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    Disclaimer: This is neither for nor against the views expressed in the column.

    Is the Tejas fit or unfit to serve with the IAF?
    Short answer is that the customer is always right even when he puts forth questionable arguments.
    Long answer follows.

    In various commentaries the issue gets confused between Tejas ‘capabilities and IAF readiness versus indigenous development. These two may be related but are very distinct topics in their own right and should be addressed as such.

    Tejas ‘capabilities and IAF readiness:

    The fitness of Tejas can be judged by what is required of it. Let us first ask what the IAF wanted of the LCA when requirements were projected? General agreement is that the IAF was looking for a light point defense fighter to replace the MiG-21 with better multirole ability. In this, it would be fair to say that all concerned have managed to deliver and the Tejas is a more than capable replacement for the venerable MiG-21 with a northward capabilities trajectory.
    If this is so then why does the IAF suddenly appear to be against the Tejas? The answer may lie in this next question.
    What does the IAF need the Tejas to do today or in fact what does the air force need from its fighter fleet in general?
    Before we can answer this let’s look at some quick facts.
    The world has changed considerably since the requirements for the LCA were put to paper. Today the IAF has to stand ready for a two front war in an era of fifth generation fighters, standoff weapons, increasingly capable integrated air defense networks and unimaginable tempo of operations. Wars today especially the air ware are going to be decided in hours and days rather than weeks and months. Gone are the days when you could fight over your own skies, fend off attackers attack a few airfields with large formations and hope to win by attrition. Keeping this in mind what the IAF aspires to in its fighter fleet today, and justifiably so are platforms with high endurance, high payload, quick turnaround times, sophisticated sensors and effective and modern weaponry. In essence a fleet of multirole fighters is needed that can penetrate deep within enemy territory, service multiple targets, survive the trip, land and then quickly turn around and do the same at least for the first 48 hours all while dealing with an enemy force trying to do just the same. This requirement remains notwithstanding the categorization of fighters into light, medium and heavy. This categorization is more to do with acquisition costs and to a degree with range and payload specifications rather than the base multirole capabilities. So does the Tejas, in its current form (future developments being always uncertain), measure up to this requirement? Unfortunately that is a no. Range and payload being the limitations that come attached with the tag of smallest/lighter fighter. Without required range/persistence in the air and without quick turnaround times, it does not meet the current requirement. At best with integration of the right sensors, countermeasures and weaponry the Tejas can fulfill the point defense and short range interdiction roles.

    So why does an indigenous platform not meet the requirements of its primary intended user?
    Just laying the blame at the door of ADA, HAL etc. would mean we are not looking at the problem in its entirety and in depth.
    Leave aside the problems arising out of the lackadaisical approach to matters of national defense shown by India’s policy makers. Forget for a moment that India’s military industrial complex is in its infancy, technological innovation is a government run business saddled by a labyrinthine bureaucratic process.
    Where has been India’s higher defense management?
    It is this collective which needs to gaze into the crystal ball and visualize future challenges, and come up with a coherent plan to meet these challenges. Where can India be expected to fight next and what tools are needed to win it needed to be determined years if not decades ahead. This can only be done by those who are in the profession of arms, with a great deal of imagination and experience and the zeal to make the forces ready for the next war. Threat assessments can change on a daily basis but capability enhancements need the long view. This is one of the biggest if not the biggest hurdle to India’s defense preparedness. Without readying itself for future challenges India stands to be forever surprised paying with more blood than is necessary. A few examples from India’s last war should suffice to underscore this point. LGBs had been in use since the Vietnam War, efficacy of precision weapons had been demonstrated brilliantly in the Gulf War in 91; yet a further eight years later India found itself not ready with this capability when faced with Kargil. That Mirages were able to employ LGBs at later stages of the war, this is a testament to the skill and determination of our testers, technicians and pilots, but let us not forget the state of readiness the IAF was in when the balloon went up. In fact there had been no planning to fight in the mountains, no training carried out. But for the pilots of the IAF who were ready to innovate on the trot the IAF would have cut a sorry figure. This is not to single out the IAF, as the IA was in no better shape. India was surprised! ‘To be defeated is pardonable; to be surprised-never!’

