Taking Off

Contrary to official claims, Tejas is a winner

Written by Bharat Karnad | Updated: February 15, 2016 12:12 am
LCA-tejas759 Tejas, a 4.5 generation aircraft like Rafale, has always been underfunded by government and undermined by the IAF with periodic rewriting of ASRs.

For an indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) disparaged by the Indian Air Force brass as “overweight”, “underpowered”, “obsolete”, “a three-legged cheetah” and, in technical terms, as a plane that “cannot fly without telemetry, pull more than 6G or an angle-of-attack (AoA) greater than 20 degrees” and “with an air intake that starves the engine”, is supposedly afflicted with “53 identified shortfalls”, and fails to meet the “minimum air staff requirements (ASRs)”, the Tejas, entirely unreported by the Indian media, performed phenomenally well at the recent Bahrain International Air Show. It has silenced the naysayers. The minimum that this success ought to do is get the government to reconsider the deal with France, because the fact is Tejas’ future will be inversely affected by the Rafale deal. If one is up, the other is out.

The LCA’s composites-built airframe and small size enhance its stealth features, translating into a small radar signature and the greatest difficulty for enemy aircraft to detect it. Bahrain proved that fighting quality. There can be no complaints.

Price-wise, India is willing to pay only $7 billion, France expects $11 bn. To put these figures in perspective, the Rafale programme was originally pegged at $10 bn for 126 aircraft, including transfer of technology (ToT). So how come, after reducing the demand for Rafales by two-thirds and deducting 18 per cent of the cost as value of ToT, the new price tag exceeds the original cost by a billion dollars? Worse, Paris is disinclined to offer sovereign guarantee regarding the delivery timeline and spares supply but is prepared to provide a letter from President Francois Hollande, which is worth nothing. Yet, the defence ministry is reconciled to forking out Rs 63,000 crore for 36 Rafales. This works out to Rs 1,750 crore or nearly $270 million per aircraft — a sum that could fetch three Tejas or two Sukhoi-30 MKIs, rated the best combat aircraft in the world.

Tejas, a 4.5 generation aircraft like Rafale, has always been underfunded by government and undermined by the IAF with periodic rewriting of ASRs. Three years ago, for instance, a mid-air refuelling probe was included, necessitating aircraft redesign that cost time, money and delays in the certification and induction cycles.

Scarcity of money is the real problem and requires making hard choices. Should the Indian government commit Rs. 63,000 crore to the Tejas and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programmes rather than sustaining the French aviation industry, it will signal serious intent, bring the streamlined Defence Production Policy-2016 guidelines into play, permitting the DRDO to transfer source codes and flight control laws to Indian private-sector companies, incentivise small- and medium-scale technology innovation companies comprising an Indian mittelstand to take root, motivate foreign suppliers of components and assemblies that currently comprise 70 per cent of Tejas to manufacture these in India and, conjoined to a policy pushing its export, germinate a viable, comprehensively capable, aerospace sector-led Indian defence industrial growth. This infusion of funds will fast-track the synergistic development of follow-on versions of Tejas, its navalised variant, along with the AMCA, and the fifth generation fighter project in partnership with Russia. It will be the cutting-edge of a “Made in India” policy showcasing indigenous capability.

With Rafale facing production problems — only eight aircraft were outputted in 2014 — all the contracted Rafales won’t be in IAF service before 2030. It is not the answer to India’s immediate need. A more economical solution that will also satisfy the IAF’s apparent craving for French aircraft is to procure the 30-plus upgraded Mirage 2000-9s the United Arab Emirates want to be rid of, and a third Mirage squadron (with 80 per cent of its life intact) available from Qatar. Infrastructure already exists to service and operate the Mirages. It will not complicate the logistics nightmare created by the diversity of combat aircraft in the IAF’s inventory, which Rafale’s entry will do.

 

The writer is professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research and author of ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’

