pakistan pretends to have developed jointly with China, but is actually Chinese through and through. Unlike the Tejas --- a contemporary fighter made of composite materials with an advanced design and sophisticated avionics --- the JF-17 is an outdated design. But the PAF has already inducted 60 of these fighters and will eventually operate 250-300 JF-17s, half its total fleet.

Yet the IAF is cool towards the Tejas. It is desperate for more fighters --- against an assessed requirement of 42 fighter squadrons, the IAF has 34 squadrons today, which will fall to 26 in 2017 if the Rafale is not inducted by then. But the IAF chooses to live with this dangerous shortfall rather than inducting the Tejas more quickly.

Why this indifference towards the Tejas, the alert citizen would ask? She might also have noted a parallel --- the Indian Army sticks with the decrepit, night-blind Russian T-72 tank rather than embracing the far more capable and modern Arjun. The Tejas and the Arjun have a common problem: they are excellent indigenous designs that are undermined by poor production quality.

Just as the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi (HVF), mismanaged by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), causes the army to believe that the Arjun is unreliable; similarly Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a public sector undertaking under the defence ministry (MoD), makes the IAF sceptical about the Tejas.

HAL’s poor production fails to translate the Tejas’ contemporary design into a reliable fighter that takes to the air day after day. Most Tejas problems stem from poor production, not from an inadequate design. But they prevent the fighter from flying, slowing down the flight-test programme and making the IAF believe that the Tejas has serious reliability issues.

None of this gives HAL sleepless nights, since it regards the Tejas as the problem of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the LCA programme. HAL prefers to focus on building foreign aircraft under licence, a mechanical task that it has done for decades with ever-increasing levels of inefficiency.  The Sukhoi-30MKI, which was initially bought fully built from Russia for Rs 30 crore per fighter, is now built by HAL (substantially from Russian systems and sub-systems) for well over ten times that figure. Building expensively suits HAL well; since its profits are a percentage of production costs, higher costs mean higher profit.

HAL’s indigenisation is nominal and restricted mainly to low-tech components. High-tech assemblies and sub-assemblies are simply imported from Russia and knocked together expensively into “HAL-built” fighters. Everyone is happy: HAL makes hefty profits; Russia sells lots of Sukhoi-30 kits; and the IAF would much rather rely on Sukhoi-built assemblies than on HAL’s dodgy manufacture.

With so much money flowing in from assembly line manufacture, HAL is ill inclined to engage in the messy business of setting up an assembly line for the indigenous Tejas. For decades, HAL has obtained production drawings, tools and jigs from abroad, most recently from BAE Systems for manufacturing the Hawk trainer. In building an assembly line for the Tejas, HAL will have nobody to pass the buck to. The ad hoc Tejas assembly line, which HAL set up two years ago to build 40 Tejas Mark I fighters by 2017, has not yet produced its first fighter. Now a foreign consultant will teach HAL to do what it has done for decades.

HAL gets away with its disinterest in the Tejas thanks to its cosy relationship with the MoD. Each year the ministry releases a photo of the HAL chairman handing over a large cardboard dividend cheque to the defence minister, as if Antony were being presented the Man of the Match award for some intra-office cricket match. But, in successive photo-releases, Antony appears glummer and that is probably because realisation is dawning that a technology company’s success is measured not in financials, but in technological breakthroughs and user-satisfaction. In those departments, HAL is deep in the red.

HAL must work with ADA to set up the Tejas Mark I assembly line and to churn out the aircraft in numbers. ADA’s eagerness to develop the Tejas Mark II has resulted in the neglect of the Mark I, which is shaping up as an adequate light fighter for the IAF. The MoD must ensure that the Mark I design is stabilised, it is built in numbers, operated by the IAF and user feedback obtained. Only after that should ADA design the Mark II with well-considered enhancements. And HAL must be held to high production standards and low production costs.


