Will the Tejas get foreign help? All indications suggest the Aeronautical Development Agency is firmly in control - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 14 July 2015

Will the Tejas get foreign help? All indications suggest the Aeronautical Development Agency is firmly in control

India's wrath: the Tejas fighter takes off with its complete, 14-tonne load

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th July 15

As the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) nears final operational certification (FOC), which clears a fighter for combat operations, there are contradictory signals about the future of India’s indigenous fighter.

Within the defence ministry, understanding is growing that the affordable Tejas (currently Rs 156 crore) must eventually replace most of the 13 squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters (about 230 aircraft) nearing the end of their service lives. Defence Minister Parrikar has courageously acknowledged that India cannot afford six squadrons (126 aircraft) of the pricey French Rafale that Dassault has offered for some $15-20 billion. Instead, says Parrikar, we will buy only two Rafale squadrons (36 aircraft), spending the money saved on a larger Tejas fleet.

“Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. LCA Tejas is a replacement for MiG-21”, Parrikar told Doordarshan News on April 13, three days after Prime Minister Modi revealed in Paris that he had asked French President Francoise Hollande for 36 fully-built Rafales in quick time.

Parrikar’s deputy, Rao Inderjit Singh echoed this at the Paris Air Show last month, stating there was “no proposal to increase this number [of 36 Rafales]”.

Yet, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is not acquiring the Tejas in large numbers until the improved Mark II comes on stream. The IAF has contracted with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for just 20 Mark I fighters for its first Tejas squadron that will come up at Sulur, near Coimbatore. One the Tejas obtains FOC, which is likely by the end of this financial year, another 20 fighters will be built in the FOC configuration.

This was made clear on December 20, 2013, when the Tejas obtained its initial operational certification (IOC). Then IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, stated: “The final goal for all of us is not just the LCA Mark I, but the LCA Mark II. While our air warriors are fully geared up to induct and operationalise the two Mark I squadrons, IAF keenly looks forward to induction of four squadrons of LCA Mark II as the final version in its projected force structure.” 

Although the Mark II is at least three years from flying, Parrikar, like his predecessor AK Antony, has accepted the IAF’s roadmap for ordering another four Tejas squadrons (84 fighters) only after the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) delivers a tested and certified Mark II. Added to these numbers would be the Indian Navy’s requirement of 65 Tejas fighters --- most of which would be Tejas Mark II.

If ADA manages to certify the Tejas Mark II in the six-year timeframe it has set for itself, it would have taken 28 years from the time that funds were allotted in 1993 to build the Tejas prototype. If it remains within the current budget, this would have taken Rs 14,047 crore.

“To have started from scratch and built a fourth-generation fighter; along with a countrywide aerospace industry, and research, testing and certification facilities for $2.2 billion in less than three decades is, by any standards, a remarkable technology leapfrog. In most countries, it would have drawn generous applause; in India, there is mainly criticism”, points out strategic expert, Bharat Karnad.

Tejas Mark I: a versatile fighter

For the test pilots of the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) who have flown nearly 3,000 sorties in flight-testing, the Tejas is already a fine fighter. It has been tested to Mach 1.6 (2,000 kilometres per hour); a ceiling of 15,000 metres (50,000 feet); and carries 3,500 kilogrammes of mission payload. Its avionics, sensors and weapons make it a swing-role fighter. The pilot detects enemy aircraft with its Elta EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar beyond visual range, and fires Israeli Derby and Python air-to-air missiles through a “helmet-mounted sighting system” that locks onto a target merely by looking at it. In mid-flight, the pilot can switch to a ground strike mode, using his navigation-attack system to strike ground targets accurately with free-fall bombs, or conduct precision strikes with laser-guided munitions. The Tejas also has the trusty 23-millimetre Gasha cannon.

Although a lightweight fighter with a maximum take-off weight of 13,500 kilos, the Tejas carries more than 3,500 kilos of mission payload, as much as bigger fighters like the MiG-27 and the Mirage-2000. Nine hard points on its wings and fuselage carry air-to-air missiles, bombs, fuel drop tanks, a gun and a targeting pod.