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  1. A
    Ajitdada
    Feb 15, 2016 at 4:46 am
    The Tejas design is hardy vis a vis the Rafael or any equivalent Europian/US plane. Most of the western designs seek a lot of precision handling and a team of caretakers, just alike an ICU. Where as we followed the Russian designs which is more rugged, hardy, less support and molly cuddling. I believe govt. is awakened now and putting more resources and funds will get a best India flying machine made for our strategic goals.
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    1. G
      Guru
      Feb 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm
      Excellent synopsis.
      Reply
      1. P
        Praful vora
        Feb 15, 2016 at 12:11 am
        We need planes now not 10 years from now we are far behind China and nowstan area wise and potion wise
        Reply
        1. K
          K SHESHU
          Feb 15, 2016 at 11:38 am
          The Centre is concentrating on buying foreign defence equipment rather than developing indigenous industry by employing native workforce. The constant thrust on 'make in India' is an eyewash!!!
          Reply
          1. M
            Mavala
            Feb 15, 2016 at 8:46 am
            Good choice by IE, now let IAF respind. Excellent points made by the writer.
            Reply
            1. S
              SK
              Feb 15, 2016 at 3:44 am
              Very well explained. Let our force get used to what we have got. Again it would be made in India. Ironically the engineers working in US in the defense industry are Indians. If they can do wonderful things here why not in India. Sixty years of congress rule has done irreparable damage to India. It is ironical that after 3 months of Modi rule Rahul started asking where are ache din.
              Reply
              1. R
                Raj
                Feb 15, 2016 at 4:37 am
                The men and officers in defence forces are mad for foreign weapons simply because they get to have a few paid holidays. There is a strong arms import lobby that is working against the domestic players and industry. Forget about LCA which involves cutting edge technology that is not india's strength ; just see the way army scuttled INSAS. It is rated very good else where but in India. Also see much simpler case of artillery guns which is hardly beyond industry capabilities. See also Arjun MBT. The government needs to put its foot down and ask the forces to do with indegenous weapon system.
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                1. D
                  disgusted
                  Feb 15, 2016 at 3:46 am
                  Fmain issue here is the painfully long wait. Wouldn't IAF question the capability of LCA project if after 35 years into development not a single fight Worthy Tejas aircraft has been produced so far??
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                  1. N
                    Narinder Dogra
                    Feb 15, 2016 at 8:27 am
                    Indian AF will not buy made in India. They don't get kick backs. As simple as that. IAF is most corrupt arm of the Indian Govt.
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                      Narinder Dogra
                      Feb 15, 2016 at 8:00 pm
                      What is this BS called transfer of technology? Are the French going to inject some chemicals in the brains of technical individuals? Are the going to ship the w factory. When you buy some thing you get technical manuals. Or you include in your PO what you are asking for with the spelled out requirements. Indian politicians are making fools of them selves.
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                      1. A
                        Annaji
                        Feb 14, 2016 at 7:02 pm
                        This is true
                        Reply
                        1. G
                          Gaurav J
                          Feb 15, 2016 at 3:35 am
                          USA and other NATO countries instigate stan to carry out terrorist activities in India, thus maintaining a threat essment that stan may one day engage in full scale war against India, thereby forcing India to buy expensive yet inefficient weapons from the west, to fulfill their capitalist greed. These White parasites need to be answered with a harsh stand. And we shouldn't engage in any business with such countries.
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                          1. G
                            Gautam
                            Mar 10, 2016 at 6:02 pm
                            India should have bought SAB with these many billion dollars or be a significant owner of Dault. India should think long term strategy as well. Also encourage F-18 and F-16 embly line in India will be great value addition. Let our Indian companies absorb all these expertise and be better.
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                            1. G
                              George Augustine
                              Mar 4, 2016 at 7:39 am
                              KDG, JPS, Patriot. Same moron with different ID's Paid stooges of the arms lobby robbing India dry and suffocating local innovation and industry
                              Reply
                              1. R
                                Raghu Panjala
                                Feb 15, 2016 at 10:36 am
                                Now this Modi govt doesnt believe in Indian talent .He hugs foreigners insults India on foreign tours. How can he like Teja's. shame on him for Rafale. How much did he receive as kick back/ otherwise why would the cost go up?
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                                1. D
                                  Das
                                  Feb 20, 2016 at 1:18 am
                                  India should invest $9 billion it will end pay up paying for rafale on Tejas lca and AMCA development instead. It's better to kick star "Make in Indiia" rather then continous dependence on foreigners for critical weapons. Its finally time to grow up!
                                  Reply
                                  1. J
                                    JPS
                                    Feb 28, 2016 at 7:01 am
                                    The writer Bharat Karnad seems to have no technical appreciation, experience and expertise on what he is talking about. Such articles should be verified before being published, unless there are some other positive pro govt ulterior motives in taking out such articles. Else such generic knowledge based articles tend to polarise opinions unnecessarily and is detrimental to country's security requirements. You are tending to fall even behind stan leave alone China in technical capabilities and need to desperately offset the technical asymmetry in the short term. The Rafael ac has been selected after extensive performance trials of the best compeive ac in the world and the Tejas is of no comparison.
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                                    1. J
                                      Jemma Thomas
                                      Feb 15, 2016 at 2:00 am
                                      Writer is spot on in his essment. These IAF kids always looking for glitter toys rather than practical and manageable props. First let these guys develop up to mark management system before giving them all these expensive toys. Government should put its foot down and say, this is it, get used to it , if not vacate the place for some one else who can make it work. Having our own tech make life easy in terms of future conflicts. We never know who is going to be our friend and or foe so let us not take things granted at their face value. Always factor in that we have no friend approach to future events. If we get some help then it is ok , if not we have already have our plan accordingly. Privatise, privatise and privatise, that is the only mantra that can be sustainable in a developing situations. Try to develop contract workforce and encourage a culture of able to cope ups and downs in every aspect, weather be job, business or life. If we can master this, rest will be in place for long haul.
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                                        Common Sense
                                        Feb 15, 2016 at 9:19 am
                                        How exactly is the LCA "independent:" its fly-by-wire system was developed with U.S. and French help, its engines are American, ejection seats British and radar Israel? Only the base design is Indian.
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                                        1. C
                                          Common Sense
                                          Feb 15, 2016 at 9:20 am
                                          So now Mr Karnad makes performance at any air show the barometer of success? The French Rafale has been going to air shows for decades -- so too the Russian SU-27/30. They should be 100s of times better than the LCA by that logic.
                                          Reply
                                          1. K
                                            KB Changappa
                                            Feb 15, 2016 at 4:40 am
                                            Tejas and Rfalae? This coot will sit in India INternatonal centre and sip vhai when the Tejas is hot out of the sky in the next war.
                                            Reply
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