  1. Not just is this great news, but this also seems a good analysis of what needs to be done

  2. why not we give ADA right to manufacturer aircraft just like HAL because either way it is necessity of time sooner or later. creating another INDEPENDENT manufacturer unit under MOD create competition, also it will easy the pressure on Hal.

  3. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)10 December 2012 at 20:29

    The biggest threat the country faces today are not from China or Pakistan but these pampered "mother lost at an early age" PSU's....The solution is DISMANTLE THEM....

    But who will do it? Anthony and his fellow jokers? Come on, don't crack a joke that irritates others rather than make them laugh so early in the morning....

  4. If HAL would have been a private company, all these buggers would have been fired by now. But in Khangress raj inefficiencies are rewarded because this corrupt Janta feeds it. Khangress is less corrupt, but Janta of India is more corrupt with no desire to move ahead.

    Countries prepare to win wars and we in India meticulously plan to loose them.

  5. Wonderful!!!! How much better it can get. Well, always there is room for improvement. It conclusively determines the merit of the product and where the malaise lays. This is also an eye opener to some of our younger lot of readers. Again this would not have come at a better timing. Better than Ganguly. Well I hope your relationship with guys with HAL is not hampered much. But again what needs to be said needs to be said.

  6. Analysis of HAL's performance is necessary and blame should be fixed where necessary. However, criticism without understanding should be avoided. It appears from the article that HAL has some discretion with regard to priorities. PSUs do not work that way. PSUs are tightly controlled by the GoI. Both the GoI and the PSUs concerned should take the blame equally in case of inadequate performance.

  7. Chinki's and pakis... keep IAF under squadroned... IA dependent on foriegn Armoured doctrine... simple... bribe HAL management... bribe Chennai Avadi Management... to adopt go slow tactics...

  8. This article smells of desperation from you Ajai..I think you are the same guy who was boasting of devloping indigenous capability through HAL sometime back and why is this sudden change of stand.

    The facts have also been twisted to your convinience(Coz you hold the pen). In your blog on 9th on similar subject, you have said that ADA director is also acknowledging the productionising diffculties...and today you have indicated HAL as a non supportive partner of ADA.

    May i question why are you contradicting yourself and seems like you are having some personal agenda behind all this biased reporting....(Inspired by Zee news fiasco)

  9. Dear Mr. Desperate Blogger,

    Its nice to see that you have grown a spine in a matter of two months, and finding no other way to associate yourself with the elite you so desperately want to,have now resorted to spew forth venom against those,whose company you have been begging for and was righteously denied.

    So, the Arjun tank has become dearer to you and somehow you don't propagate the so called technology denial regime theory that you used to employ for explaining the LCA delays.

    Good that you are showing your true colors and have resorted to portray your obvious personal anguish. Lets see how well this serves you and the mercenaries you have sold your soul to.

  10. Ajai, why are you not the Defense minister in-charge of MoD? It makes sense to have a military officer with military service record to be Defense minister overseeing Defense related matters. I don't understand why Indians keep putting in-charge people who are not domain-experts? Till we don't have domain-experts managing various technology organizations, I don't see how we can beat Pakistan, let alone China. All the civilian-leaders of all political parties, with the exception of PM, Chidambaram and Modi, are experts only in sloganeering and black-mail politics, even Kejriwal. None has domain-expertise of anything except bickering. When we have such louts in power, how do you expect the public sector will perform. Actually the public sector companies such as DRDO, HAL, ISRO, ADA, NAL, BHEL, BEL, DD etc. are a reflection of the Governments performance and vice-versa. So short answer, privatize today only private sector performance is propelling India, not the govt or public sector companies.

  11. So wish i had the money and resources would start up the production line from today itself..

  12. Mr. Ajai Shukla,
    Why Government don't take action against HAL and other public sector companies. Government just neglect because the get their shares.

