Taking forward the Tejas - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 4 July 2016

Taking forward the Tejas

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th July 16

Over the preceding decade, under-informed defence writers and commentators have made careers out of bad-mouthing India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The commentary focused primarily on development delays, criticized the fighter’s performance and sneered at the under-funded, under-staffed Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), a Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) agency responsible for the Tejas programme. Regrettably, the Indian Air Force (IAF) colluded in undermining ADA, passing on tidbits to the media in order to show the Tejas in a poor light, apparently to clear the way for importing expensive aircraft. Thanks to this, most Indians came to regard the Tejas as a byword for delay, incompetence and the untrustworthiness of the DRDO. Most Indians concluded that the purchase of exorbitantly priced foreign aircraft like the French Rafale was unavoidable to keep India safe.

These critics have now done an about-turn after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar inducted the first two production version Tejas Mark I fighters on Saturday into the IAF’s first operational Tejas squadron (45 Squadron). In January, the Tejas made its foreign debut, performing well-received aerobatics displays at the Bahrain international Air Show. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, a steady hand at the IAF’s tiller, has supported the Tejas and committed to ordering 100 Tejas Mark 1A fighters --- similar to the current version, except for four specified improvements. Test pilots involved in the Tejas’ flight-testing had always praised its performance and reliability, but now there is also praise from the IAF. Group Captain Madhav Rangachari, the 45 Squadron chief who flew the Tejas on Saturday, reportedly observed afterwards: "I felt like being on top of the world when flying the Tejas fighter. It’s an excellent aircraft and a generation ahead of other fighters in the world.”

That nobody has contradicted Rangachari is a measure of how effusive the media has suddenly become in reporting this story. It needs to be pointed out that the Tejas is not “a generation ahead of other fighters”; it is a contemporary fighter, with several features that match the “best-in-class”, while others still require improvement. Even so, the most astounding achievement of the Tejas project is the development of a fourth-generation fighter and a respectable aerospace development, production and testing eco-system in India for the pittance of Rs 14,047 crore, just over $2 billion. This was done in the face of intensified international technology sanctions since the 1998 nuclear tests and, as discussed above, amidst media and IAF hostility.

The operationalization of the Tejas has not taken “over three decades” as critics dishonestly maintain. They incorrectly cite August 22, 1983 as the start of the Tejas project, when the government allocated Rs 560 crore for “feasibility studies and project definition”. In fact, it took another decade, until April 1993, when the defence ministry sanctioned the “Full Scale Engineering Development” (FSED) of the Tejas, and provided funds to build two fighters as “technology demonstrators”.

Taking April 1993 as the start of the Tejas development programme, the timeline suddenly looks more respectable. It took just eight years for the Tejas’ first flight in 2001; 20 years for initial operational clearance in 2013, and 23 years for final operational clearance and induction into IAF service. The significantly more capable Tejas Mark IA is expected to be completed by 2018 to meet standards that four agencies --- the defence ministry, IAF, ADA, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which builds the fighter --- have hammered out between them, to make the Tejas clearly more capable than current enemy fighters. If that deadline is met, the Tejas will have taken exactly a quarter century in development. That is a creditable record for building a first fighter.

The improved Tejas Mark IA will have an AESA radar, which the DRDO-HAL combine proposes to build in partnership with Israeli company Elta. It will be capable of air-to-air refueling to increase range and combat endurance. It will also have a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) mounted in an external pod to confuse enemy radar. Finally, it will have an improved layout of internal systems to ease maintenance and allow rapid “turnaround time”, i.e. the quickness with which the Tejas can leave on a fresh mission after returning from an earlier one.

The IAF has already detailed the Tejas’ performance parameters, announcing: “The LCA has a very competitive and cotemporary operational envelope. It is capable of operations up to an altitude of 50,000 feet and a maximum speed of 1.6 Mach at [high] altitudes or 730 knots… at low levels. The aircraft [can turn at] +8G to -2.5G (which allows it to U-turn in 350 metres) in operationally clean configuration… or +6G to -2.5G with other external stores.” This respectable performance envelope will be further enhanced when the Tejas IA enters service. It is, therefore, incorrect to suggest, as some commentators and editorial writers have done, that only the import of fighters like the Rafale would give the IAF an operational edge. Directing those billions into the Tejas programme instead would be a more sensible course.