    In the case of the Tejas had the planners of the venture cast their collective eyes towards the future and kept abreast of emerging trends in fighter design the requirements might have been written differently.(Note: The F-16 first flew in 1974,entering service with PAF in 1983 and the C/D model entered production in 1984. The Mirage 2000 and the Gripe had their first flights in 1978 and 1988 respectively. These are all light fighters providing a study in trends for the design of this class of platform.) The Tejas had its first flight in 2001 yet is struggling to secure its place in competition with aircraft of earlier vintage. Granted the aircraft in question are heavily modified since introduction and bear little resemblance in capability to their earlier versions. Yet the fact remains that the basic design of the Tejas handicaps it in range and payload terms limiting its utility as a multirole workhorse for the IAF. This basic design is of course derived from the requirements put forth by the IAF which in turn point to sound long term planning. Of course the menagerie that is the IAF fleet is another pointer to the absolute lack of coherent planning. Apart from the costs attached to maintaining multiple fleets and fleets within fleets, rapid capability enhancement is also hindered. Let us say the IAF decides to add a capability such as a missile or a pod to its fighters. In the current state of affairs the IAF has to make a choice, whether it upgrades just one type or pays for the engineering costs to upgrade multiple types, leading in some cases to fleets within fleets where only a certain number are updated even within a single type.

    So the long term planning and definition of requirements is definitely suspect but what if the IAF had been able to induct the Tejas 10 years earlier instead of 2016?
    We can suspect that the platform itself would have matured considerably and the IAF would not be facing the shortfalls it is facing now allowing it to deinduct a myriad of obsolescent platforms and inducting other platforms without getting to stage of urgency bordering on crisis.
    So could the Tejas have been inducted earlier? Are seventeen years really justified to go from first flight to FOC?
    Here the oft quoted responses are indigenous development takes time which leads us to our next section.

    Tejas and indigenous development:

    Indigenous development and self-sufficiency are without argument laudable goals and India should strive for it and this is not in question.
    What does need to be questioned is whether self-sufficiency goals should take precedence over operational preparedness and has India in its quest for self-sufficiency eroded its operational preparedness? In multiple instances India has defacto answered in the affirmative. A suitable example would be the critical shortfall in ground based air defense capabilities and coverage, while SAM systems have been in development for ages. Worse is if and when these systems are finally inducted they fall short in capabilities when compared with contemporary systems.

    Development of Tejas is another such story. Let us first spell out what a modern day fighter represents in technological terms. A fighter is not a monolithic entity rather it is a system of systems. Engines, sensors, and various classes of avionics etc. all go onto an airframe and make a fighter what it is. All these subsystems are required to be at the cutting edge of the technological state of the art (also necessitating periodic upgrades) for the platform to remain relevant through its service life. Herein lay the first stumbling block for Tejas. India decided to proceed with the design of a platform without first mastering the constituent technologies. Instead of indigenizing one or a few systems at a time the plan appears to have been concurrent development of nearly all the critical building blocks along with the design of the platform. This can be considered to be highly ambitious at best and the road to ruin at worst. It is simply not possible to design a fighter without accounting for things like the radar volume or the volume of air the engine intakes need to feed to the engine and this cannot be certain until a radar and engine are settled on. With all parameters fluid settling on an engineering solution is bound to be iterative beyond reason.

    So the planners/designers ideally had one of two options. Either they could have chosen to integrate COTS/MOTS subsystems on an indigenous developed airframe, gradually indigenizing the components as technologies matured. Alternatively they could have chosen to master critical subsystem technologies first, integrating them on existing platforms and when a level of confidence had been reached only then attempt a whole new indigenous platform. The LCA program followed neither of these approaches in full. The development of the two most critical components the radar and the engine remained linked to the LCA development program until the last dregs of hope were lost. Regardless why this path was chosen, it has resulted in inordinate delays for the program as a whole. We also often hear the builders complain of the user moving goalposts leading to further delays in the form of redesign, retest.
    In all fairness the IAF as the user is bound to have changing requirements over a gestation period of thirty years, and this does not absolve the ADA et al from the shoddy project definition and execution. Had the project been defined with technologically challenging components to be indigenized in phases with COTS/MOTS components allowing for a faster induction?
    Ironically after all the delays the program has gone back to imported radars and engines to come up with the first mark for delivery to the user. FOC is awaited.
    Refinement of a fighter design is a lifelong process, however by not choosing to freeze on a configuration that could enter service sooner India may have done more harm than good to its self-sufficiency ambitions. Had the platform been inducted ten years earlier, ten years of user experience could have gone in to refining the Tejas and paving the way for newer more capable marks.