  13. Excellent analysis highlighting what many have experienced professionally but have not bothered to put pen to paper. It is indicative of a certain amount of lack of national pride in persuing national projects to successful conclusion. Clearly the MOD must take the rap for this as HAL is under them and accountable to MOD.

  14. All HAL has ever done is assemble. It has never manufactured! the seld lie is becoming clear. Its like taking an IKEA flatpack and assembling. The instruction are inside. Call the helpline if you have issues. Now question is how to build the production line (they have no clue, never done it before!). Question of consistent relability? Has india ever produced a manufactured product that is world class and is consistently of high quality -> don't know of one. Another thing I know of indians, they will go to who pays the highest wages, now tell me how many world class engineers they have (HAL), with experience of manufacturing complex systems and the mindset of producing perfection, everytime? Even in IT perfection is not what indians are know for!

    2018: ummm lets say 2022 if you are lucky. In comparison, jf-17 has already completed over 10,000 sorties, by 2013 jf-17 Blk II will be out (currently undergoing testing). By 2015 Blk III is scheduled. Evaluating and comparing fighters, the less said the better ;-).

  15. "Unlike the Tejas --- a contemporary fighter made of composite materials with an advanced design and sophisticated avionics --- the JF-17 is an outdated design"

    Compare the designs of jf-17 with LCA. LCA looks like mirage III. jf-17 looks like a cross bred f-16/f-18. You talk about composites;
    guess what your beloved su-30mki is made of?
    Also as the LCA uses imported composites, why is it heavier than the larger jf-17?
    Avionics vise have a look at the cockpit picks of the two aircrafts. LCA is generation behind jf-17. This directly affects pilot workload, thus affectiveness!
    Have a look at the flying demo of the two aircraft and you will very soon realise that LCA design is from the 1960/70s era. I guess its high tech for india....bit like the maruti being world class.

  16. Ajai shukla does not question the product ADA made, infact he praises the achievements. He is hitting on the production delays. How can HAL be so naive and don't know about the tools required to manufacture the said number of aircrafts per year. It even had the time to set up the production line. Probably, HAL even did not know what are the tools required. Some anon comments are horrible. Technology denial regime ended decade ago. We are talking about the developments in last 3-4 years.

  17. Lol... Excuses excuses. Now it's Hal's fault. It used to be ADA's inability to construct a real fighter.
    Both Ada and Hal need to go. Let private corp handle design and manufacture of Everything. Isn't it better to pay Indian private companies than to pay foreign private companies?

  18. Sir, aren't you asking for the moon as regards to your last paragraph. If wishes were horses then.....Right now, its time to get back into the grind and plan to fight a war 'with whatever the army has', even though it may just be a mound of stones. Sad state of affairs and God only knows whether the situation will ever improve.

