HAL to build 8, then 12, Tejas fighters each year - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 29 December 2013

HAL to build 8, then 12, Tejas fighters each year

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 30th Dec 13

On December 20, the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) was cleared to enter operational service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). Now Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) faces the daunting transition from handcrafting Tejas prototypes into factory-assembling the 200-fighter Tejas fleet that Defence Minister AK Antony has envisioned.

The ministry of defence (MoD) has sanctioned Rs 1,556 crore for HAL’s high tech production line that aims to build 12 Tejas fighters each year. The funds will come from the IAF (25 per cent); the navy (25 per cent), while HAL will put up half the money.

Business Standard visited the new Tejas production line, an expansive 28,000 square metre facility in four massive hangars in HAL, Bangalore. Work is already underway on the first IAF order of 20 Tejas Mark I fighters, with an order for 20 more in the pipeline once the aircraft gets “final operational clearance” next year. The first two fighters being “series produced” --- they are numbered SP-1 and SP-2 --- are visibly taking shape.

“By end-March 2014, SP-1 will fly, and SP-2 will fly a few months later. By the end of next year four Tejas will be in production. In 2015-16, we will build six fighters, and in 2016-17, we will build nine. We are targeting an annual capacity of 12 Tejas fighters,” says V Sridharan, the project manager hand-chosen to build the LCA. Earlier, he set up HAL’s production line for the Hawk trainer.

Over the years, excellent designs like the Arjun tank have failed the transition from design into product. This is because India’s archaic defence production policies make the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) responsible for designing equipment, with production responsibility then passing onto a network of 8 defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and 39 ordnance factories (OFs) with long reputations for sloppy production. Having played little role in design, the manufacturing agencies struggle to produce the system.

The Tejas could be a game-changer. Firstly, HAL has played a major role both in designing the Tejas and in building prototypes for the flight-test programme. Secondly, HAL has brought a radically new approach to Tejas production, adopting global aerospace manufacturing standards and an unprecedented approach to quality control.

Walking around the Tejas assembly line, Sridharan explains that the sixteen Tejas prototypes HAL has built are each different from the other. As the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) incrementally refined and improved the fighter, each new prototype incorporated improvements and additions. The most recent prototype has a pressure refuelling system that lets the Tejas be topped up Formula One style, in just 8 minutes and then flown back into combat.

“As a result of all these changes, a panel from one Tejas would not fit another. Now we will implement absolute standardisation, with identical components, assemblies and panels,” explains Sridharan.

This is being done with laser scanners that ensure that a number of key points (called “locators”) on each aircraft being built is exactly where it should be. By measuring with the laser, it is ensured that the locator is within 80 microns, i.e. about one-tenth of a millimetre, of where it should be. These are international standards, used by companies like Boeing.

It is evident from the focus of the laser trackers teams that it is painstaking work. This standardisation, and coordinating the flow of Tejas systems and sub-systems to the assembly line constitutes what Sridharan describes as the process of “stabilising” the Tejas line.

“Once the process is stabilised, we can transition to higher rates of production. My initial focus will be on production quality; then we will scale up production. HAL will meet the target of building 20 fighters by 2016-17,” he says.

That was the pattern while building the Hawk. After building just two aircraft in the first year, seven were built in the second year. In the third year, HAL built 18 Hawks, and the remaining 14 Hawks were produced within months.

Within ADA and in HAL, there is expectation that better production could improve aircraft performance. “Better build quality could well improve the Tejas’ aerodynamic performance, reducing drag, and improving its speed, rate of climb and turn rate,” says a designer.

HAL’s chairman, RK Tyagi, explains that the international best practices being introduced in the Tejas assembly line will be replicated across all the aerospace giant’s production lines, including the Sukhoi-30MKI line in Nashik and the Hawk trainer line in Bangalore.

“We have earmarked Rs 3,500 crore of HAL funds for making our production lines world class. Our focus is to gain the IAF’s confidence. We will do what is necessary for that,” says Tyagi.


  1. Nice to hear about HAL... all d best to the prod team

  2. But where are the images?

    I was hoping that at least the blog will have some images!

  3. I sincerely hope that HAL. will make at-least 1 (one) squadron of Tejas per year.

  4. Tejus production line pictures at Tarmak007 blog shows a poorly lighted, poor production line, i wonder when does our prod lines reach the standards of that of f-35 etc, even the prod line of KAI T-50 aircraft in south korea is world class.