Even as the Tejas Mark IA is being developed, ADA is working on the Tejas Mark II. The key enhancement in that will be the replacement of the current General Electric F-404 engine with the larger, more powerful GE F-414 engine. The technological challenge --- which is to re-engineer the Mark I fuselage to fit in the bulkier F-414 --- would be offset by the Mark II’s greater power. The re-engineering would also provide the opportunity to replace the current generation of avionics with enhanced, new-generation avionics. Realistically, the Mark II can be expected to enter service by 2023-24, until when HAL can build the 100 Mark IA fighters that the IAF has committed to buying.

Supporting ADA through this programme is essential. That agency is simultaneously working on an Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which will be a fifth-generation fighter with stealth features, and incorporating an advanced engine that will allow it to supercruise (fly at supersonic speed without lighting the fuel-guzzling afterburner). To enable and empower this project, it is essential to quickly conclude the contract with Russia to co-develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) that has been mired in negotiations for a decade. The FGFA experience would provide Indian aeronautical engineers the knowhow and experience in working on fifth-generation technologies, which would be translated into the AMCA.

The area of concern, which the defence ministry needs to address on priority, is to ensure that HAL builds the Tejas Mark I and Mark IA at a rate of 12-16 fighters per year. That would allow the IAF to conduct operational planning, obtain buy-in from that service, and translate the Tejas from a debutante into a real combat asset.


  1. Great news! Its easy to buy, difficult to build & we built quite good! :D

  2. Great article and kudos for your courage in calling out the IAFs brazen undermining of Tejas. Most authors including ex-service will not say this.

    One correction:

    "The improved Tejas Mark IA will have an AESA radar, which the DRDO-HAL combine proposes to build in partnership with Israeli company Elbit. "

    Shouldn't this be Elta?

    Also what is Tejas achieved STR/ITR - the media has pretended as if it was huge issue, whcih doesn't seem truthful based on later information and presence of helmet sight with missiles.

  3. NSR says ---

    Congratulations to HAL, ADA, DRDO, etc...

    Tejas I should be built so that the subassemblies of Tejas-IA can be used and interchangeable...

    HAL need to go world wide to do joint design and development, and joint manufacturing of many avionics that will go into Tejas-I, Tejas-IA,, Tejas-II, and AMCA.

    The same assembly can be populated into the older fighters during block upgrades...

    I am an old timer who felt the sorrow of ending HF-24 Marut and demise of Indian aerospace industry...

    So run and establish an aerospace and defense industry second to none...

    I honestly believe that India will benefit immensely from manufacturing F/A-18 as it brings in full TOT in F-414 engine, avionics, armaments, etc
    It will benefit Tejas-II and MACA...
    F/A-18 is a battle tested fighter and we do not need any more sophisticated fighter than this to tackle two threats...

    India can ride Boeing's supply chain to become an important aerospace giant contributing to economy and creation of high paying jobs...

    Great accomplishment by any means...

  4. Hopefully the IAF finds the wisdom in supporting home grown tech and can go from being an imported air force to a builders air force like the Navy. This is a first step in the right direction. Next the IAF needs to support the continued development and induct the Tejas Mk1A, Mk2, AMCA and the LCH in numbers.

    Lets also not forget the HTT 40 and IJT trainers. In fact I saw the TV analysis where this blogger , the Colonel, was defending himself against retired IAF Air Marshals who wanted to import the Pilatus PC7 against supporting the HTT. You have been proved right Sir. Importing the PC7 was a mistake and the HTT should have been supported from the beginning. Wonder how much benefits the retired Air Marshals on the program received like their former Chief in the Augusta Westland Helicopter case.

    The nation needs people like you to push our technological development and speak the truth. I also hope there is no truth to the rumors of joining the JSF program. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for providing a balanced and sane account of Tejas. I am tired of the extreme mood swings exhibited by media in general!

