#EyeOnIndia: 10 Questions For Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles

After a terrific 10 question #EyeOnIndia round with FlightGlobal’s Stephen Trimble, Livefist is now happy to have one of the world’s most dogged and committed aviation journalists Joe Coles of the venerable Hush-Kit take a dive with us.

LIVEFIST: The first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Indian aerospace contracting?

JOE: Chaos. Delays. Cancellations.

LIVEFIST: What do you think of the LCA Tejas?

JOE: As both a failure and a success. As a potent timely military aircraft offering good value for money, it is clearly a failure. As a stepping stone to an indigenous capability it could be (perhaps generously) deemed a success. For the Hushkit.net site we interviewed Justin Bronk (from the RUSI think tank) on the subject of Tejas. We phrased the question as ‘joke or hope?’ He replied “Joke. Thirty years of development to produce an aircraft with short range, poor payload, and severe quality control issues throughout the manufacturing process leading to badly fitting structural components, slow delivery rates and high costs due to remanufacturing and alterations requirements. India would have done much better to have just bought a licence to manufacture Gripen C/D.” I think it is fair to say that it is inferior in almost all metrics to the similar Saab Gripen. The Marut of the 1960s was more technologically advanced for its time.

LIVEFIST: Your opinion on India choosing the Rafale?

JOE: To some extent the actual type chosen by the Indian Air Force doesn’t matter, as much as a big commitment to a single type. No air force on earth has such a lack of commonality in its fast jet fleet (though China may come close): Jaguars, Mirage 2000s, Su-30s, MiG-21s and 29s (the ‘27s still flying?) ! That’s just too many types. While reliance on a single type is dangerous, supporting the current mess of different types is too expensive and too complicated. If India gets its Rafales (and its hard to predict anything for sure in Indian procurement) they will prove both expensive and very capable. The Rafale is an excellent multirole (I refuse to use Dassault’s ‘omnirole’ marketing word) platform and, if asked to in the future, could take on all the roles covered by the types mentioned above with aplomb (though may lack the long range/combat persistence of the Su-30). Will the Indian Air Force be able to maintain the readiness levels of the Armée de l’Air’s Rafale force? Probably not. Relatively simple honest high performance jets – like the MiG-21,’29- and Mirage 2000 have long proved popular in the IAF. The rather more maintenance-heavy Su-30 has proved problematic; the even more advanced Rafale may prove a burden. If the Rafale works well for the IAF they should invest in making it a mainstay of their force. 300 odd Su-30s backed up by say 200 Rafales would be a formidable fighter force. Retiring the MiG-21, MiG-27 and ’29 would free a lot of pilot talent and reduce attrition; it should be noted the main cause of IAF aircrew death is not foreign air forces. Although things seem to have improved over the last few years, 2nd and 3rd generation fighters are far more dangerous than 4th Gen. The Jags are on a tortuous upgrade programme and will probably be hard to get rid of for a while. Very high spec Mirage 2000s 10 years ago would have been the perfect fit for India, these notional 2000s could now be upgraded with the latest weapons and sensors. They could have provided a headache free, cost effective force. Unfortunately for India, the production line closed in 2007 to make way for Rafale. At this point in time Dassault was desperate to find a first export customer for Rafale; India’s hunger for more Mirages may have accelerated the M2000’s demise. It may be worth considering Dassault’s intentions and loyalty in making such a move.

It is also worth noting that the Rafale has a carrier variant and it would make sense for the Indian Navy to procure it in the future.

LIVEFIST: India wants to build a foreign fighter in India. Which should it be?

JOE: For a light fighter role, the Gripen. For a lighter aircraft, combat derivatives of the Hawk trainer are a good idea from the wrong contractors; a relatively low-risk lower performance combat type, that is reliable and cheap to operate could be a good way to bolster forces. We joked about a Super Hunter on Hushkit.net, but this joke mentions a quite sensible idea: “The design will prioritise long range and ‘rugged’ reliability over high performance, and will feature proven systems to ensure a high level of combat effectiveness. Parrikar noted that “Mach 1.5+ performance is not necessary for the vast majority of combat missions, yet this requirement has until now dominated our search for future fighters. The use of heavily networked slower assets within a force that includes faster aircraft, like the Su-30, will prove more effective, far cheaper and will give the Indian Air Force what it most needs: larger, safer and more reliable forces.” An Advanced Hawk could fit such a bill- but expecting anything to be cheap from BAE Systems is a losing game. An F-16 production line would be both overly ambitious (to both negotiate and actually do) and very complicated politically.