    In conclusion:

    From the initial drafting of requirements to the subsequent project definition and execution have all left a lot to desire.
    However the Tejas program has also ushered in many firsts for the nation, in design, in testing, in manufacturing. It has allowed a whole new aviation related ecosystem to come up around it.
    In all the doom and gloom of shrinking fleet sizes, increased threat perceptions, questionable preparedness and all else that ails the observers of India’s defense matters let not one lose sight of the true significance of Tejas. Tejas is not just a system of systems, it is a statement that India dares to dream.

    The Tejas cannot hope to fulfill the IAF’s needs and the IAF will per force need to induct other platforms to meet its operational readiness requirements.
    The fact that questionable arguments have to be put across to convince those who cannot differentiate between a motor and a mortar is of course lamentable but as stated at the beginning the customer is always right. And the customer has chosen to induct the Tejas, 123 so far. Tejas has to enter service in meaningful numbers, has to be continuously refined, with newer marks being brought in subsequently.

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      Your entire mountanuos argument can be demolished easily.

      1) Firstly, the Tejas’ development was NEVER contingent on the development of the indigenous Kaveri engine and the radar. Foreign alternatives were commissioned from day 1 of the development back in 1988. The GE-F-404 and the imported radar have served faithfully on all the prototypes well since the late 1990s. The Kaveri and the locally-made radar progressed in parallel; if and when they came up to speed, they would be deployed on the Tejas. That they couldn’t hasn’t stopped the Tejas from completing 3,500 glitch free test-flights, in the last decade.

      Besides, DRDO took help from wherever possible. Despite the Iron curtain still on, Dassault and not MiG was chosen for the design consultancy. General Electric, and not a Russian or French firm was chosen for the engine. Finally, in the early 1990s, Lockheed was chosen for the Fly-By-Wire system consultancy. This was Pragmatism at it’s very best.

      2) The Tejas in it’s current form, is a contemporary of the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon, all of which began development in the mid to late 1980s. Consequently, the Tejas incorporated all the features of these contemporaries like a fully modular LRUs (Line Replaceable Units), quad-digital FBW, the highest percentage of composites in it’s frame etc. (the last was the brainchild of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, and led to Airbus using DRDO’s software to design it’s newest range of aircraft). So, it is a modern 21st century fighter, with lots of room to evolve.

      3) Related to point 2, the Tejas could’ve easily been inducted in 2011 itself, when it attained it’s IoC 1. Even at that stage, it was eons ahead of the MiG-21 it was originally envisaged to replace. However, the buffoons in the IAF wanted it to be picture perfect from day 1. This was a sly way to prolong it’s induction, and pave the way for another import.

