The light fighter debacle: a case study of dysfunctional procurement - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Wednesday 6 September 2017

The light fighter debacle: a case study of dysfunctional procurement

A case study for the new defence minister to see how dysfunctional procurement hamstrings the military

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard editorial, 6th Sept 17 

Among many other things, the new Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, would do well to study the long-running procurement of a single-engine, light fighter for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to understand how dysfunctional procurement hamstrings the military. Friday’s announcement by Swedish company, Saab, and the Adani Group to build the Gripen E single-engine fighter in India; which followed a similar tie-up in June between US major, Lockheed Martin, and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to build the F-16 Block 70 fighter and has brought the wheel full circle from 1999 when the IAF demanded 126 combat aircraft to replace its fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-27 light fighters. It was originally hoped that the Tejas light combat aircraft would replace the MiGs. However, it was nowhere in sight during the Kargil conflict (1999). So the IAF decided to supplement its three-squadron fleet of Mirage 2000 multi-role fighters, which had performed well during Kargil. French vendor, Dassault, proposed shifting the Mirage 2000 production line to India. The idea was that if, after building the IAF’s immediate requirement of 126 fighters, the Tejas was not yet available, it would be easy to build more Mirage 2000-5s.

But in 2002, burnt by the Tehelka sting, the government shied away from single-vendor procurement and ordered a global tender. Washington, driving for a closer relationship with India, cleared the F-16 for sale to New Delhi, the Russians offered their new MiG-29M and Saab of Sweden jumped in with its Gripen light fighter. With the simple Mirage 2000-5 solution scuppered, the IAF took two years to issue a Request for Information (RFI) to these four fighter vendors in 2004. Three years later, when the IAF issued its tender, the original plan to build an affordable, single-engine, light fighter was officially dead. Boeing had joined the fray with an offer for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter GmbH consortium had offered the Typhoon, both heavy fighters. Dassault, furious at losing out on an assured order and having to compete in a global procurement, dropped its offer of the Mirage 2000-5 and fielded the Rafale instead. This was now the “medium multirole combat aircraft” (MMRCA) contest between a smorgasbord of dissimilar fighters – heavy, twin-engine fighters competing with medium, single-engine ones.

Predictably, the IAF did what air forces do and finally picked the Rafale – the most expensive heavy fighter in the fray. With a price tag that neither the United Progressive Alliance nor the National Democratic Alliance was willing to pay, the government has bought 36 Rafales for a mind-boggling Euro 7.87 billion. That is one-and-a-half times what was budgeted for 126 MMRCA. And the IAF, down to just 33 squadrons against the 42 needed to handle a China-Pakistan collusive threat, has gone back to the start line. Thankfully, the new RFI specifies a single-engine fighter that must be built in India by the private sector. But now there are fresh questions. Will there be space for the Tejas, which is now close to completion? And can novice aerospace companies like TASL and the Adanis graduate straight to assembling complex fighters?


  1. To take an entirely pragmatic view, The S400 system will be the best weapon to gain air superiority, and India should go down that path. Simply put - Its a more effective to shoot down modern enemy aircraft with this system then by any other vendors expensive aircraft. Air to air combat is on its way out.
    The S400 capabilities can cover the entire air space of Pakistan and guard against the Tibet approaches from China.
    The S400 system in sufficient numbers used perhaps, in conjunction with the obsolete but indigenously produced Tejas (an excellent ground attack aircraft given a modern weapons system) could provide an effective air defence.
    The Chinese have their own S400 therefore The IAF will be unlikely to risk its latest and most expensive aircraft, if it knows enemy S400 systems are in operation.
    This was the case with US carrier based aircraft which were, hamstrung by the S400 & S300 in Syria, with which Russia has been able to establish 'red lines' and no go areas for US aircraft.
    The presence of the Russian S400 system keeps the US & Israeli threat from the air away from Bashar Assad forces. It is no secret this was the main reason for success on the ground for the Syrian Army.
    Off Course! The Indian Airforce wants its expensive fighter squadrons, more jobs for the boys & expensive toys! And defence procurement is very big money. How indeed will the BJP fund its next election! The nexus between Industry, politicians and defence procurement must not be disturbed, vested interests must be fed whatever the cost.