  5. Why are we being so conservative ? 12 planes a year are hardly enough especially if we intend to export it to friendly countries

  6. @Ajai sir

    this write up is in relation to both the posts, a few points

    1. what if the FOC cut in 2 & is delayed beyond 2015

    2. you say 'Its combat radius is 300-350 km, which would be extended next year through in-flight refuelling.'

    in that case its better to do away with CFTs and increase weapon payload with multi ejector racks

    3. the test pilot said '“As a multi-role fighter, the Tejas is at least the equal of the IAF’s upgraded Mirage-2000. It can more than hold its own in our operational scenario.”'

    in that case IAF/MoD committed a huge mistake by going US$ 2.1 billion Mirage 2000 upgrage, instead 50% of that could have been used to buy more Tejas mk2 and rest 50% to buy more Rafales

    4. you say 'Maintenance is complex, with half the Su-30MKI fleet usually unavailable for operations.'

    thats probably bcoz most of the unavailable are being used for operational conversion training, all the more reason to use Tejas mk1 as LIFT

    5. IAF chap said '“Tejas light fighters, located at forward airbases like Pathankot, Ambala, Sirsa or Jodhpur are ideal for missions in the vicinity of the border.' but Tejas will be berthed in Sulur that makes me believe it wont be allowed to have a bloodied nose.

    6. Tejas production is too slow by any standards

    all these are my personal opinion

    no offense to any body


    Joydeep Ghosh

  7. Sir,
    You had said in your blog earlier that HAL has said that Sitara is weeks away from certification but news coming in states that IOC certification is delayed to June 2014 which is not only a sad development but it shows HAL does not deliver on its deadlines and thus the IAF is always a worried customer

  8. Tejas MK2 will be export ready. As this is our first attempt, MK1 version may still need a lot of changes, once IAF starts giving its real time experience based feedback, there will be a list of changes in the design. These changes will make MK2 an exceptional aircraft.

    Sir also any update on Arjun MK2 and INSAS 2020? Its been a long time.

  9. From selling F 35 To IAF To
    NOW Singing praises of Tejas
    (This is YOUR SIXTH Tejas Article )
    in ONE Month ;

    You have come a LONg way
    Dear Ajay SHUKLA JI

  10. For whatever operational scenario large number of tejas fighters is crucial for IAF to realize the potential of its full sanctioned squadron strength in a short timespan with tejas which has all the 4.5th gen tech, that too at an unbelievable low cost!!!

    Expecting Indian govt (which is looted to the bone through scams and drained to the last few drops of blood with misgovernance in the past decade drowning the rupee to a record low of 66 per dollar) to fulfill IAf's fantasy of setting aside close to 60 billion dollars for the simultaneous purchase of RAFALE and FGFA in high numbers is getting remote everyday.

    The runaway crude oil prices and falling export won't offer that much money to IAF that too most in forex reserves,because other services like navy and army too have heavy plans for the same period,

    even now I can't understand the IAF magnanimity of setting aside just 225 cr, about half the the price of one Mirage-2000 upgrade for setting up new production facility for tejas mk-1!!!!!!!!!!

    navy whose 50 tejas mk-2 will come only late in 2019 is also pitching in with the same 225 cr says something about the IAf's crocodiles tears for fast mig replacement!!!!!!!!

    As usual after the tall talk of "no extensions for IOC-2 after december 2013" A.K. Antony has chickened out of forcing central govt to cough up some more money to set up a high volume production line,

    because the rest 1000 cr is to be borne by HAL from it's internal accruals only, severely bleeding it's resources for other projects,

  11. producing mk-1 faster will enable the much faster production and tesitng leading to speedier induction of mk-2 in large numbers quickly.

    if the production line is set up at higher capacity HAL can even think about participating in overseas fighter tenders as mk-2 will be on par with most fighters of 4.5th gen where such longer range is not required in many third world or even in many european countries.

    With american engines and israeli radar JV along with Astra, derby, and python tejas mk-2 will win many competitions for cost effective fighters to be operated besides other fighters in many air forces across europe and asia.

    but it seems we are using our tunnel vision and repeatedly shooting ourself in the foot policy by not looking at these options and perennially naval gazing as usual. Even pakistanis or marketing their JF-17(whose AOA is still a top secret!!!) whose ejection seats are having problems in saving pilots in crunch situations.