With drop tanks, its radius of action is a modest 300-350 km, but can be doubled with in-flight refuelling. In a balanced IAF, with a mix of light, medium and heavy fighters, the Tejas --- operating from forward air bases like Srinagar, Pathankote, Adampur, Sirsa or Jaisalmer --- could focus on the tactical battle. Meanwhile heavier fighters like the Sukhoi-30MKI, with longer ranges and greater strike power, could be directed at strategic targets deep inside enemy territory.

Tejas test pilots maintain the fighter is more versatile than the MiG-29 (primarily built for air-to-air combat); the MiG-27 and the Jaguar (both oriented to ground strike); and all variants of the MiG-21, including the multi-role BISON, which the Indian fighter comprehensively outclasses. They say it can take on the Pakistan Air Force’s early F-16 variants and outclass the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder.

The Tejas’ performance rests on advanced technologies that were extremely ambitious when they were undertaken. Its manoeuvrability comes from an “unstable design”, and is prevented from falling out of the sky by a sophisticated quadruplex digital “integrated flight control system” (IFCS). The fighter’s on-board systems and weapons delivery are managed by an “integrated mission computer” and the pilot sits in a high-tech “glass cockpit” with digital displays that make flying a videogame experience. All these technologies are Indian.

On the day the Tejas obtained IOC, Group Captain Suneet Krishna, who has test flown the fighter for years, told Business Standard: “This is a pilot’s aircraft. It flies beautifully, and the avionics are well integrated. The information from various sensors is presented to the pilot in manner that gives him complete situational awareness in a far better way than in other fighters.”

Developing the Mark II

Notwithstanding their affection for the aircraft, NFTC test pilots admit it needs specific improvements for evolving into a world-beating Tejas Mark II. For close-in dog fighting against enemy fighters, which involves sudden acceleration, sharp climbing and sustained turning, the fighter needs more engine power than the 83 KiloNewtons (kN) of peak thrust its General Electric (GE) F-414IN20 engine provides. For that reason ADA has decided to power the Mark II with a GE F-414INS6 engine (hereafter F-414) that will deliver 98 kN of peak power.

Upgrading to the F-414 is even more essential for the Naval Tejas, providing the burst of power needed for getting airborne in just 200 metres of runway on an aircraft carrier deck.

ADA has announced that GE will supply 99 F-414 engines for the Tejas Mark II, with the first of them arriving by September. The new engine will then be accommodated in the existing fuselage space and ADA will reconfigure the air intake to provide the extra air the F-414 burns. Some analysts claim this redesign is beyond ADA; while senior ADA engineers say they have the problem licked. The GE website indicates the two engines are of identical size, but the F-414 is probably heavier.

Besides a new engine, the Tejas Mark II would have its internals rearranged, to make them more accessible and maintenance friendly. While building the Mark I prototype, these “line replacement units” (LRUs) were positioned randomly as the need arose. Rearrangement would improve space utilisation, accessibility, and make maintenance easier and quicker, reducing turn-around time between operational missions. Furthermore the Tejas Mark I is burdened with 300 kilos of ballast --- dead weight inserted incrementally while designing the fighter, to correct its centre of gravity. The internal LRUs could be re-arranged, the ballast removed, and the Mark II could instead carry 300 more kilos of useful payload.

Finally, the Tejas Mark II would feature upgraded avionics that are faster, lighter and smarter than the previous generation in the Mark I. This would improve combat performance and operational security. A key upgrade would involve fitting indigenous Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar to replace the current ELTA EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar.

Foreign collaboration?

Recent media reports suggest the defence ministry could bring in a foreign vendor --- Airbus Defence and Saab have been mentioned --- to develop and mass manufacture the Mark II.

