Air Force, HAL tussle to control Tejas fighter production - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 August 2018

Air Force, HAL tussle to control Tejas fighter production

Tejas cost rises threefold from Rs 135 crore ($20 million to Rs 400 crore ($58 million) per fighter

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Aug 18

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which has long opposed the large-scale induction of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), could soon be given charge of manufacturing the Tejas in the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) complex in Bengaluru.

And Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who has not so far toured the facilities of HAL, which remains India’s only aircraft manufacturer, is poised to accept the IAF’s bid for control.

The defence ministry, the IAF and HAL have all declined to comment on this development. However, authoritative ministry sources say an announcement can be expected soon.

Officials in HAL and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) – the nodal agencies responsible for the manufacture and development respectively of the Tejas – argue that handing over Tejas manufacture to the IAF at this point would effectively seal its fate, given the air force’s well-known preference for costly, imported fighters like the Rafale.

“The IAF has no tradition of manufacturing. There is a major cultural gap between flying fighters and building them,” admits one ministry official.

However, ADA’s development delays and HAL’s failure to ramp up production quickly and cheaply has weakened their influence with the ministry, which is inclined to believe that the IAF can resolve the difficulties.

ADA, which falls under the Defence R&D Organisation, is still struggling to obtain final operational certification (FOC) for the Tejas Mark 1, almost five years after obtaining initial operational certification (IOC) in December 2013. 

Business Standard learns that about 1,100 test points still remain to be cleared before the Tejas is granted FOC. This would normally require about 200 test flights, given that a well-organised flight test programme clears 5-6 test points in each test flight.

However, lack of coordination between ADA designers and the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC), which is headed by a senior IAF pilot, means this seldom happens. That has slowed the progress towards FOC.

“We will be lucky to obtain FOC by end-2019,” says an officer close to the Tejas project.

There is also the issue of the Tejas’ rising cost. On Monday, the defence ministry told parliament that the initial order for 20 Mark 1 Tejas, which HAL had contracted in 2006 for Rs 2702 crore (and subsequently revised to Rs 2,813 crore) is now being sought to be retrospectively revised to Rs 5,362 crore – or Rs 268 crore per aircraft.

The ministry said this was on account of“changes in build standards for integration entailing procurement of additional Line Replaceable Units (LRUs), raw materials, composite materials, bought out items and consumables, tooling etc.”

The ministry also told parliament that a second contract for 20 Tejas Mark 1 fighters in the FOC standard, was concluded in 2010 for Rs 5,989 crore, or just short of Rs 300 crore per LCA.

Besides these 40 aircraft, the ministry said it had accorded in-principle clearance for buying 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters with enhanced capabilities, including “Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Missile, Self-Protection Jammer (SPJ) and Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) for which quotation has been submitted by HAL.”

Business Standard understands that HAL has priced the Tejas Mark 1A at more than Rs 400 crore per aircraft – only marginally less than the Sukhoi-30MKI fighters it builds at Nashik.

This cost could rise further, given that the air force is raising its capability demands from the Tejas Mark 1A. It is learnt the IAF has now demanded that the fighter be equipped with a sophisticated “software defined radio”, which does not equip a single IAF fighter so far.

To ramp up the Tejas production rate from 8 fighters per year to 16, HAL is building a second integration line in its Bengaluru complex, at a cost of Rs 1,231 crore.

Last November, Singapore’s visiting defence minister flew in the Tejas fighter. He was followed in February by the US Air Force chief, General David Goldfein. Both had praise for the aircraft. But the IAF’s endorsement continues to be conditional because of development and manufacturing delays.


  1. We need a bigger TEJAS as at present flying time, range etc are extremly limited IN comparison with F16 and Gripen

    Larger weapons bay and fuel capacity need to be augmented

  2. This was waiting to happen.we have traitors all along . Just imagine for just 2700 cr we were getting 20 aircrafts. Specs changed jaan bhujnkar.costs doubled..still cheap..for 50000 cr rafale we would have got 200 tejas or 10 squadrons..there wouldn't be any shortage kill the damn hal.. goodbye.. mai desh nahi bechne doonga..

  3. The move will ensure demise of Indigenous Capabilities and guarantee continuation of IMPORTEOMANIA and flow of associated perks and cuts and free excursion to foreign destinations in the name of mkt search, negotiations, trainings..... for many more DECADEs!