    This stingy allocation is going to delay the tejas mk-2 induction and nix any outside export potential for sure.we will be running the production line at the seventies era speed and producing the mk-2s till the fire freezes.

    producing mk-1s in higher numbers is no substandard solution for IAF. we can simply cancel the Mirage-2000 costly upgrade order and add another 60 brand new mk-1s at less than a third of the price quoted for the deal!!!

    The mk-1 itself will have ten percent more TWR than Mirage and will have more than 25 percent lower wing loading than Mirage. And the BVr range of mk-1 is actually better than the mirage even after the upgrade.

    Why nobody thinks about such practical steps is a mystery to me.

  12. Because mk-1 has a lesser powered engine than the mk-2. SO it is quite possible for us to develop an engine that can adequately power the mk-1s making them hundred percent indian sealed off from sanction effects.

    Also a mk-1 with no american or russian component with indian engines in MLU at a much lower cost than the mk-2 is a surefire export potential in many third world countries that are averse to american pressure.

    Why IAF is not looking at the option of filling up its sanctioned squadron strength first with the tailored to it's needs tejas mk-1 and mk-2?

    reason is the myopic RAFALE deal. After the kargil war IAf wanted to quickly buy 124 mirage-2000s that did precision ground bombing in kargil. Afraid of the kickback charges the deal was changed to multi vendor MMRCS circus with no rhyme or reason!!!!

    So the tejas mk-1 itself more than fulfills the original need for the IAF's original intent behind MMRCA contract . Because if the then govt speedily sanctioned the deal by now Dassault would have delivered all the 124 fighters!!!

    ANd during Kargil we did not have 270 Su-30 MKIs in our hand!!!!! Now we will have a total of 270 Su-30 MKis within a decades time. there is nothing that the 124 rafales can do that can not be done by the SU-30 MKis whish are going to be upgraded to super Sukhoi levels if developments are to be believed.

    And 100 odd tejas mk-1 has the most promising prospect of getting a decent upgraded K-10 quickly with in a decade.And for the first time IAf will have a fleet of 100 fighters free from any outside influence.

    SO it is not for nothing PLAF is steadily increasing the numbers of its J-10 eventhough they have many flankers and russians are willing to sell them even the Su-35

  13. why? because if the chinese perfect the engine tech the J-10 will be their only fighter that is free from outside interference and can be offered to export to geo strategic allies cementing it's place as a great power.

    But no one inida even thinks about these prospects. All they sing in chorus is mk-1 is underpowered!!!!!!! . SO reduce its numbers. RAFALE is ovepowered so reduce mk-2 numbers song.

    Pity most of the guys don't even know the so called under powered tejs mk-1 is considered superior to Mirage-2000 and can hold its own against PAf F-16 blk-50/62s when paired with adequate numbers of Su-30 MKIs as mini awacs!!!! What more is the 1000 crore per piece RAAFLE going to do than this?

    But in a nation where our main national news channels are always willing to sit at the foot of some arvind kejriwals and narendra modis and rahul gandhis 24x7, reporting all their bluffs verbatim , these kind of things are not discussed even for ten minutes in any news hour program!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Why can't IAF also invite the private sector to augment HAL's production line ?

    Let HAL recite the table of 4 year after year.

    To bump up production, why can't Reliance, TATA, L&T also be invited ?

    So, let HAL's produced Tejas come (as and when they come) and let the private sector's Tejas units also come in parallel. WE COULD HAVE THE ENTIRE 40 TEJAS MK.1 READY BY 2017-18.

  15. Employees of HAL are good for nothing. After 30yr they will build only 8-12 aircraft/year.
    Still they don't want to learn from boeing or Lockheed...

    Airbus can build 30 a380/yr and I'm sure HAL will build 30 lca in 5 yrs.


  16. HAL is tied with too many production line for assembly of aircrafts, shud concentrate on Sukhois MKI ,Tejas & Pak T50.
    1000 Russian supplies of AL31 Engines must be converted into MKI's & 20 Tejas shud roll out per annum to give the air force the offensive capabilities to counter china.
    Cancel Rafale due to its high cost

  17. I think but for Antony this would not have happenned as the import lobby is very strong in PMO.


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