Foreign collaboration has already featured in the Tejas programme. US major Lockheed Martin, and Dassault of France contributed to the Tejas’ initial design. European consortium, EADS (Now rebranded as Airbus Group) has provided consultancy on flight-testing. And, as Business Standard reported (June 17, 2014, Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful), the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), under which ADA functions, had asked Swedish company, Saab, in 2013 to submit a proposal for partnering ADA on designing the Mark II and establishing a manufacturing line for the new fighter. Saab, which had similarly upgraded its Gripen-D fighter to the Gripen-E by replacing the GE F-404 engine with a F-414, duly submitted a quote. But the DRDO’s leadership changed in June 2013, with Avinash Chander succeeding VK Saraswat (currently Member, NITI Aayog). Chander stalled Saab’s proposal, reluctant to award such a contract without competitive tendering. Senior Saab officials, bitten by this experience, say the company would now participate only with clear sovereign guarantees.

Unless ADA comes a cropper in designing the Tejas Mark II, it is highly unlikely that a foreign company could be parachuted in to oversee the development. ADA remains firmly in control, not just of the Tejas LCA project, but also in developing the next-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Foreign vendors could, at the most, provide design consultancy on specific aspects. A role for foreign aerospace companies is rather more likely in galvanizing production lines, an area that has seen only faltering progress in the Tejas programme. 


  1. I think there should be more than one manufacturing base & that can be handled by the pvt sector, this is essential if we want these planes in large numbers

  2. Really Liked reading this! I hope Mark-II flies very (very) soon :-)

    - Tanuj, Noida

  3. Quite a revelation. Exposes those who denigrate Tejas. I fail to understand if Tejas in it's MKI configuration is such a formidable fighter that can take on both F16 and JF17, why is our Imported Air Force so reluctant to order more of this fighter while they perpetually cry about their declining strength? Tejas, and not Rafales, were intended for replacement of Mig21 and Mig27 fighters. When Tejas has almost matured, why IAF and chor babus and netas are stalling it's induction under one pretext or the other? Why is Cobham repeatedly delaying delivery of refueling probe and quartz radome which is the only reason why TejasMKI is unable to get it's FOC.

  4. This Modi govt is the most anti DPSU govt in the history of independent India. Their policies will leave India's defense in worse shape than what congress did in their 10 years of kleptocratic rule.

  5. "Nine hard points on its wings and fuselage carry air-to-air missiles, bombs, fuel drop tanks, a gun and a targeting pod."

    9 or 8.


  6. Sir,
    Definitely she is a good aircraft but the main question is can HAL. produce it in numbers ?? MK1 SP1 is delivered almost 6 months back still we are waiting for SP2 !! At this rate even to supply 20 aircrafts HAL. will take 10 years !!
    Pakistan is producing at-least 08 JF 17 aircrafts / year basis. We need patriots in HAL.

  7. Thank God... NAK Browne... thought roadmap... Fill IAF... Pilatus PC-7 mk2...

  8. The major difference between two engines is the size of the air intakes. One of the major design flaws of Tejas is its small size of intakes, limiting adequate airflow to the current engine. It is one of the major reasons why it's performance has been subpar comp limiting adequate airflow to the current engine. It is one of the major reasons why it's performance has been subpar compared to Gripen which also has the same engine. (A casual look at both fighters will clarify this)

  9. One should take a close look at the so called remaining tests for FOC. Whether they are time wasters or if they make sense at all. One of the aircraft (not sure if it was Tejas or LCH) recently cleared a so called cold soak test which involved keeping the aircraft overnight in Leh at probably 30 deg below zero and then starting it from internal batteries. This is really a superfluous test which is actually a test of the battery and not of the aircraft really. The same test could easily have been conducted in a lab keeping the battery at -30 and then subjecting it to the same engine peak load/time and checking the drop in power after the required number of starts. The tests need to be rationalised and all such superfluous tests to be reviewed so that the time waster tests are thrown out of the window. CEMILAC has a great role to play in this and should show leadership in thinking out smart solutions instead of plodding along a test procedure that should be prepared with more intelligence and worked through with alacrity.

  10. My man, how do u know know so much? You must still have some seriously good sources in Armed Forces as well as DRDO/HAL n other PSUs.