  19. Its unfair to criticize HAL for all the ills in our defence industry. DRDO's GTRE totally failed to deliver a single working engine even after 30 years of its day a report appears Kaveri his and that ,but another a day report appears kaveri can only be fitted in railway engines and warships!!!HAL has been thrust with obsolete Russian technology,including the so called uptodate fighter su-30mki. Dassault is questioning MoD to define the role of HAL in MMRCA!!! Dassault doesn't want HAL to absorb
    its composite techinogies,EW suite ,AESA RADAR, ENGINE and other advanced avionics,which HAL can apply to its other aircraft programs. instead Dassault wants to open up an indian subsidiary and partner with Gas compnay called reliance industry,so that their technology will be safely in the French vaults,even though India pays for the technology transfer. its a conspiracy to keep HAL out of MMRCA!!!!Instead of opening new divisions in places like Kochi and trivandrum,where HAL can benefit from the avionics developed by ISRO for its PSLV and GSLv rockets and Microwave RF systems for its satellites, Mod opted for kasargod ,a remote place ,which has no industrial base and located in secluded spot. No IIT student joins and remain in HAL!!!LCA is ADA's design and HAL only manufactures as per ADA's design. The cream of ppl in HAL and ADA either have retired and left to look for greener pastures. As per news reports appeared in the press lCA was grounded for 3 moths duw to pilot helmet obstructing ,ejection mechanism. ADA choose the wrong engine and it was overweight and because of this a new engine has to be selected as the LCA mk1 showed limitations. what ADA and DRDO top brass are doing as project managers,when LCA is slipping badly for various reasons. HAL is trying to sort out issues with IJT,which IAF also needs badly!!! NAL SARAS crashed like a duck, killing experienced test pilots. Its blamed on the saras flight controls,pusher engine configuration etc.... HAL is an academic R$D like DRDO labs and NAL!!! The a/c like F-16,F-15 ,F-18 have been designed in the sixties to eighties. they have not matured in 22 days like a chicken out of an egg!!! If india leans towards russia ,America gets angry and puts an embargo on defence exports to india.Admiral gorshakov is a bloddy example how we are being sodomized. see what is the status of our semiconductor industry!!! why cant TATAs, Reliance, Birlas, Hindujas open up semiconductor design and fab facilities to support indian aerospace needs and as well commercial markets for survival? our pvt industry wants to make quick money by selling lands and shoddy building in real estate business.During war situation a HAL employee can be kicked in the butt in the midst of the night and can be ordered to go to Leh!!! can the same be done to the Russians,the french, the Americans and Israelis? HAL is a fully Govt controlled company. The collaborations,the licenses are thrust upon it!!!Academicians and Academics have no value in HAL ,because the objective of HAL is not to make one prototype wonder and close the project, after giving a president gold medal and an young scientist award. HAL R&D is oriented towards mass production.ppl happily send their children to work in US malls!!! Too many rules ,regulations in procurements are hampering the progress and are grossly elongating product development cycle times. Has anybody bothered about this aspect.Almost everything has to be imported.has anybody gave thought to develop raw material required by indian aerospace industry with in India? yes HAL has so many ills which are plagued in all the DPSUs and DRDO is not a holy cow either.HAL is like river GANGA of the indian aviation industry ...polluted,raped,ravaged and it will die its own death sooner or later as per your wish!!!!

  20. So there is no assembly line for production of Tejas. Then how they are going to mass produce the Tejas-Mk1, Tejas-Mk2 and Tejas (LIFT) if required. There is something insincere and bogus going on at HAL perhaps since eternity.

  21. The solution is selling twenty percent shares of HAL immediately in the market.
    The performance of top thirty to forty executives must be monitored closely and if they do not perform well, compulsay retirement need to be handed over to them. Production of LCA Tejas, LCH, IJT etc. must be commenced immediately. The production and export of ALH, Dhruv must be increased.

  22. Col. Shukla, superbly written !

    I've been saying this from ages that Tejas has been given a step-motherly treatment by HAL.







    And DRDO's AMCA somehow lost the attention of the IAF. Had it been any other Air-Force -- even the PAF -- the AMCA would've gotten top priority.

  23. Sachin Khandelwal11 December 2012 at 13:32


    You have v good contacts with the NDTV news channel. Why dont you along with other journalistic friends and ex-defence personnel cohost a program focusing of urgent and extensive production of :
    1) Arjun MBT
    2) Tejas
    3) Nuclear Submarines
    4) Howizetter

    This can be done by
    1) Issuing clear targets to public limited companies like HDF, HAL, MDL, BHEL, ARDE and all other crap acronyms.
    2) At least two Parallel production lines by private players.

    The one ahead of the game in quality and quantity bags more orders.

    Create a public information offensive drive to get the "Mr. Honest" to deliver and not just blacklist firms.

    Any success you guys will achieve in this will be a multiple order force multiplier than all the blogs put together.

    Not to mention the good wishes and support you will get from the serving personnel and the co-bloggers and commentators, who perhaps dont have the contacts and charisma that you poccess.