  2. Funny we used to make fun of the JF-17. That is now being flown by 5 sqdrns in PAF. The current production version is Block II and they are also upgrading their block I to II, with IFR, etc... Its performance against the PLAAF J10's, J11's meant PAF no-longer are interested in J10s. They are getting 1 more sqdrn of Block II this year and 1 sqdrn of the J-17B (2 seater). Recent reports suggest that they finalised requirements for block III to have ASEA & IRST. The USD 1 Billion is being spent on the block III that was going to go to F-16. Their Block III are slated to arrive by end 2019, around the same time as our most expensive fighter ever!!!

    It shows the way for IAF, invest in home grown fighter, own the IPR and build up skills at home. Upgrade it as often as you like, keeping the aircraft relevant. To make matters worse, they are producing over 60% of the aircraft at home, from local raw materials. Its been exported to 2 other countries already. Those that think that its low tech aircraft, well it has fully integrated MAWS which even our SU-30MKI doesn't yet have.

    They have built an Aviation university and guess what their goal is: Build a home grown 5th Gen. These Paks (or Mughal's as they like to be called ) sure know how to dream. Whereas we are looking to import an aircraft that entered PAF in 1983. Yes 35 years later!!!


  3. The GoI has ordered 83+ Tejas already.
    In your opinion what single engine fighter would complement Tejas : F-16 or Gripen ?

    If you see Dhruv , it took its time to get into squadron service. Now it is doing great. I think Tejas will be tne same.

  4. Don’t be taken in by the sham of TOT by the SAAB, they want to grow their MIC on the shoulders of Indian import addiction, same as Russians,they will do/say anything to get their plane selected that’s why they’ve been the most active in the PR and partnering with Modis patrons(Adanis) ,SAAB do not have any intention or even capability to transfer knowledge given Gripen is the United Nations aircraft with most of the components coming from other countries.

    Americans do not want another country with MIC challenging it, they do not want to repeat the mistake of helping china, by tethering India to import cycle and keeping Indian MIC at the sub standard level Americans would not have to worry about Indian ascendancy, keeping India perennially asking for American assistance is the Washington’s policy.

    No one is going to give India Technology, look what the French are doing with the Kaveri, rather than giving technology they are substituting the Kabini core with the M-88 to keep the import cycle alive. To produce military hardware India has to go through the ardous process of research-development-testing again and again, improving iteratively and inducting after each iteration is the only way to go forward.

    Military will cry about “urgent” need, “dire” situation and “dwindling” numbers to assuage import addiction, they will try to reject the projects who are reaching their fruition, decline hardware for few drawbacks or even dunk perfectly fine equipment in favour of imports , at each and every juncture Indian state must persist by giving clear signal of indigenisation.

  5. Have a look at the PAC Kamra, this is where their JF-17 is made. Look at the pride they have in their products and people.


  6. Does the IAF itself have a roadmap of what it wants and how many of it? I think it is the only force which classifies fighters based on weight rather than capabilities (like light, medium and heavy). this for me is a big flaw. What they had before was the mig-21 and mig-27 which needs to be replaced by fighters which can do that role and also in big numbers quickly. price also being a decisive factor. Tejas has been ordered but as usual HAL will fail to deliver and 40th plane will arrive in 2023 or so by which time we must have another line ready. can't really compare tejas with saab and f-16 as the foreign ones are quite capable in terms of payload and avionics.