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    There is no religious obligation to replace each light fighter with a light one and a medium with a medium one. Really what did the Sukhois replace? Acquisitions are determined by changing operational requirements, financial constraints and evolving enemy capability.
    Given the massive growth in Chinese capability the IAF’s operational requirements have changed a lot since the last generation of jets were inducted or LCA was conceived.
    In the current scenario IAF realizes that the only way it can confront PLAAF is by striking at the limited number of airbases they have in Tibet. This is the Achilles heel of our enemy and exploiting it is the highest priority for IAF. Unfortunately the limited reach and bite of LCA does not satisfy this requirement. Even the Su 30 were primarily designed for air defense and lack the low observable capability required to penetrate heavily defended Chinese airspace. Hence the IAF’s obsession with the Rafael and to some extend the F35.
    It doesn’t matter if the LCA is superior to Mig21 or if the IAF builds a 50 squadron force with the LCA if the above mentioned operational requirement is not satisfied.
    LCA still has a role at the lower end and yes it is required in numbers but there is on need to fret over numbers because nothing is ever set in stone. The important thing is to have a production line. How many Jaguars and Sukhios were originally contracted for and how many were eventually produced? The linkage between the SFE and the Tejas is indeed competitive and a welcome one at that. Since our procurement processes are no quicker than our development programs it is entirely possible that if the SFE (or is it SEF?) contract gets delayed and HAL with its outsourcing partners is ready to deliver 24 LCAs anually, the IAF may scale up LCA orders. On the other hand if progress on LCA continues to be disappointing, that would be advantage SFE. Either way the IAF will not have to suffer.
    Having two competing production lines will go a long way in developing aeronautical industry in the country. The biggest mistake our planners have made in the past is in trying to develop competitive products without developing competitive industry.

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    Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj’s article highlights some neglected points, which are very important, and which expose the IAF’s idiocy, nay mala fide intent in delaying the Tejas’ induction.

    It’s indeed true that around 2009-10, the IAF suddenly asked the ADA to develop in-flight refuelling probe, as though it’s as easy as sticking a hose from a cooler. IAF had 10 years from the late 1990s to make that request, but they didn’t. I think this was deliberately done to delay the Tejas’induction process.

    It’s also true that the import lobby in India has been consistently planting articles deriding the Tejas’ abilities in the media. So much so that even Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj from the Caribbean thinks that the Tejas is merely a replacement of the MiG-21. The fact is that the Tejas Mk.1 equals (and sometimes exceeds) the range-payload specifications of the MiG-27, MiG-29, and the Mirage-2000, forget the old MiG-21.

    The Tejas could’ve easily been inducted in 2011 itself, when it got it’s IOC 1. After all, Pakistan is inducting its JF-17 fighter jets like there is no tomorrow, and lining them up along the Indian border. They completed testing in just a few years, though it’s veracity is questionable. However, the PAF’s faith in their own fighter is worthy of appreciation and something that the IAF can learn from.

    And the IAF ? The IAF wants IOC 2, then FOC and then it will induct the Tejas alongside Sri Lanka’s maritime border. What utter stupidity !

    This is the Tejas Mk.1 we’re talking of. The Tejas Mk.1A will be equivalent to the Gripen C/D versions, which was the top ranked Gripen till recently. The Tejas Mk2, with it’s larger body, more powerful engine, and superior range-payload specs will equate it to the Gripen-E (being hawked to India currently), and the F-16 Block 52. The spirit of self-reliance in national defence suggests, that all resources and entities in India — public or private — must be marshaled to develop the Tejas Mk.2.

    However, The IAF’s malfeasance can easily be guaged from the fact that despite the Tejas Mk.2 being proposed in as far back as 2009, the IAF feigns ignorance about it, and has the audacity to suggest foreign made fighters like the Gripen-E and F-16 Block 60. This is not only criminal, but an act of high treason. We must only ask ourselves, that will Pakistan induct Gripen-Es, when a bigger JF-17 is in the works ? Or, would Sweden itself would’ve inducted something like Tejas Mk.2s in 2010, when the Gripen-E was in the works ? The answers are No and No.

    It is amply clear that the import lobby has deeply penetrated the media and the top echelons of the IAF.

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      I think , IAF deliberately did not ask for flight refuelling probe. We cannot aspect IAF requirements of 1990s will be same in 2010s. Our security threat perceptions can change overnight. Till 1990s , out main threat was Pakistan and China was such a threat that we cannot handle by our own. Now after 2000s, China is bigger threat than Pakistan and we want to address China by our own ability. LCA’s range is insufficient to strike inside china, so that china can count LCA as real threat. So IAF ask for flight refuelling probe to increase its range. IAF start focus on refuellling aircraft like IL-78MKI from 2003s. So it is not a surprise that IAF will try to get refuelling capability in its aircrafts.

