Naval Tejas stalled, no flights for eight months - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 21 January 2018

Naval Tejas stalled, no flights for eight months

Halt in flight-testing jeopardises Naval Tejas Mark 2 (Pic: Naval Tejas takes off from the SBTF in happier days)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Jan 18

Even as the Indian Air Force (IAF) version of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) powers ahead, the naval version of the Tejas has ground to a worrying standstill.

Neither of the two Naval LCA prototypes has taken off in eight months.

Since the last Naval LCA sortie on May 20, one of the prototypes lies half dismantled in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), its interiors gaping open. The other stands forgotten on one side of the hangar.

Meanwhile the other 14 Tejas prototypes, which are flight-testing the IAF’s Tejas Mark 1, flew 406 test sorties last year – more flights than any preceding year, except 2013.

Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, has publicly rejected the Naval Tejas Mark 1 as too heavy to fly combat missions off an aircraft carrier. Instead, he has backed the Naval Tejas Mark 2, which will have a more powerful engine. But, with the Mark 1 effectively grounded, the Mark 2’s development is also crippled, if not actually halted.

That is because many systems essential for the Naval LCA Mark 2, such as the arrestor hook and leading edge vortex controllers (Levcons allow the fighter to land on a carrier deck at a slower speed), are being designed and tested on the Mark 1 prototypes. The Mark 1 is a crucial technology test-bed and data generator for developing the Mark 2.

That would be a serious setback for the navy, which urgently requires the Tejas for its next aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which will join the fleet in 2020, says Lanba. He said the Vikrant “is designed to operate the MiG-29K and the LCA.”

The eight-month gap in flight-testing the Naval Tejas has been a major setback for the test programme. At the “shore based test facility” (SBTF) in Goa – a concrete runway-cum-ramp that replicates an aircraft carrier deck – the easterly winter winds and furious west coast monsoon allow aircraft to take-off only in the February-to-June period. It was planned that the Naval Tejas would carry out an “arrested landing” in 2018, using the arrestor cables on the SBTF but, with no preliminary work done over the last eight months, this will now be possible only in February-to-June 2019. That means a project already heavily criticized for delay has just lost another full year.

Asked why HAL – which builds, repairs and operates Tejas prototypes – is going slow on the Naval Tejas, a senior HAL officer says the navy has turned its back on the programme.

“We have limited resources and manpower for Tejas flight-testing. The air force has committed to buying 123 Tejas fighters. The navy, on the other hand, has publicly rejected the Tejas. Why waste resources on the Naval Tejas?” says a top HAL executive.

However, technology development processes should not be linked with production orders, as HAL is doing, says a senior MoD official.

The navy chief insisted last month that he continues backing the Navy LCA. He said the navy has paid ~6 billion towards the Mark 1, ~3 billion for the Mark 2,  and would pay more as development continues. “As far as the LCA Navy is concerned, we are committed to indigenisation. We have supported the project and continue to [do so]”, said Lanba.

But merely allocating funds will not energise the Naval Tejas programme, retorts a senior officer in the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas programme. “A user service’s intent is evident from what it commits to the project in terms of test pilots, finance, oversight and most importantly moral support,” he says.

The navy has never committed more than three officers to the Tejas LCA. An ADA officer estimates that is one-fifth to one-tenth what the IAF has committed over the years.

Despite its protestations of support, the navy has steadily backed away from the Tejas programme. In March 2016, in the LCA Tejas Empowered Committee in the defence ministry, top admirals first declared the Tejas Mark I inadequate, but committed to supporting the Mark 2.

In May 2017, the navy declined to pay its 25 per cent share of the ~12.31 billion cost of enhancing the capacity of the LCA Mark I manufacturing line from 8 to 16 aircraft per year. The IAF is paying its share.

Difficulty is inevitable in translating an air force fighter into a naval, carrier-deck version, says aerospace expert Pushpinder Singh. It involves strengthening the entire aircraft, especially the undercarriage, to withstand the jarring impacts of carrier deck landings, which are often described as “controlled crashes”. This makes naval fighters heavier.

Despite the navy’s pusillanimous approach to the Tejas, that fighter remains crucial to the future of carrier deck aviation in India. The Russian MiG-29K has not proved a success and the navy is grappling with the consequences of that purchase. Procurement is under way of 57 multi-role carrier deck fighters, but that will take time and a cheap, light fighter like the Tejas will still be required on future aircraft carriers. “Realising the Tejas Mark 2 will require deeper reserves of fortitude and clarity than the navy, HAL and ADA have displayed so far”, says a senior naval officer.