  7. It is high time that tejas be given the new engine GE 414 , try best to negotiate an EPE version that generates 78 KN dry thrust and atleast 116 KN of thrust with after burner. Try to expand the body to accommodate atleast six thousand liters of fuel with conformal fuel tanks. This would give sufficient T/W ratio to the plane and get help from GE with massive order to install this jet engine in the widened body which is lengthened by a meter. Give F35 like supersonic air intakes . With best possible electronic warfare suite and fly this version within an year. Try to get few private contractors to built the parts of the plane as a whole in modular sections with preinstalled wires , cables and pipes which can be attached as the plane comes for final assembly. Give order for four hundred planes as in mass production the price may come down to 25 million each and the whole order would be done in 10 billion. The private sector has to built blocks say six blocks for body , two blocks for the wings and one for tail. The person building the front end should install the radar as well as the sensors on the part so that when it arrives at the assembly line it should be plug and play. Start building all the components in Bangalore or nearby and have them transported to the factory at fixed time as per fixed schedule as monitored by some powerful production manager. The wires should come as a bundle with fixed length and socket with few extra wires placed in case during upgrade something needs to be added. The plane must be finally built and tested at HAL and when it comes as prebuilt blocks the production time at final assembly would reduce considerably and they can built it every six months initially to make it every four month and finally every three month. This would ramp up the production to 24 , then 36 and finally 48 planes per year. This can be done as per Air bus style of manufacturing. Ask GE to built engines in India and that is why my choice would be F18with its newest version with EPE engines. One plane can serve the navy , Air Force and and if built in good number along with 400 tejas would be extremely viable program for GE to built engines. Extremely vigilante work ethics are required as one of the supplier falters and it stops the entire assembly line and put the whole project on hold. I want the ministry to send one to watch the production of chips at Intel at Penang or apple manufactering in china.

    Built an infrastructure and government must give lot of financial help to get it done. I strongly believe paying 45 plus million per plane for avionics upgrade of mirage was the worst investment. Buying Rafael for 7.8 billion was also prohibitatively expensive but I can still understand that there are few frontline fighters which are sanction free and can be used for nuclear command.

    Mig 29 upgrade is a good thing , jaguar upgrade is a good thing and I hope HTFE 25 project succeeds and generates about 40 KN of thrust so that it can be used for jaguars as well as HAwk and IJT 36 so that it finally gets reliable engine and complete the work and arm it so that it can be inducted. Combat Hawk is a good idea with its impressive display which can be used for tejas. HTT40 is going on schedule and quickly certify it and induct it.

    Effort should be to devlop namica to be fire and forget missile with 7-8 km range and should have an option with lock in after it is fired. Put four namica on the two pyelons each and that would help tejas which it is over the battlefield protecting the troops from enemy planes with two long range missiles taking out enemy planes. There should be two air to air missiles each on two pyelons with two bombs on other two pyelons. This would increase the lethality of the tejas as it can support the troops , knock out the armour , artillery , trains as well as supply convoys. This is all time bound and no delay is possible. I have done it and if they do not not achieve it in a year then forget to built any plane and just import very expensive planes like rafale.


  8. No country will give TOT.... Why do we even print these things when we know its not is licence production in reality... That's all!!

    This procurement is a sham, invest same money in LCA 2... And you will see wonders..

    But we won't do it coz its common sense... Why is the iaf playing along with the govt... If they think that foreign countries collaborating with adani or ambani will offer better support than HAL (which isn't great I suppose)

    They are seriously wrong!!!

    Please ditch the idea of foreign...we're in 2017 for gods sake
    Invest in home grown!!

    The iaf needs to put their foot down!!
    Make the LCA anywhere... Give that contract to tatas or maybe mahindra..

    Adani ambani have no can they even be in a foray.. Its shocking!! That too...Strategic partners.

  9. Col. Shukla, you've described the history of the 17 year old MRCA contest very well. The Tejas SHOULD BE the MRCA that the IAF wanted in 1999, post-Kargil. It has finally come of age, and can replace not just the old MiG-21, but also the MiG-27, MiG-29, Mirage and Jaguar fighter jets (it's clealy metamorphozed into much more than an "LCA").