    Can an Air Marshall disobey his chief and face Court Marshall?

    What a learning from experience of Navy Chief and meticulous planning!

    LCA-NAVY, a project headed by a very senior Navy Officer and significantly funded by the Navy was dumped as a worthless machine by the new chief soon after he had taken over the command of Indian Navy, who suddenly woke up to find that the bride was too fatty and hence pronounced "nxTalak".

    Haan haan Desi- Naan naan Navy: Slap on Face of “Make in Bharat”

  4. I am disappointed with the progress of Tejas fighter production as no significant progress is made. I feel it may be a boon in disguise that IAF has taken over the project at right time. The guys who wanted Evan turbojet trainer from imports have all gone and IAF leadership in its present form is more pragmatic and whatever additions they have asked on Tejas MK1A were all essential and it shows that they are serious about the project. IAF showed a significant shift in maintenance capability with the recent two week exercise.
    I have few suggestions to make.
    1. All the components manufacturers be given 1 year credit line with significant amount as per their capabilities. Try to build the components parts as complete as they can with the contractors with wires nicely numbered and diagrams drawn with few spare wires for maintenance and upgrades. They should have the pipes fitted to them so that adopt the plug and play style construction so that the time it remains on the rig can be reduced. Try to complete it as much for a safe flight and shift it to sulfur for complete and final buildup so that the rig can be used for next plane . This way try to push the plane out of Bangalore in six months so that the production can be doubled. I want the number to be built be at least 36-40 planes per year. Try to get higher thrust engine with 73/108 KN power so that Tejas can return back in supercruise.

    Try all the sensor integration as quickly as possible and try all the tests quickly in a coordinated effort to get FOC.put all your effort to complete the project. I know NG was spending the last year about 1 million dollars a day to complete YF 23 fighter and finally japan selected to buy that. I personally feel it is the best fighter ever produced and due to hard work of few who sacrificed everything to complete the project in time.

    I feel MK 2 must be much bigger single engined plane with cranked delta design and with 23hard points with a new engine 88/142 KN range and with front canards and with six thousand liters of internal fuel with significant increase in range and payload.

    Try to optical control system on a new iron bird so that at least 500-600 kegs.of weight can be reduced as hefty wire bundles can be replaced with thin optical cables. The same can be used in AMCA.

    If the IAF fails to deliver then it would be very sad end to such phenomenal concept and great effort put up by ADA.

    I wish them every success.


  5. I just feel there is a lack of understanding from all the parties involved about the strategic importance of this plane. What is needed is strong leadership which neither the government, the development agencies (ADA, DRDO), the manufacturer and most importantly the IAF is providing. It is shameful to say the least!

  6. As Tejas gets delayed, more demands will be placed by the user, it is natural.
    It is a shame that an aircraft flying since 2001 cannot fire a gun yet.
    Maybe most of the test flights seem to be joy rides, sicne they were not adequately addressing the number of test points.
    Shows bad planning by ADA as a design agency, maybe all features are not fully ready or verified hence not fit for validation by NFTC.
    We say IAF does not like indegenious fighters. They have placed orders on Tejas as early as 2006, yet HAL was not pro active enough to work with ADA to get manufacturing right.
    Same with Jaguar, knowing that IAF will fly these till 2030+, they did not plan spares manufacturing capacity.
    IAF also ordered IJT, it is till date not to be seen . LCH, LUH and HTT seem to be in perpetual test mode! no plan for certification.
    IAF flies 270+ Sukhois most locally built, will HAL ensure spares availability ?
    It has now come out that HAL wanted 2.7 times more man hours to assemble a single Rafale.

    India needs to develop atleast 2 more pvt aviation companies quickly.

  7. Meanwhile, discussing cost escalations in case of Tejas-LCA, two most important contributing factors are often ignored:
    1. Addition of so many new features to meet perpetually shifting goalposts, ever changing (enhancing) requirements by the user.
    2. Low volumes of orders by the Air Force (till date only 40 confirmed, 83 more being talked about for nearly a decade) that too being released in peace meal..... against an original plan of replacing about a little less than 1000 MiG 21s notorious as"Flying Coffins"!

    Can any one challenge the fact that Tejas LCA, even in its Mark I IOC configuration is a million times better and safer than "Flying Coffins" ?


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