  6. NSR says ---

    2nd the previous anonymous commenter about Ajai Shukla...Yes he brings out relevant facts for discussion...Kudos to him...

    If it took 32 years for LCA/Tejas-I, then India and IAF can afford to provide 3.2 years to HAL Lto complete the IJT by fixing spin and weight problems...

    It will liberate India in most of the categories of planes..

    Never give up on IJT...

  7. Sir, I have enjoyed your analysis and commentary for many years. My only gripe is that you have not run for the office of Defense Minister whereby a lot of ideas could be put into immediate action!

  8. Tejas is no longer *light* fighter due to all the things IAF needs in the plane. Yet, the size is that of light fighter. And then they ask, why is it so heavy?

  9. Dear Colonel you are right as always. You've been steadfastly defending India's indigenous programs when doing so could have subjected you ridicule by our paid media. Success of these programs also depend a lot on public knowing the truth which is covered under heap of doctored news propagating vested interests.

  10. Most indians do not understand what ORBAT is. Those who do, do not bother to study the current ORBAT of neighbours because this sort of information is hard to find. Jane tries to carry it but you'll have to pay for that.

    Tejas is a not a strike aircraft; instead it is a defensive fighter plane. That means, it will never venture beyond the border. Its area of operation is limited behind the radius of our air cover. A strike aircraft are those that have some form of stealth capability(to try to evade enemy radars), a good engine that can carry good load. Gone are the days of F-16 and F-18 which have long coverage but very bad in evading radar detection. They risk being shot down too. Rafale is also a strike fighter but its design is not stealth so ordering it in huge numbers is not feasible in the future because air defense role is already being covered by tejas.

    India don't hot have an effective strike fighter currently. Those roles are expected from pak-fa and amca which are "under development'.

  11. Nice article! Good job by DRDO & HAL. DRDO & HAL must ensure that there is no delay in delivering Tejas Mk1A. Further Tejas Mk2 must be developed as a stealth fighter, so that it remains operationally relevant when it is inducted in a decades time. HAL must also increase the capacity to 1 squadron per month in the next 1 decade. If HAL is not able to invest, private sector must be involved to start another assembly line as suggested by Ajai earlier. Tejas must be inducted in large numbers to ensure that they are able to counter stealth fighter of PLAAF. India must also ensure that Tejas is powered by an indigenous engine. It critical to further develop Kaveri engine with help other countries.

  12. IAF has always used local stuff when available right from BTA , Kiran to Maruts. Now Dhruv helicopters.
    What is the status of IAF order for 70+ IJT to,HAL ?
    I am sure IAF will pick up LUH today if available.
    The only exception has been the disaster called HPT-32, here too IAF desperately tried to rectify it and was begging HAL to do something to prevent young pilots and their talented instructors from killed. Finally 19 dies due to this faulty aircraft. The Givt very wisely decided on emergency imports.
    something all bloggers avoid to mention.

  13. very nice article Ajai, very well articulated. IAF, politicians and bureaucracy in the past wanted LCA dead so that they could buy expensive imported planes and enjoy foreign trips. again credit must be given to RM/PM combo for pushing lCA down the throat of IAF.
    What is bizarre is that LCA is compared to all aircrafts in the world except for mig-21 which is what it will replace. also we must understand how 120 LCA can replace 250 mig-21's.
    HAL must add another line and think long term, if not IAF other countries will also but this fighter. it is worth the risk to add another line and make 1 sqd every year.
    I think we must shelve the MK2 project as it will breach into Mirage and Gripen category and will lead to another platform as it is diff aircraft. instead we must buy cheaper planes like gripen as arm twist them to sell fighters dirt cheap rather than have dreams to buy 200 rafales which would have made India bankrupt. Kudos to all involved in making this happen but now they must be firm on track and make as fast and as many. hope Navy also buys in large numbers. achhe din for Iaf.....

  14. Why not open... Two more... Assembly lines...

  15. An excellent article, Col. Shukla. Indeed, the last decade saw many so-called "journalists" earn their livelihood by spouting venom on Tejas, as also Arjun, Akash, Nag and Arihant. Thinly veiled attack pieces masquerading as neutral reports, have brainwashed an entire generation into thinking that the Tejas is a saga of broken promises delivered far too late.