    What's more, it's already at the stage of F-16 Block C and Gripen C/D. However, in no less part due to fighter competitions, global aerospace firms have been beefing up their offerings. So, the latest F-16 has a 150 kN engine (which is the same as the twin thrusts provided by the MiG-35 and F-18). The Gripen-E also has a 120 kN GE-F414 engine.

    Concordantly, DRDO also plans to install the 120 kN engine on Tejas Mar-2. That will bring it in the league of the Gripen and F-16 being hawked to India right now. I hope Nirmala Sitharaman infuses scarce resources into developing the Tejas Mark-2 instead, and shuns the Swedish and American fighter offerings.

    I also hope Nirmala Sitharaman formulates a policy as per which indigenous products of roughly the same quality as foreign ones, must be given preference.

    So far, this has NOT been done vis-a-vis Arjun, Tejas, PAD/AAD, Nag missle, ALH helicopters, INSAS rifles etc.

    Instead of more Arjuns, we're importing T-90 tanks from Russia. The DRDO is sent on a wild goose chase to incorporate 82 Gospel "improvements", while the much inferior T-90s are embraced.

    Instead of more Tejas Mark-2, a silly contest of Gripen-E and F-16 has emerged. The same resources can be spent on expediting the Tejas Mark-2.

    Instead of PAD/AAD, Russian S-400 missiles are imported, just to please Russia.

    Instead of Nag missiles, some Israeli missile is being considered.

    Instead of more ALH choppers, Apache helicopters are being imported (though the latter have more firepower, the ALH must be encouraged in the future).

    Instead of speeding development on AMCA, the Russian PAK-FA is being entertained for no good reason.

    P.S. Manohar Parikkar had done a great job in forcing the IAF to induct 83 Tejas Mk-1s. They were reluctant to accept even that, and were more than happy to fly old MiG-21s !

  10. Make or buy has to be a trade off. This will be different for different systems.

    With respect to single engine light fighter India Air Force should encourage induction of LCA MK II with a higher capacity engine and ingenuously developed AESA radar and avionics.

    The LCA PROGRAM should be allowed to mature over a period of time e.g. one new "Mark/Block" every three years

    The above is true for F-16 and Gripen , which were not found suitable in the MMRCA deal

  11. Will Boeing and SAAB transfer the following technology

    - engine (SAAB'S engine FOR Block E and F is primarily GE technology , EVEN IF THEY WANT THEY CANNOT COMMIT ON BEHALF OF GE)
    -RADAR Technology (SAAB's AESA Radar for block E and F will be from SELEX ES, even if they want they cannot commit on behalf of SELEX)
    -Electronic Warfare and Electronic Countermeasure suite

  12. IAF is planning to add another one ie Gripen to the mix of various aircraft types adding to IAF's mantainance disaster. That's why LCA mk1A is the only solution to our problem.SAAB -Adani would eat up into HAL/ADA technicians & employee base & would destroy LCA/AMCA programme forever.An efficient and cheap missile programme is legacy of Dr Kalam which has already assured India against most designs of it's adversaries.
    No further import of 4++ generation aircraft should be allowed including that of extremly costly Rafale or Rafale M. HAL should undergo partial disinvestment. Govt having only minority share with all intellectual property rights and rights of reasonable royalty (so that the same technology could only be transferred to a foreign country in country's best strategic interest). Majority stake of HAL shall be with likes of Tata , L& T , major financial institutions, general public and a substantial stake with HAL/ADA technicians, it's other strategic employee base in form of E-sops giving them direct stake in future prosperity and efficiency of HAL .Likes of Ambani/Adani duo and their dubious subsidiaries should be seriously debarred from investment in such strategic sectors.IAF officers should be alloted reasonable membership in HAL board as representing it's prime customer and that of independent members in HAL board to technicians at ADA, air power study experts, defence journalists and other deserving members of civil society. Proper representation in HAL board should be given to experts from defence, finance, external affairs & home ministries representing govt share and the same to employee unions representing their collective equity share base. There should be sincere efforts to set up 3 rd and 4 th private sector production line possibly in partnership with EADS/Airbus as Indian corporate are not yet capable of establish ing a fighter production line & only HAL has that capability.

