Induct the Tejas in numbers. Half-strength squadrons - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 22 January 2015

Induct the Tejas in numbers. Half-strength squadrons

By Ajai Shukla
Editorial in Business Standard, 23rd Jan 15

On Saturday, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) the first Tejas Mark I fighter built on its new production line in Bengaluru. Fifteen prototypes earlier produced were each hand built to different specifications as the Tejas evolved. Now, however, HAL’s production line will build to a controlled standard using modern manufacturing methods. The first production Tejas had already flown in September, but the IAF had refused to accept it until HAL could hand over eight fighters together, half the complement of the first Tejas squadron. Eventually the defence ministry ordered the IAF to accept each fighter as it was built, like every air force does.

This illustrates the continuing problems with the Tejas, and why it has taken so long to enter service. With diverse organisations contributing to its development since 1983 --- including HAL and the National Aeronautical Laboratory --- the programme has been overseen by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), established by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO). From the start the IAF has convinced itself that building a modern fighter was an extravagant aim. Unlike the navy, which took ownership and control of warship-building programmes, an uninterested IAF highlighted flaws and demanded the purchase of expensive fighters from the international market --- currently the unaffordable Rafale.

Every country that builds contemporary fighters has been through a tortuous learning process --- a century for the United States, Germany, Italy, Britain, France and Russia. India has leapfrogged in building what even the IAF accepts is a fighter far better than the light MiGs it was intended to replace. The IAF’s strength is down to 35 squadrons (each with 16 operational fighters), and 10 more MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons will retire by 2018. But, even so, the IAF has made its preference for foreign fighters like the Rafale clear.

The Tejas has not achieved final operational clearance. Some capabilities remain to be validated before it can be fielded in combat. On the other hand, the flight test programme has completed 2,800 flights, with only a few hundred more required. The problem is the delays. HAL must build the Tejas faster, so that 10 squadrons can fill the gap created by the retiring MiGs. Just two Tejas will be built this year; another six in 2015-16; eight more the year after that and, only in 2017-18 would HAL hit a production rate of sixteen Tejas per year. Clearly this is too slow. If the Tejas is to help set up a domestic high-tech sector, then the defence ministry needs to be swifter and HAL needs to indigenise further, developing Indian small-scale vendors to build systems and components currently being imported. 


  1. self belief of IAF... being Indian... self confidence... convince IAF... HAL/DRDO... right... self esteem... using... Indian...

  2. I think top management of HAL is not willing to increase the production rate of Tejas Mk1. The reason is best known to them. When order is there and you have the capacity and still you can't deliver, then definitely some thing is fishy. MOD. should ask for a CBI/IB probe.

    1. What does that even mean! Increase production capacity by putting in investment. Then produce order of 40 1 trainers in 3.5 years. Then sit idle for 2-3 yrs till mk2 comes.
      Buddy need more orders from user before capacity expansion!

  3. Who has defined the foc parameters. Sure they would have been diluted for foreign vendors

  4. Sir the combat radius of Tejas is small do you think it's enough, or is it according to international standards

  5. We all know the well debated points raised.

    Here's a suggestion-

    Whatever is happening, people (whether IAF, HAL, DRDO, MOD) have their own justifications. We can keep debating till eternity on who is to blame.

    Instead, why not go with a positive bent of mind, refrain from hanging our own people (after the eternal debate....if at all), show positive leadership, on the lines of the following-

    Set up "huge facilities" for an enhanced Tejas program as below-

    1. to induct Tejas in numbers, both Mk 1 and Mk 2...of course skewed to the latter.

    2. Immediately launch (though I suspect, it must already exist) a design stage program for Tejas Mk3, as a powerful, stealthy, higher performance upgrade of the Tejas. Mk3 should "start replacing" Mk2s around 2035 (so after 20 years) in a phased manner. Both Mk2 and Mk3 will co-exist for at least 10 years on. Tejas Mk3 to have one engine as the same one on AMCA, for commonality.

    So this way, the "heavy facilities" set up for Tejas will get well utilized / well capitalised.

    3. Expedite twin engine AMCA program, for entry into service with IAF by 2025. Possibly on the same base facilities as the Tejas?? Will modern modular production techniques allow this?

    4. Tejas Mk3 may never see light of the day, if the age of UCAVs arrive. We should not be caught napping. So immediately expand on the AURA program. US partnership??

    Truncate the Rafale program, but get them in. Truncate to the extent that IAF can make do / offset with by a mix of - Rafales and Su-30MKIs, to be followed by FGFAs, and Tejas Mk2s.

    Just wishful thinking.... I know there are other realities.

  6. Just thinking aloud on a few points:

    1) Can't private companies augment HAL in boosting the number of Tejas jets manufactured in a year ?

    2) Can't IAF truncate the demand for Rafale fighters to say, 63 ? This will save us money, avoid diplomatic embarrassment and be a gap filler --- all this without jeopardizing the Tejas Mk.2.

    3) Can't IAF simply cancel the Russian FGFA ? When we have an indigenous AMCA in the pipeline, its criminal to buy another nation's hand-me-down. Also, the AMCA can be sped up with private participation. In any case reports say the FGFA its going nowhere, and its useless to ask Russians to accommodate our little R&D at this late a stage. On the other hand, our AMCA will provide the IAF full flexibility to mould it from scratch. The way IAF wants it. The private industry can also be invited to participate in the AMCA project.

  7. One can only conclude that there is a general lack of the 'can do' attitude in most Indians. The IAF is seriously guilty of going on a confrontational path with HAL. The defence budgets have been most unimaginatively spent in the last 60 years, not surprising if you list out the scams that we have heard in the last 60 years. The very fact that HAL has almost no marketing acumen is clear from the fact that they never went to the IAF with an offer at the appropriate time to build as simple a thing as the BTA. With the 'phoren' minded IAF plumping for the no doubt good buy in the PC-7, it is clearly a waste of $ 2 billion for the entire requirement which could have been more well spent with a good Indian aircraft replacing the HPT-32.HAL on its part must give up the thought that they have a birth right to spend the services budget on their design efforts. Like all good commercial organisations they need to stand on their own feet spend their own money on R&D and confidently give their capable products in the defence of the nation.

  8. seems like Naval LCA is going to get operational sooner than the IAF version. Navy knows that this will be a good enough fighter for the carriers. better than the harriers at least and Big bro Mig 29Ks to back em up, Naval LCA looks more promising than IAF cousins.
    The naval aviators would have tejas sooner and can start building their combat techniques over the aircraft. they would know the strengths and weaknesses of the plane and use it effectively in war.
    IAF on the other hand doesnt look interested in the plane at all. forget about combat, i think if they use Tejas for surya kiran team, it would be called a success of the tejas by IAF.
    There could be a future war where Navy LCAs would be butt kicking Paki F-16s, chinese SU-33s but the IAF LCA sitting idle in some some remote air base.

  9. Sachin Khandelwal26 January 2015 at 02:12

    hmm.. this "news" of kaveri engine development scrapped seems more like a ploy of the GTRE to keep the engine development out of public glare and allows the developers to work without the snooping media, the auditors and parliamentary committee et al. Note that the engine did fructify but fell short of the thrust requirement of the LCA. Indigenous engine for LCA is too important a project to be simply scraped after three decades of development. Most likely it seems to be developing with some alternative name


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