    Then continuing the modus operandi, come the regular reports glorifying a certain Russian or Swedish or Israeli fighter jet/tank/missile, for which talks may be held. Never mind that the so-called "Sea-Gripen" is a paper tiger, (or a paper sea-gull!) whereas the Naval-Tejas is already up and flying. Never mind that the T-90 was pummeled by even the older Arjun, forget the newer Mk.2. Never mind that the much hyped Barak-2 is as real as the Red Sea parting, whereas the Akash was already being deployed in the north-east by the thousands. Besides, such advertisements...oops...I mean 'reports' are always based on whispers heard by "sources" at an Air Show. Who are these "sources"? Nobody knows.


    It was very heartening to see Tejas' induction in the IAF. What was even more gratifying was IAF's pilots and Commanders praising it to the hilt. One pilot was candid enough to admit that he converted from being a skeptic to a fan. Another also conceded that it was superior to the Mirage-2000.

    All this is a fitting tribute to the hard-work of thousands of scientists and engineers who silently soldiered on for a few decades despite the harsh criticism from an ill-informed media, despite global sanctions, and despite the lure of juicy private jobs. I salute and congratulate them. The media must run a series on some of these unsung heroes.

    Indian aviation has finally come of age. Its the Dhruvs and Tejas's who set its tone, and not the house of Tatas aching to start an airline after 7 decades. Its the hard-working scientists at DRDO, and the honourable test-pilots who set its tone, and not some tabloid reporters or arms agents, who collude to plant stories in the media.

    The govt. must now expedite its production rate by roping in the private sector. Its sets a good example to the clarion call of "Make in India" too, after all.


    To improve the prospects of the Tejas in the global market, India can start by donating a few units to friendly nations in need, like Afghanistan and Iraq. The Tejas flying in Afghan or Iraqi colours would be a huge endorsement. Vietnam, Phillipines and Cambodia would also be very interested, given that these nations have hostilities with China. Even the US woud be indirectly interested, as the GE-F 404 engine is theirs!

  16. Like every other commentary on LCA this one too is high on emotion and low on reason. As much we would love to see LCA succeed the truth is that it never going to be the mainstay of IAF it was mentioned to be. Delay is not a word in the past of this program, it is very much the current reality.
    How can Mk1a be expected to arrive in 2018 while FOC is still being incrementally delayed. HAL last year proposed development of Mk1a with a 3 year time frame and placed demands for funds for the same. Formal approval and sanctioning of funds has still NOT happened yet. Therefore the 2018 target is already delayed.
    As for Mk2 it was supposed to fly in 2015! It is still on paper with an increasingly uncertain future. It is farcical for ADA to talk of Mk2 induction timeliness given they don't even have the confidence to give and stick to Mk1 FOC Deadline.
    IAF's need for MMRCA is really not about love of imports as many may like to believe. It is a reflection of 21 century reality and threats(namely China). IAF realises that in war the best way to overcome asymmetry with China is to be able to strike the limited number of PLAF airbases in Tibet and creating bottleneck to prevent PLAF bringing it's overbearing force against India. Unfortunately LCA's reach and punch doesn't fit into this plan. Even the Sukhois with their massive radar signature are hardly suitable for such strikes. The Sukhois after all true to their Russian heritage are primarily air defense jets. This is where the Rafael fits in. This is what the IAF desperately needs.
    LCA won't be a failure either. It would find its place somewhere even if in limited numbers. It really should have come a decade or two earlier.

  17. no Tejas MK.2 plz. After 1A go straight for AMCA.
    ROI / Timeline for MK.2 will not great for IAF

  18. I am not a journalist but I believe journalism should be a balanced act. In other words, cover both sides of the coin. This is something SERIOUSLY LACKING in majority of Indian journalism and Mr Shukla is no exception.