      Pakistan inducted their JF-17 in their so early stage because after F-16, they did not able to induct any new aircraft unlike IAF start inducting Su-30MKI in late 1990s. Their Migrage – 3 / 5 , F-7 / A-5 ( Copy of Mig-21 ) also has the same safety issue like IAF. They need urgent replacement for it or they can also loose their fighter number strength like IAF. If they able to induct sufficient number of F-16s in 1990s than JF-17 was not exist. IAF also not in hurry unlike Pakistan with LCA because they have new 270 SU-30MKIs.

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    There is no alternative to indiginisation. Saying that there is no hope for an LCA in future conflicts is surprising when our western adversary is aquiring them in substantial numbers. The altitudes of tibetian airfields practically downsize the J10 to an LCA class aircraft. Building 500 Tejas will obliterate the need for procuring a foreign SEF. IAF must realise that quantity has a quality of its own. Why 42 squadrons? 50+ squadrons will be more ideal if LCA Tejas forms the bulk of the force levels. Tejas is a contemporary platform and IAF should be flexible enough to rebuild its war doctrine around it.

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    Ravi Rikhye

    These debates are very interesting, but IMHO irrelevant to the problem. We are already very short of fighters. We need more, procured by any means necessary, and within eight years, at a rate of two squadrons (42 a/c) per year. Can GOI/IAF tell us how they propose to resolve the issue?

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    I do not see any issue with IAF’s love for imported fighter plans. Every air force of the world love best fighter , which they can get. India yet not able to produce a best fighter or at least a good fighter. IAF using imported fighter for last 90 yrs+ from its establishment in 1932 . With the imported plans they have won so many wars and battles. Therefore they has confidence in fighter of Russian Mig/Sukoi, French Dassualt and British BAE. Indian HAL / ADA need to get that level of confidence from IAF and it will take time. LCA is the second product of HAL/ADA. Once it will be used widely and LCA will prove its ability than the situation will change. HAL’s first product HF-24 , was fail to show its ability. So IAF’s doubt on our own product and its love for imported fighter is justifiable.

    If IAF lost any war , they will be accountable to us. We should not weaken our air force in name and sentiment of indigenous fighter. Thousands officers and personals of IAF is being selected from a very competitive process. Do not think , these selective peoples are idiot. They spent 30-40 yrs of their life with fighter and other plans. They fought so many wars. They are fighting so many war game with other countries. One IAF pilot spend 200 hours of training each year. A huge number of pilots have 5000 – 6000 hours of experience in air. So many IAF pilot lost their life in war and accidents. What do we think, these are idiots ? People who are commenting on IAF , not even have 1 hour experience with fighter plan. But still they think , they are better thinker than thousands of IAF personal.

    Our focus should not be , why IAF love imported fighter plan. We should concentrate , how we can get IAF confidence. How we can make our fighter best. LCA get confidence as safest plan after 10 yrs of accident free 3500 flight hours. Before LCA , whatever HAL produced get crash in early stage and got bad reputation. HF-24 crashed during development, Modified Mig-21 crash after up-graduation, Su-30 crashed, ALH Dhruv crashed, LTA Saras crashed and so many. Only miracle is LCA. Now LCA proved its safety , now it need to prove its usefulness.

    Many people comparing Mig-21 with LCA. Its a wrong comparison. You cannot compare a 2nd Gen fighter with a 4th Gen fighter. We cannot compare Maruti 800 with Maruti Swift. Maruti 800 was 1980s and 1990s popular car in Indian market and Swift is 2000s and 2010s . Mig-21 was 1950s and 1960s, one of the best fighter but LCA yet to be one of the best fighter of 2000s and later.

    LCA cannot replace Mig-21. Mig-21 was designed and capable to address 1960s and 1970s tactical threats. It should be retired by 1980s or early 1990s. Now LCA need to address 2010s and 2020s threats, which Mig-21 cannot capable to handle. If LCA prove it can fight with 2020s tactical threats than it is well replacement of Mig-21.

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    “The Tejas is still at an early stage of its evolution.”

    As far as I know India has been working on an indigenous plane for around 30 years now.

    Or am I getting something wrong here???


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