    Any reporter can go to an opening ceremony and print headlines with some pictures when a new ship or a submarine or a plane when it is commissioned. But to go into the mechanics of how an aircraft or a tank is progressing, to go into technicals n specifics is pretty amazing. This is exactly the kind of information one yearns for.

    I maybe a Modi Bhakt and may cringe every time I hear you lambast the current government policies but damn do I respect your opinion.

    One of these days if you can I would love your take on how you the govt should implement OROP. Does number of years in service matter or should it be plain OROP.

  11. Overall, a good report. I wish you would have mentioned ferry range of Tejas is 1700km since I have seen quite a few people compare incorrectly with MiG-21/27 saying they can fly 1000km (or something) but LCA can only do 300-350km. They don't know the difference between combat radius and "range" that marketing brochures throw around.

  12. Just a minor clarification Ajai. The Tejas Mk1's radius-of-action is 500km according to ADA.

    The 300-350km figure was the older limitation back when the aircraft had not been configured with heavy drop tanks.

  13. At least 100 MK I should be inducted ASAP. This will help establish good production lines and get the relevant maintenance organisations of IAF to change from Russian to Indian/ western systems. This is a time consuming process and will take 4-5 years to occur. By just sitting tight with 40 aircraft all these issues will not be accomplished. MKI should be a good stepping stone to MKII and the transition should be without a hitch.

  14. I just don't understand one thing! How bloody difficult could it be to make this plane fly?!
    For god sake we are space rockets now! How freaking difficult can it be make our own bloody engine?

    This so pathetic!

    What happens if tomorrow we go to war? What happens if ISIS takes over Pakistan and wages war against us? Would be still act so slow like we are doing now?

    6 years? 6 years for MK2? And then we make what 1 aircraft a month! So it would take 18 months to make 1 squadron!!! And we need what 230 something aircraft????

    This is just mind bogglingly slow!

    We should be prepared for anything!

    Why cant we have 200-300 of these Tejas MK1S? And when we have replenished our needs, we can get onto MK2? Are we that poor that we can't afford these now and the MK2?

    And dont get me started on INSAS replacements? How bloody difficult can it be make a simple fukcing rifle?

    So much bureaucracy n bullshit!

  15. lca is the faltu fighter of iaf,it is light fighter but havy burden for iaf..in any war with china it not compit aginst wave of j10 j11 its showroom fighter ada hal for pomplet..hal lake 30 year for make strucher make and than agin want 5 to 8 year for operational jet Iaf is the profectional force in the world all top 10 air force turn focus on ucav 5th jen fighter but our LCA Struggle for compit a position for m21.scrap mark 1 project and only focus for mark2 and govt would give warning to HAL ADA for COMPLLIT project... we know iaf can not fight in same time of both enimey..jitna paisa lca m wda chuke ho utne me kai dusre type ke jet mil jate wo b helpful hote jet stranth ko kam se kam 40 tk pahuchane k liye..kai option hai market m jysi jas 39 ,kai T50 ,su 30 ..jas to pure factory hi india m lagan chachta hi ya fir miraj 2000 ko hi 2nd hand other county sew le lewo our modify kr lo ya fir rafewl ko 80 kro jitnaq paisa lca ke developmnt n engen m laga hai utne m to su 30 ya rafel ka pura 8 scudrn aa jayga ...mark 1 mark 1 bnd kro mark 2 kro

  16. Good article. Maybe you should also do an article on our beloved IAF buying aircraft based on snob value rather than actual need.

    Case in point: MMRCA: While the original need was for a Mirage 2000 class aircraft (the original requirement in 2000 was for the M2K), the competition ballooned to include Rafale, Eurofighter, F-18 and Mig 35 heavy twin engine aircraft. 15 years later, due to the different cost structures of the two different classes of aircraft, we are not able to buy the 126 aircraft as the flyaway cost of a typical Mirage 2000-5/F-16 Block 52 is approx USD 50-60 Mill, half of the USD 120 Mill for a Rafale/Eurofighter. If IAF had struck to its requirement, we could have bought 100 odd Mirage 2000/F-16 Block 50 approx 8-10 years back, which would have been in service by now, and we would not have been facing this fighter crunch today.

