Anonymous letter threatens vital Tejas 1A project - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Anonymous letter threatens vital Tejas 1A project

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th July 17

Not for the first time, an anonymous letter to the ministry of defence (MoD) threatens to delay, if not derail, a vital defence programme: in this case, the Rs 20,000 crore project to develop and build 83 Tejas Mark 1A light combat aircraft, which the MoD sanctioned in November.

On Tuesday, MoD officials, led by Additional Secretary Surina Rajan, met to discuss an unsigned petition the MoD had received against the decision to import a radar for the Tejas Mark 1A fighter. This alleged that national resources were being frittered away in importing an airborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, even though the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) had developed indigenous AESA radar.

The anonymous complaint follows a DRDO letter, dated January 5, informing the MoD that it was “working on development of AESA radar” that fully complied with the Tejas Mark 1A requirements. The DRDO requested that it also be given the tender that HAL had issued to global manufacturers of AESA radars.

The letter, which Business Standard has reviewed, makes it clear that the DRDO AESA radar is still far from ready. It notes that two Tejas prototypes are being allotted for “installation and flight evaluation” of its AESA radar. This essential testing process is typically an extended one.

The MoD’s cognizance of the anonymous complaint is already delaying the fast-track development of the Tejas Mark 1A by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); and, thereby, the entry of four Tejas Mark 1A squadrons into the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet.

As Business Standard first reported (August 13, 2015 “With Tejas Mark II years away, HAL asks air force to buy Tejas Mark 1A”), the Tejas Mark 1A was conceived as an upgraded Tejas Mark 1, with four specific improvements to meet the IAF’s requirements as an operationally capable fighter.

Four key stakeholders – MoD, IAF, HAL and DRDO – agreed together that HAL would enjoy a free hand, including resorting to global purchases, in expeditiously making those four improvements to the Tejas Mark 1. After demonstrating the upgraded fighter to the IAF’s satisfaction by 2018-19, HAL would quickly build 83 fighters (four squadrons) of Tejas Mark 1A.

Of the four upgrades, the most operationally crucial involved equipping the Tejas with AESA radar, in place of the Tejas’ mechanically scanned Israeli Elta EL/M 2032 radar; and a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) carried in an external pod under the Tejas’ wing.

Two other upgrades – improving the “maintainability” of the fighter, and fitting it with external refuelling capability are already well in hand.

AESA radar enjoys battle-winning advantages over traditional “manually steered” radar. In the latter, the antenna moves manually to let its radar beam scan the sky for enemy targets. In AESA radar, the beam moves electronically, switching rapidly between many different objects, in effect scanning multiple targets simultaneously. Thus, the “multi-tasking” AESA radar can simultaneously track different enemy aircraft, guide missiles to those, and even radiate electro-magnetic pulses to jam enemy radios and radars. The IAF has concluded that AESA radar would add enormously to the Tejas’ combat capability.

With the DRDO still struggling to miniaturise the AESA enough to fit it in the Tejas fighter’s nose cone, HAL issued a global tender for AESA radars to vendors that included Raytheon (USA), Thales (France), Saab (Sweden) and Israel Aerospace Industries. HAL is currently evaluating the bids that were submitted.

“We must place our order within a couple of months. If we start exploring the DRDO route, we can never meet the deadline of 2018-19”, says a senior HAL executive, speaking off the record.

For now, however, it remains unclear whether the MoD will ignore the anonymous letter, or whether yet another lengthy investigation will ensue.

Disruption of the Tejas Mark 1A time line would also result in the HAL production facility lying unemployed after 2019, when the current order of 20 Tejas Mark 1 fighters would have been delivered.

HAL, which will produce eight Tejas fighters this year, is also implementing a Rs 1,231 crore project to upgrade its production line capacity to 16 Tejas fighters per year. At that production rate, it would complete delivery of 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters by 2023-24.


  1. I thought anonymous complaints would no longer be entertained?

  2. Dear Col S,

    Perhaps you mean that the antenna on the current radar moves 'physically' rather than 'manually'?


  3. manually ? or mechanically ?

  4. Anonymous letters must ignored. This is how every defence purchase has been screwed up.

  5. What kind of stupid defense ministry gives this much credence to an anonymous letter? Anybody can write a letter and delay or derail a crucial defense program? Height of stupidity!

  6. I am very disappointed at the progress of the development of tejas fighter. It seems to me that they are doing only one step at a time and they hit a road block and everything gets postponed. AESA radar is a mandatory requirement of any modern fighter and put one in one of the prototypes and complete the BVR missile tests and bombing run. As and possible try to get GaN transducers and increase the range of the radar with optimal power supply and cooling system. The gun has to integrated and finally tested. The mid air refueling must be done soon and the range and loitering time can thus be increased. This has to be done before the year end as there had been in lot of postponement. This fighter then must be assembled in pieces with four to five pieces for body , two pieces for wings and one for tail with landing gear coming separately with all nescessary piping , wiring already done and it should be plug and play and must be completed with a fixed schedule so that every part is made exactly like other and quickly fitted in assembly line and plane be ready to paint and tested. This has to be done by some subcontractors so that in a assembly line for 12 planes if completed every three months 48 planes can be rolled out. It is lot cheaper option than an assembly line for gripped or Raphale which would be exorbitant. This plane would be game changer as
    1. Small size
    2. Composite structure
    3. State of art jammer and ECCM and radar
    4. AESA radar
    5. Beyond the visual range and extended long range missiles.
    6. There should multiple warhead pyelons where a good air to ground missile be attached and tested so that tejas can hit few tanks , artillery positions and supply trucks and trains.two pyelons should carry eight such missiles , try to develop namica if not successful then buy some import.
    7. Two pyelons should carry two large bombs as per the bomb carrying capacity.they should be LGB.
    8. Two pyelons must have two BVR missiles each so that any plane in vicinity can be shot down.
    9. One pyelons must have a 1200 liters fuel tank tested for supersonic with maws on that pyelon.
    10. The fuel capacity has to be increased to five thousand liters and to maintain a decent t/w have a 120 KN engine as that would increase the lethality.

    Atleast five to six hundred planes be built at brisk pace and the ground staff be train to refuel , rearm it in ten minutes and change the pilot and go for a sortie , this way a very high sortie rate be maintained. All other Air Force assets can be used for their assigned role.

    This I feel is cheapest and best option to do that and by doing this approach I am not talking of air superiority , I am talking of air dominance. I strongly feel it is nescessary to have large number of naval versions at china border to operate from long roads with a warehouse next to the road or small 350 to 400 meters runway where a naval fighter can operate from dug in hangers in Himalayan mountains.

    I feel tejas can best operate in wolf pack with 6-8 planes with one high end fighter like rafale or F35 sharing the electronic data with these planes.

    This plane is a game changer and a dedicated officer who can oversee swift progress of the project is needed.


  7. Huh? Did one of several anonymous cry babies trolling the web post a letter to the MOD? ..and they are taking it seriously. Freking unbelieveable !!!

  8. Thank... God... St.Antony... Not There...

  9. Not manually steered- it should have been written as mechanically steered array. the pilot doesn't manually steer the array.


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