Rs 1,500 crore more for light combat aircraft Tejas as HAL fails to meet targets - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 10 December 2012

Rs 1,500 crore more for light combat aircraft Tejas as HAL fails to meet targets

by Ajai Shukla
Aeronautical Development Agency, Bangalore
Business Standard, 9th Dec 12

The defence ministry (MoD) has allocated an additional Rs 1,500 crore to the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme, boosting its projected Rs 14,047 crore budget. The additional amount will be spent on a production line for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to build 20 fighters that Indian Air Force (IAF) has ordered for its first Tejas squadron. The IAF has also promised another order for 20 more Tejas for its second squadron. Once the improved Mark II Tejas is developed, the IAF will field 6-7 Tejas squadrons (120-140 fighters).

This need for additional money arises from the failure of HAL, a public sector aerospace monopoly, to establish a production line that can build at least 8 Tejas fighters a year. The production line that HAL set up two years ago on the priceless real estate that it holds in the heart of Bangalore has not yet produced a single Tejas fighter.

Briefing Business Standard the Director of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), P Subramanyam, who runs the LCA programme, admits that nobody realized that setting up a production line was a technology by itself. So far, ADA and HAL have built only Tejas prototypes and limited-series aircraft, producing individual parts one-by-one like a tailor making a suit. When HAL graduated to a standardised production line, it encountered serious difficulties.

“ADA and HAL have realized that creating a production line needs major effort… That realization has come,” says Subramanyam.

So serious are the difficulties, that ADA and HAL approached foreign aircraft manufacturers last year --- including Eurofighter GmbH, which builds the Typhoon. The proposal to appoint a foreign consultant for the Tejas production line remains alive in the MoD.

Senior IAF officers express frustration that HAL has failed to set up a Tejas assembly line, even though its primary activity for the preceding decades has been to build foreign aircraft on an assembly line under licence.

Air Marshal Pranab K Barbora, who retired as the IAF vice chief two years ago, summarises the air force’s viewpoint: “HAL’s assembly line expertise is outdated by at least three decades. They have done nothing to upgrade their technology. Setting up a modern assembly line for the Tejas is far beyond HAL’s capabilities.”

Barbora says that this is why the IAF lobbied hard to post a serving air marshal as HAL chief. Instead, the MoD appointed RK Tyagi, who has absolutely no experience in aeronautical development or manufacture.

Contacted repeatedly for comments, Tyagi did not respond to calls.

ADA is defending HAL, with Subramanyam insisting that HAL would build the first 20 Tejas within 2½ to 3 years. By then the fighter would have obtained final operational clearance (FOC) in its flight-testing programme and production can begin of the next 20 Tejas (which must be built to FOC standards).

This, says Subramanyam will take another 2½ years, i.e. be completed in 2018. By then, the Tejas Mark II will be tested and ready, and can enter series production.

What the ADA chief does not explain is: how will HAL, which cannot yet build even two Tejas fighters per year, build 20 fighters over the next three years.

The annual general meeting on Friday of ADA (which is a registered society under the MoD) was also clouded by delays in flight-testing, which Business Standard has reported will delay the initial operational clearance (IOC) of the Tejas until mid-2013 at the earliest.

For the IAF, which contemplates dangerously depleted squadron numbers, the big question is: when will the first two Tejas squadrons become operational?

Going by the lack of energy in HAL --- which is struggling to build the last two limited series fighters and the first two series production Tejas ---  the IAF might have a longer wait than it is comfortable with.


  1. ajai, this is a reality check article. thank you for this eyeopener.

    sadly, your article has also made me lost faith in the tejas project.

    i have one question i would like to ask you. the indian MoD should have been filled, dominated and headed by retired military officers. why have they been kept out of the MoD? I'm convinced now that the MoD and people from non-military background are the problem. how can the military take back the MoD?

  2. A case of inefficiency and un-accountability being rewarded? At what cost and for whose benefit? It surely cannot be for votes, for I don't think that keeping the moribund ADA and HAL alive serves any body's political interests. So, the other aspects are the economic interests and security interests. The bogey of security interest can and will be used to justify the continued existence of these two organisations, but, it is just that - a bogey. So, the only thing left is - economic interests. Now whose economic interests? That's something to ponder upon.

  3. Ajai ji,

    Thanks a lot for this article.

    The issues with the production line are bound to come & it is better HAL know where they stands in this regard. This is the benefit that LCA tejas has given to India industry, our industry will be evaluated for real issues in developing a fighter aircraft. It seems bad from IAF prospective but atleast for LCA Mk II & AMCA , we will be better prepared for them.

    Ajai ji, one thing is not clear is how they are going to complete the 1st 20 on order for production variant. what is the status of SP1 & SP2 at least.these 2 should be flying with LSP 8 by now even considering all these problems. Can you please advice on these things.

  4. subramanyam... tyagi... are like a union leaders... productivity and efficiency... rings their death bell...
    scratch my back... help scratch your back...

  5. Since so many years they are eager to eat the mangoes and now they find that there is no single mango tree.

    Perfect scenario for keeping all the imports alive.

  6. It seems to be the delay is for the good but really disappointing. Can't they cut done the time and set the target date as 2014 and work on a war time mode. Well, the minister of state for defence stating that the nuts and screws and stuffs like that needs to be outsourced and made by companies best at making those. These could be components which can be made by taal aerospace, Mahindra and tata. Hal can make the structure and assemble them. There does not seem to be any urgency. We require a Vladimir Putin who can fire who does not deliver

  7. You Wrote

    "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 to 300 JF-17s, half its total fleet.

    LCA is an advance design which is being redesigned as IAF is not happy with it performance

    it uses sophisticated avionics many of which will be replaced in Mark II fighter as it failed to meed IAF requirements

    Enough Said

  8. Tejas' story reminds me of Shakespeare's Hamlet
    - Long soliloquies by department heads
    - Air Force's dilema 'To buy or not to buy'
    - and probably in the end the protagonist (Tejas) may ultimately die

  9. It may be true that the current HAL leadership is not delevering. But I dont understand the Hon .Air marshal's view that an Serving air marshal who would also be totally inexperienced in managing a technological or production project would help..

  10. HAL is the prime partner in the Tejas -LCA development programme who has contributed immensely to the design , development and testing of Tejas , a Fourth Generation Aircraft are the achievements of HAL.The designs are currently reaching the final stages of acceptance. The limited series production is also in the stage of design improvements and finalisation. It is too early to comment on the production deficiencies in a concurrent programme where the design and productionisation are going together , unlike in other fighter aircraft programmes, where there is a definate time gap beteween design finalisation and initiation of productinisation . Let us encourage the Team Tejas to work together as they did earlier to achieve the goal of productionisation and induction of Tejas squadron in time and quality.


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