  1. I strongly believe that there is too much of red tape and every step is taking too long and delaying the project. There is understaffing and no will to rush or get the things done. I am not here to criticize anyone but the work has to speed up and some immediate action is needed from government. First I want a young production engineer who is go getter to lead the production assistance who has powers to spend for day to day issues who sits in a cabin next to production line with just 3-4 more support staff and the certification must be done very fast. All the advanced stepand thinking has to be implemented fast as every step has speeded up as tejas has to succeed and make every effort to make it happen. I want MK1 A as soon as possible so that after the initial order of twenty MK1 start churning out MK1 A as that is what has to go at full speed and try to devlop MK2 as that would be a killer and mark my word if they succeed be ready to make atleast two thousand planes. Tejas can be useful for navy as fewplanes on shore based facility at the bottom of Nicobar island can choke the malacca straight with smaller version of brahmos for tejas and it has also fly from smallerairfields at border airports in Ladakh and arunachal. Tejas is a game changer and every effort be made to improve it. To delay all deadlines is not a good thing and taking almost seven years to devlop MK2 is very slow as we get only 44 months to devlop fifth generation prototype and if they go at that speed then things are tragic. I want someone has to bumb up things and just getting MK1 A soon would change everything. Do not worry about the gun just get rest of the requirement and FOC and bump up the production . This is where china has shown that it can do better than India. I am sad and it pains me as it was my dream of a small plane but we do what is requirements. I sincerely want tejas to succeed.


  2. like iaf 4 star browne tyagi... in pilatus... this naval 4 star... secure his future... chldrens foriegn carriers... @ cost of mother india...

  3. If the mig 29k has not performed satisfactorily then the Admiral Gorshkov refit has been a criminal waste of money....a poor cut paste job.

    We must buy the rafale asap for the navy. A heavy naval Tejas will be a compromise as it will have a very limited range and pay load which will jeopardise the carrier itself in a war

    Least we forget that japan lost the war after the battle of midway and Pearl harbour was meant to cripple the American carrier fleet.

  4. The navy has never committed more than three officers to the Tejas LCA. An ADA officer estimates that is one-fifth to one-tenth what the IAF has committed over the years.
    An ADA official, who divines the level of commitment between the IAF and the Navy by the raw manpower allocated, with scant regard for the overall force strength; will be utterly incapable of comprehending the needs of the individual forces. It appears that our defence scientists lack a basic understanding of our defence forces. No wonder they are unable to deliver on anything.

  5. This is the mistake we make. Tejas navy Mk 1 is tech demonstrator. We are not a rich country like US to abandon it.
    Navy should buy atleast 2 squadrons of this plane fly them as shore based fighters off Gujart and WB coast.
    This will provide ADA & HAL invaluable lessons in reliability.
    Of course add to punch if balloon goes up.
    Maybe they should tweak the planes for anti shipping roles. Again it will be invaluable lessons.

  6. This is very unfortunate. We thought that the Navy was the most indigenous friendly services of the trio.

    Today on Republic Day, the Navy showed a tableau highlighting its commitment to indigenization. It had a model of Tejas on it. How hypocritical !

    The Navy -- rather all 3 branches -- are yet to progress from merely signing the cheque book, to ensuring shoulder to shoulder commitment alongside DRDO. Unless that commitment comes through, indigenization won't happen.

    Needless to say, the DRDO is not to blame for this deadlock. I sincerely hope that the Navy releases not just funds, but also it's officers to hasten the development of the N-Tejas Test Bed, and then progress to dedicated development of the N-Teas Mk.2.

    We all expect more from the Navy.

  7. I would do this way , I want to share my experience , I would go for cranked delta desiegn and increase the wing surface area by 15 percent to 20 percent area to both wings each and increasing the total wing area by 30-40 percent with part of the lateral part of wing foldable. I would try to reduce the total weight of plane by about 800 to 1000 Kgs. And increase the length of plane by about a meter and try best to reduce the weight of wings and try to accommodate fuel in tanks and in extended length of plane so that the plane so that it can accommodate six thousand liters of fuel . Total weight be maintained at 6800 kgs. Of empty plane to which add 5700 kgs of six thousand liters of fuel. The electronic warfare suite be then internal. Add five and half tons of payload which it can carry on atleast 12-15 weapon stations so the frame be desiegned for 18 tons. The landing gear and frame be made tough with landing gear directly connected to basic strong airframe so that it can withstand the impact of control crash landing. The should be large wing spoilers the way the give on passenger jets and on transport plane so that these large spoilers as well as air brakes when in active position should be able to slow the plane enough so that tail hook can engage well to the wires during landing. There should be thrust vectoring in pitch so that with atleast thirty degree nozzle pointing down would have enough lift to plane horizontal at slow speeds. This would also need new engine like GE 414 EPE engine or Kaveri saffran combo that should give enough T/W ratio so that the take off distance be reduced as larger wings would give enough lift and slow approach to landing would reduce landing distance with brakes be desiegned by some race car company which has expertise in high end brakes system. In all probability this would work and give good radius of combat so that carriers be safely placed to attack object with sufficient payloads as well this versions can be used in Ladakh and arunachal in hilly areas where small airports can be operationalised. This is worth a try complete work on frame and wings so that as soon as more powerful engine is made available try it out. This is a sure way to get control crash at slower landing speeds.


  8. naval tejas is unfit for carrier based operations so IN is right in dumping it for that role but I agree they could use for land based role and maritime operations which is being done with jaguars now anyways.
    but navy wants rafales so they have to build a case to cancel one and gain somewhere else. alas MoD is ragging its feet as usual


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