  24. Yet, time and again we want transfer of technology. What technology have we gained over the decades doing this TOT thing. Nothing, only technology transfered is assembly, and that too we cannot do well. This is why I think we should stop ToT completely, start buying foreign equipment and force HAL etc. to invest and invent new products, thus a decade or two down the road they can make and build rather than assemble from foreign made parts and call it a technical knowledge gain.

  25. @Stani (19:23):

    Awesomely powerful stuff you must be smoking. Please use responsibly, and don't drive or operate heavy machinery, or you might get to be with your 72 betimes.

  26. Pilots never bad mouth a prototype in Public. It is one of the rules of the game. It is extremely unlikely, given the acknowledged overweight and the fact that the fuselage is one of the shortest ( i.e. bluntest) in the business that the Mk.1 will reach M1.6. Outfight all aeroplanes? Have the LCA flown DACT against a Mig 29 or M2K? In fact given the hopeless 1.8 AR wing the little bird will lose energy in combat. So less of this hype please -we have had this ad nauseum before and it got us nowt where.

    It is true that composites are awful.They demand incredible standards of cleanliness and de-humidification- less than half percent.Look at the trouble Boeing faced.
    This business of HAL "realizing" difficulties now is Taurus puritas i.e. pure bull!.I worked with HAL many eons ago and they are not THAT stupid.

    So what could be a possible picture?
    The fact is that the Mk1 is a super Lemon -fit,perhaps really , for nothing except displays- Pokhran being a display with knobs on.

    What is needed is the Mk.2 which I guess will have a longer fuselage, a wing tweaked for higher AR and lighter systems. Perhaps less composites.All this will take another seven eight years.
    So how do you save the red faces of our belovedest all round from Raisina Hill down to all those holy R&D places.You ask the name less faceless HAL to take the can.
    Just a guess but quite possibly ,and unfortunately,true!

  27. Ajai,
    Your article seems pretty immature and appears like you are lobbying for certain PSU's (MBT and Tejas).
    1. Whats so indigenous about TEJAS . Even the paint is imported what to talk of Airframe, Electronics etc.
    2. You have questioned IAF not interested in TEJAS and stated that Its the best FIGHTER even better than existing ones.. down the article you yourself are pitching it between MIG 21 and M2K ( 30 yrs old ac still better than TEJAS).
    3. Have you researched enough on the MAINTENANCE headaches that the aircraft is itself giving to HAL? You yourself have brought out lacunae in HAL and their dealings so why blame Indian Army for MBT and IAF for TEJAS....

    4. Request you to read your own writings before publishing them and appearing incoherent in public view

  28. Anon, you need to read a lot not Ajai shukla.

  29. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)12 December 2012 at 18:17

    @Anonymous 12 December 2012 12:59:

    What is so indegenious about Army and IAF? Except the men who by law has to be Indian citizens? Tejas, in its current form may not be the most indigeneous one but has IAF/IA ever supported indigenised products beyond verbal commentary? They are born and brought up on fancy foreign products....They are like a pampered child who is so used to getting everything 'the best' that they don't have the ability to convert something to 'the best'....I sometimes wonder whether it would have been better had a Tienanman Square like incident had happened on Indian soil....

    Ex IAF chief had clearly endorsed the Tejas and what Ajai ji is writing here by saying that although it is still not a true 4th gen fighter but it will come up to that and in its present form is Mig 21b ++... So if this is the case,then shouldn't it be a good idea to go into the war with a Mk1 Tejas or even in peacetime will it not be a good idea for pilots to fly Mk1 rather than flying coffins in both the cases? The common logic says 'yes' but ground realities are, to replace 200 Mig 21, IAF has ordered only 40 MK1....That salutes the indigenisation commentary of IAF....

    To become big, you will have to think big, visualise big and then act big....Look at IN. They have ordered 8 more naval LCA even after so many controversies with naval LCA....IAF and IA should try to learn something from IN....