    Tejas has indeed been an up-hill climb for India, no question about it. No indigenous aircraft industry or even an ancillary industry. HAL/ADA must be commended for attempting to bring Tejas to its current stage in this scenario. In your article, Mr Shukla has beautifully explored this angle. The country/HAL/ADA should justifiably be proud of this part.

    Having said that, what has been HAL's shortcomings? Why does the Tejas continue to be plagued by serviceability issues? Why is the IAF shit-scared about HAL's products? Is it because all IAF personnel get benefitted on importing an aircraft? The IN is not scared riding a ship built at MDL or GRSE to war. Why are you silent on this part Mr Shukla?

  19. Enough has already been written about the subverting bosses in the 'imported Air Force'. Their tails have stopped wagging under the strict watch of the Modi-Manohar combine. These anti national forces have to be systematically weeded out.

  20. @Ajai Shukla

    This the best article on Tejas , I had come across.

    Your opening comments are the most appropriate.

    I am surprised at the low key response of the media to the induction of LCA Tejas .

    Recently the defence minister during one of his press conference commented that India is pursuing not one but two fighter programs, was he suggesting to AMCA and FGFA?

  21. Thank you very much for a balanced article. In ADA we are committed to give it our best shot in all the Programmes.

    As you are aware, we are developing the challenging Naval version of LCA also. This has made significant strides in the recent past in demonstration of Carrier Suitability at the specially built Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) at Goa.

  22. The fighter should have decent flying performance but more important to have excellent sensor integration , and cutting edge electronic warfare capabilities. The survival of the plane depends on electronic warfare suite and to add to that it is better to have stealth , tejas scores in that it is very small plane with most of the skin of composites giving a very small radar signature which makes it very less likely for enemy fighter to lock it at long distances. Try to devlop passive stealth with shape changes , nano particles in the skin , pure gold thin film in the canopy with central powerful jammer with three more accessory jammers one each in wings and last in the tail. It has to loose 700-800 kg. Of weight and add GE 414 IN 5S6 engine and it should super cruise. The advantage is after completing a mission and dropping the bombs it should quickly return back in super cruise mode so that it can safely return back. I feel the leading edges are aluminum it must be changed with titanium which be made more sharper to reduce the drag and titanium is more harder and resists much higher temperature and does not like aluminum changes shape at higher temperatures achieved during high speed flying. They must have checked the wings for laminar flow in supersonic wind tunnels. I sincerely wish this would be a great plane and that is the reason I write these comments as an opinion from a bystander and please don't publish it but definitely forward it to the people who are in the desiegn team.



  24. Varun Augustya16 July 2016 at 22:53

    Colonel Sir,

    Having Tejas replace Mig-21 would be a long drawn process given limited production capacity of HAL. Still, its induction will give much needed boost to our Air defence and strike capabilities even as Weapon System integration and testing remains to be done as of now. Another factor will be airworthiness of the aircraft and its serviceability record as it establishes itself in the IAF in coming years. Tejas is indigenous by its airframe, but many of its critical components including its engine have been imported. Maintenance / spares support and continuity of component supply for future aircraft need to be ensured.

    Tejas being a light aircraft can also prove iteself as a carrier borne interceptor given its Short take off and High payload capacity. But the Naval version is yet to clear IOC/ FOC stage.

    There is a lot of talk of it being compared to JF-17 operated by PAF. Here, we must reasonably take pride that it far exceeds in technology to the Pak aircraft, but JF-17 itself is a 3rd generation aircraft of conventional design and which has a handicap of large Radar Cross Section compared to LCA. Still, air superiority of LCA will be largely be determined by its weapon fit which has not been operationalized as yet.

    Lastly, PAF though having their F-16s and JF-17s may appear as an adversary of some potential, it is the PLA-Air Force that actually needs to be factored in determining long term strategy involving combat utility of LCA and any comparison if necessary, must be made with existing or future inventory of China and possible threat to Indian airspace from that country.


  25. Some IOC news of the F-35 to help compare how difficult the IOC to FOC path is for any fighter.

    The US Air Force now has the minimum number of 12 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters with completed modifications required before the first squadron can be declared initially capable for operations, service officials announced on 13 July.