    Repeat LCA: If the LCA Mark-1 is good enough to replace the Mig 21 and there is no doubt it is, why not order the LCA in large numbers to make up the fleet? An order for 100 LCA Mark-1 will beef up the country's air defences, enable HAL to set up a larger production line and also help indigenize a lot of parts, while paving the way for the LCA Mark-2.

    The LCA Mark-2 is 6 years away. By the time the LCA Mark-2 is ready for induction 5 years from now, I am sure the IAF will ask for the AMCA and promise a large order only for the AMCA citing stealth and other reasons.

  17. You have shared so much information but no useful information yet...

    - Has the Mk-1 cleared the 28 degree AoA trials?
    - Has the Gsh-23 cannon been integrated and test fired from the Mk-1?
    - Has the serviceability of the Mk-1 been established? Last i heard, the Mk-1 required 3 hours of servicing after a 45 minute sortie and could do two sorties on a lucky day?
    - Has the existing leaking Radome been replaced with the new quartz radome (Cobham) unit? Has the full radar rage of approx 90-100 km been tested?
    - Has the missiles (Python, Derby and R-73) been integrated with the Mk-1 and been tested for full range guidance by the Mk-1 radar?
    - Has the flight envelope been fully expanded for the Mk-1?

    Without these details, your article would perhaps "wow" the aam junta, but for people-in-the-know, the LCA without these capabilities, would still remain a "3 legged cheetah" in the words of a former Air Chief...

  18. We need to learn from the, Chinese, keep LCA coming In to service. Keep learning . Keep improving

  19. A well written,well researched, fact based, non-propagating, analytical article.

    It lets the reader access the information and draw his or her own opinions based on the analysis.

    Minor Correction : Developing the Mark II - "... than the 83 KiloNewtons (kN) of peak thrust its General Electric (GE) F-414IN20 engine provides..." This should be F-404IN20.


  20. I felt that the project is lingering on for some or other reasons. They just wait for one thing then they concentrate on the other. These issues should have been dealt with simultaneously. I would give some funding to a group of young technocrats forming a group to work out these problems. US government gave 44 months to desiegn the ATF and it was done by both NG and LM. I feel ADA should make MK2 in two years and make it fly. Take permission to built GE with 414 ÉPÉ engines with complete building to be done in INdia with no transfer of technology it would atleast give high performance engine which would give tejas better parameters than any fighter in its inventory. Let ELTA built EL 2052 AESA in India and a fully new high performance electronic warfare suite be desiegned and fitted. The performance then can beat the SU 30 MKI. I had given lot of suggestions which I think have been implimented. The air intakes have to be very large and have to be totally re desiegned as the present day trainers also don't have the air intakes like MK1. Good luck crucial phase and no reason that the team would not succeed. Desiegn a technology park where everything is built so that it can feed the assembly line. It would cost same amount of money to maintain 400 MK 2 as it would have costed for 90 more Raffles.


  21. Some one expressed that Tejas is formidable fighter which can take on F16s. are you serious?
    Do you really mean Tejas can beat or even challenge F16s. I like Tejas but cmon, have a grain of common sense not to pit it against F16.
    Tejas has design issues, not critical thought but limiting its performance. Some of them can never be fixed as it comes part of core design layout of aircraft model. No one would accept that openly.

    Tejas has long journey to make in the IAF arsenal, but it will be decades more before it can become the tip or dagger.