  30. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)12 December 2012 at 18:20

    @Anonymous 11 December 2012 21:02:

    Look Dude, idiots will always try to hide under bushes by raising their ass but the world will not change their perceptions about them as idiots....

  31. AS, is knowledgable when its comes to IA. When it comes to anything flying, I am afraid his knowledge is quite limited but nonetheless it is his view. It is in this field he is easily misled and then laughed at. His comments on eg jf17 are being laughed at all over the indian and international airforce forums.

  32. Mr. Rahul Samanta, because of people like you only, our country is here in such a work yourself for development of western countries in proud MNC's, and shouting here to "DISMANTLE THEM". because of these so called PSU's only, your daily requirements of fuel, water, electricity and security are fulfilled...

  33. @ Prodyut.
    FYI, the Tejas has reached 1.6 M several times. So cut the pseudo-scientific "blunt nose" crap pls.

  34. Your comment is interesting.Are you one of the 'establishment" doing the testing and so can authenticate what you are saying? How much fuel did it have after reaching M1.6? There are "supersonic" fighters galore whose top 'supersonic" abilities are only on paper because of numerous restrictions- including running out of fuel or being in a marginal fuel state.

  35. Anonymous 15 Dec 2012
    The Tejas has one of the shortest fuselages for a Mach 1.6 Fighter and it has a large cross section at the cockpit. Are you speaking because you have access to fact e.g. member of the FT team or can authenticate it? That would be interesting
    From what I have gleaned the Mk 1 vibrates above normal at Mach 0.9 which indicates either an under powered/ marginally supersonic aircraft ( e.g. Mig 17)or poor build quality causing unstable shock formation due to unmastered techniques. The Russians called it Val Ozhka when they encountered it building the IL 28 bomber or both.
    I look forward to your authentication because my analysis indicates that the LCA Mk1 is unlikely to be supersonic at low level and unlikely to have teh claimed M 1.6 - unless it reaches "bingo" fuel before it reaches its top speed.

  36. @ Prodyut

    I'm sure you've done your homework and your calculations about length, weight and fuel capacity.

    However, when it comes to deciding who to believe: on the one hand someone who has done paper calculations... and on the other, several pilots who have flown the aircraft for hundreds of hours, guess who I'm going to go with!

    I have not spoken to just one pilot... and my conversations were private ones, not public. So go back and do some more calculations. Perhaps you've missed something.

  37. Broadsword
    Thanks for the authentication even though it puzzles me.

  38. I have a mixed reaction to the news. And I have a futuristic view.

    I don't have any confidence about quality of the AESA. I am very certain that AESA wont be ready before mark-2 FOC . The kaveri engine will not be ready by 2025.
    I predict that the Mark 2 will also be a disappointment. I predict that another 150 Rafale fighters will be required.

    However , considering that tejas is a research platform , it should not be shelved. The results of the R&D work may possibly bear fruit after 2025.

    There is nothing very secretive about the LCA program. The media knows all about it. The media should not be a mouth piece of HAL, ADA in terms of the false proposed timelines.

    By the time its 2025-2030, we need to wake up to new realities. It would be better to also start researching on "green electric engines" and "harnessing wind energy while aircraft is in motion while in atmosphere". We need to have capabilities to have a versatile aircraft that has Vertical Take Off and Landing. So work on that has to be started now.

    What we need to realize is that UAV's are going to be a game-changer. How about having 500 UAV in IAF arsenal.Perhaps the Kaveri engine can be used in UAV's, where you don't require powerful an engine ,that IAF requires.

    Though my heart beats for the LCA, my mind gets disappointed with it.LCA progress so far, is not so good. It seems just a problem of mindset and mismanagement and corruption. As long as we have a solid plan, backed by proper foresight and proper implementation, things should be possible. Dont tell me that we cannot take lessons from ISRO or can reverse engineer an aircraft or that we cannot think of aircraft scramjets .


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