  13. Then IAF could seriously consider further fresh orders for 83 more LCA Mk1A over and above current order base of 123 (40+83).German/Uk EADS does not have any single engine or naval fighter plan in contemplation to compete with tejas and thus has very high chances of proving to be most trustworthy and beneficial partner.India could also be part of their 5++ generation aircraft programme. Mitsubishi is another potential partner. By year 2023-25, LCA MK2 could be than have production base for orders of 150 + aircrafts and we would have spare capacity for export LCA Mk1A to African and latin american third world countries by 2025-30.Later export of LCA MK2 could be contemplated too in 2030 timeframe. Thus IAF could have 400 LCA Mk1A + MK2 and Navy could gain by start of further development of twin engine Naval LCA MK2/AMCA derivative till 2030. Development of airforce version AMCA would also have been reached at advance stage till 2030-35 with production expected from 2035-40 onwards though the time frames could be advanced if disinvestment in HAL is executed properly. By 2030,there would also be enough exports customers and spare part vendors supporting 600+ single engine LCA aircraft in various small Airforces all over the world. This number could also rise if Indian corporates could set up LCA's 5th and sixth production line for export customers in friendly countries like Brazil and South Africa with a massive spare part base repeating the success stories on the lines of F16 and Mig 21etc. We just need to have a vision 2035 and it is an achievable target starting only with proper and efficient disinvestment of HAL and retaining our scarce human talent pool. At the same time we would have to have to revamp our entire technical education system to support R&D efforts in various strategic technical sectors like that of aerospace, atomic and agricultural sciences etc.This would also be the time when all such multiple aircraft types in IAF would be due for retirement and india would have a formidable Airforce with a proper manageable mantainance system in place. Such examples could be repeated in other military branch(s) and defence PSU(s). Please excuse if any of my observation seems inappropriate for immaturity and inexperience of a concerned civillian. Nikhil Agarwal.

  14. Any single engine aircraft except tejas would be disaster for indian air force.Choosing American F16 would add another type of aircraft in IAF adding unmanageable load to the logistical nightmare , IAF is already bleeding with. Simillarly If Swedish Gripen is chosen, SAAB would destroy indigenous LCA tejas project & our nascent aeronautical industry as a cheaper LCA MK2 would have potential to eat all future markets of Gripen E. 3rd & 4th production line of LCA Tejas through collaboration of German/UK EADS & Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd with may be Tata/ L&T in loop (or may be Mitsubishi replaced for EADS) should be considered as possible solutions to inefficiencies of HAL. Also such partnership would be helpful in Fifth generation fighter aircraft and stealth UAV projects too.A little chance is that same benefits could have been derived from Boeing & it could have replaced EADS if it is assured that Boeing will not deliberately disturb naval LCA MK2 project as naval LCA would be a future export competition in navies around the world including Indian Navy to Boeing's Naval F18. Naval LCA is also a threat to future business of Swedish Sea Gripen (in Brazil specifically), French naval Rafael M , Russian Mig29 K/Mig35K/ Sukhoi 33 ,Lockheed Martin F35 etc. & thus these companies could not be trusted for LCA project or provide any reasonsable benefit to the country.Nikhil Agarwal

  15. It is a misconception that aircraft building is such a complex task. Airframe building is pure sheet metal structure work. Electrical looming is a diploma level job. Avionic suite and Engine are critical, and HAL is a big zero in both.

    With 200 odd motivated ex-HAL and IAF personnel, the task can be achieved by any private company.

    HAL is just another PSU where effectively only 20% work. Why else would not HAL get orders even to make doors and panels from foreign vedors? Private players will help in making system lean and efficient.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last