  22. I agree with sai that in its present format it is not even close to F16 block 52 but with GE 414 ÉPÉ engine it can go beyond the performance of newer PAF version of F16. Tejas has advantage of small structure with most of the components which are composites all that is needed is to put of film of nano particles in the composite lining and put radar absorbent paints to further augment passive stealth. Then add in built 4 active jammers to further augment the stealth. The AESA radar is also important where it can recognize and lock the target Evan before the target can lock it. Most of the air to ir encounters would be beyond the visual range and that it needs to be mated with good long range BVR missile. The performance only comes in close encounters.the electronic warfare suite is very important as it gives the edge to any modern fighter and it needs constant up gradation. Test is against SU30 MKI and upgraded Mirages as well as Rafale so that cutting edge technology be devloped. There is lot of work to be done and someone makes determined effort then Tejas can beat newer versions of F 16. My best wishes for that. If they succeed then go for twin engined tejas MK 3 which should be like delta winged YF 23instead of diamond wings. This would be more easier to devlop before they start AMCA and would be quicker to devlop with a good range in the MK3.


  23. @Sai

    In modern day aerial combat, mano a mano forms of dogfights are over. Superior situational awareness backed by AWACS can change the course of battle.
    Tejas is far more stealthier than F16. This single factor is a game changer and can affect the outcome in Tejas's favor.

  24. Typo? I think the first engine for Tejas is the 404IN20 not the 414IN20 mentioned.

  25. If LCA even beats the BISON, it will be a miracle. Remember LCA is severely restricted in its current flight envelope. But then again, this article is about dreams. It can even take out F22, forget about the F-16, JF-17, SU-30MKI and Mig-21.

  26. @Sai - In Cope India 2013 or 14, a USAF-IAF excersize, both Airforces went against each other in simulated combat.

    US Aircraft were F-15s and F-16s and India fielded Mig-21 Bison, Mig-27, early Sukhoi 30s(Not the MKI variant) and I believe the Mirage 2000. The Indians took up the role of the attacking/aggressor force while the US took up the defending force.

    The ground rules were non usage of BVR...(essentially engaging targets in close quarter combat). The IAF fighters registered a 9:1 Kill ratio. That means 1 IAF aircraft loss for every 9 US aircraft. Of course being aggressors the IAF had more aircraft in the Air.

    By the USAF's own account, the Mig 21 Bison (perhaps the Oldest design) was considered the most lethal threat the US pilots faced in the air.

    1. F16 is not the the god of all fighters, in fact the F15 is actually a air superiority Fighter and is built to be superior to any aircraft in the air (before the f22).

    2. Its not the fighter but the pilots (and their tactics). A seasoned pilot in a Mig 21 can any day wipe out a new pilot sitting in an F16 or F15 . Same is the case with an inexperienced sukhoi 30 crew can be wiped out by an experienced pilot in an F86 Sabre or F16.

    he LCA is a 4 gen aircraft with BVR capability and with a good pilot and tactics will be able to smoke any fighter in the world today. Yes, ASEA radars and a better engine will certainly help.

    So dont be enamored movies and you tube videos.

  27. NSR says ---

    India must bargain hard with USA for GE F-414INS6 TOT and build a full production line...

    India must design Tejas II and AMCAI (AMCA Initial) with same engines.

    AMCAI will get two GE F-414INS6 engines with enough dead space for future expansion and inclusion of conformal tanks for long range...
    India must use AMCAI to demonstrate the proof of the pudding and development of sub-assemblies and Line Replacement Units, etc

    This will benefit both LCA Tejas II and future AMCA...

    India must not toy around too many things with so many fighters going into retirement...

    We have had enough stories about what we can build for the last 30+ years...

  28. Guru ji on 16 July at 15:14: I'll answer your questions here:

    1) The IAF's AoA requirement is 26 degrees only. The Tejas has been tested to an AoA of 26 degrees, which meets IAF's requirement..

    2) The Gashka canon has been ground tested (photos are available on the net), but I don't know if it has been air-tested. However, in 21st century warfare, canons may not be all that critical. Western fighters are gradually doing away with them.

    3) There have been no reports on Tejas not meeting "serviceability" requirements.

    4) UK-based company Cobham has delayed the radome's supply first in 2014, and for the second time in 2015. It will only arrive later this year. The Python/Derby integration, and subsequent tests can be done only when the radome arrives.



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