    Since 2013, the USAF has planned to declare initial operational capability (IOC) with 12-24 F-35As assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, from 1 August to 31 December this year.

    But that timeframe appeared to be threatened with the discovery of a faulty fuel tank last September. In certain flight conditions, USAF testers found that air can enter the siphon fuel tank, potentially causing the tank to over-pressurise and rupture in-flight.

    The USAF restricted the delivered F-35A fleet to 3g maneouvres when carrying a fuel load of fuel. Only when more than half of the fuel tank was empty could the F-35A perform manoeuvres up to 7g’s, the maximum allowable for USAF variant with Block 2B software. The Block 3F version scheduled for release next year will allow the F-35A to operate the full flight envelope with manoeuvres up to 9gs.

    Workers at the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB are installing a modification in the F-35A fleet to prevent air from entering a fuel transfer line. By adding a relief line controlled by a solenoid valve, the siphon tanks can vent the air that could cause an over-pressurisation, according to a 2015 report by the Defense Department’s office of test and evaluation.

    The path to declaring IOC for the F-35A is now driven by a requirement to complete training for pilots and maintainers, the USAF says. The aircraft must be able to carry either a mix of two GBU-31 and two GBU-12 bombs or two AIM-120 AMRAAMs, and perform basic close air support, air interdiction and suppression or destruction of air defences.

    The US Marine Corps declared IOC with the F-35B variant last July, standing up the VMFA-121 squadron at Yuma MCAS, Arizona. The navy, meanwhile, plans to achieve IOC between August 2018 and February 2019.

  26. Someone should do something about the Tejas typography.

  27. LCA tejas and INDIA is lucky , that in correct time BJP ,MODI and PARRIKAR combination come to power .And it saved the LCA tejas project . Under previous CONGRESS government , no one was taking it seriously and AIR FORCE was ready to junk this project for foreign expensive toys. BUT MODI AND PARRIKAR put their foot down and backed LCA TEJAS .NOW INDIA is inducting in large numbers and its various enhancement is happening on top of that. INDIA PEOPLE has to understand these good works of the government whoever is in power and then support them.

  28. I strongly believe the naval version should be desiegned on GE 414 engine and evantualy try to get high performance ÉPÉ engine so that sufficiant fuel and load can be carried in the plane. I strongly believe the wing surface be increased by atleast 25 percent. The wing shape be cranked delta like F16 XL with glove and holes drilled with laser. I strongly believe that flaps be placed in the wings as that would help to reduce the speed and help in quick descent to have a controlled crash that is needed for carrier landing. I still believe TVC control in pitch axis would be very helpful to control the plane to have short takeoff and slow landing speed when it approaches the carrier for landing approach. The slower and steady the planes comes for landing better would be controlled crash landing so that the tail hook can attach the wire and the plane can stop. This is my opinion and you are free to do anything you want , I strongly believe I would have done this way.


  29. Sir,
    It's been quite so be time since we have read something off your pen. Hope you've been keeping well. Pl continue with the good work. longing for more of your journalistic pearls. Regards.

  30. Dear Editor,

    Where is the next article ? We are waiting since 2 Weeks !!! : )


  31. Sir ek to Tejas ki shape change karwao wings patle kar k is ma chaar misile lag jaegi or tail k Bina bura lagta ha is ma engine gef414 enhaced lagvao vo 116 kn ha

  32. You all are giving suggestion as you are aircraft engineers. If all your good suggestion adopted it will have design of yours frevivolus commentators. Let the scientists design after teasearch. No need to give foolish suggestion.

  33. Yes sir I am a retired plane desiegner but I must admit that I have never ever desiegner a very small plane like that. We are asked to desiegn a plane as per the requisites of the air staff and thus we never ever did desiegn a small plane. F 104 was a Kelly Johnson marvel but it was always my dream to desiegn a small plane like tejas and I am giving my views which you may not agree and you can trash it. I am fine with that.i did some great stuff which I am proud of and as I am retired I give free suggestions for many other projects which some are accepted and some are rejected. I only wanted the team to succeed as it would be a great plane.



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