LIVEFIST: India has three fifth generation aircraft options at various levels of likelihood: the Su-57 FGFA, the homegrown AMCA concept and the F-35. What should it bet  on?

JOE: The AMCA appears to be complete madness. Jumping from an unsuccessful (relatively) technologically pedestrian project like Tejas to a world class stealthy tactical fighter seems an unlikely route to success. Additionally, a first flight in 2025 (if achieved) plus ten or twenty years of development to get it operational sees it reaching squadrons in the 2035-45 period. At best, you have an F-35 twenty years too late (or mini F-22 thirty years too late). Of course an AMCA would have a large amount of foreign help (Russian and maybe Swedish), which may help matters, but looking at the FGFA, Russia does not seem a great collaborative partner. Pakistan’s approach with the JF-17 was to let China do almost all the work and then claim it as collaborative venture, a sceptic may argue that a similar approach with Sweden and Indian money could be a winning solution. Saab’s good track record is starting to be recognised, so Indian aerospace companies may have to join a long queue.

The FGFA has so far disappointed India. Sukhoi wanted to hoover huge amounts of money out of Indian coffers to fund Russia’s next fighters and the deal seemed exploitative. According to Indian sources the PAK FA is deficient in several key areas, notably radar cross section. Given sufficient funding the aircraft could end up as a capable fighter – and one ideal for countering an air force, like China, equipped with mass ‘Flanker’ forces.

The ultra hygienic world of low observability does not fit comfortably with the Russian ethos of making aircraft that can function in the smoke and dirt of a messy world. Given sufficient funding and an honest development, the Su-57 should end up as an extremely potent fighter. It may however by best bought ‘off the shelf’ later on.

The F-35 is not normally mentioned in the same paragraph as the words ‘low risk’ but in this case it is the lower risk option. There are several disadvantages however:

1. It would be immensely costly to maintain and operate.

2. It would have low readiness rates.

3. It may tie India into the cumbersome Autonomic Logistics Information System.

4. All large non-US states are developing counter-technologies specifically for the F-35.

5. F-35 ownership is far from an autonomous affair, and the India government would be absolutely at the whim of US Foreign Policy

To answer your question. The IAF may be wise to get its air force fully into the 1990s before getting it into the 2010s. There is still only one 5th generation fighter in real full-scale service anywhere in the world, the F-22. It has proved too costly and maintenance heavy for even USAF. The mission capable rate was a pitiful 49% last year! And the fleet is considerably smaller than the IAF’s Su-30 force. The F-35’s mission rates were barely better despite it being mollycoddled into full service. 5th gen (if you accept this slightly nebulous term) is still immature. Stealth, with its nightmarish support requirements appears to halve the aircraft available. Also looking at the F-117 and planned B-2 retirement, stealth aircraft have, historically, had short service lives. Is it worth it? Unless the IAF’s priority mission is to counter J-20s in the near future, it may be worth waiting until the new generation of fighters reach maturity. Other than stealth, all 5th gen technologies can be added to existing platforms —adding modern SA (situtational awareness).

LIVEFIST: Which aircraft in the Indian military would you take a spin in?

JOE: I have phobia of ejection seats caused by sitting in the cockpit of a MiG-29 operated by a certain Eastern European nation. A technician leaned in to explain certain systems to me. As the vodka on the maintainer’s breath scorched my face I became conscious that I was sitting on rocket-powered chairs kept ‘safe’ by a drunk. Ever since then I’m nervous of ejection seats, having said that, if I was feeling brave, a Su-30 trip would be quite an experience!

LIVEFIST: What’s the worst thing you’ve heard about Indian defence contracting?

JOE: Where to begin? I asked one friend, a defence journalist, his opinion on this and he answered “Defence deals can be either corrupt or slow..India has opted for both.”

LIVEFIST: India is developing a stealth UCAV. Your thoughts?

High technology UCAV’s are a great way to help your enemies progress technologically…see Iran and the RQ-170 for details. I’m curious as to the military purpose of the AURA considering its expected range.

LIVEFIST: What’s India’s most visible strength in aerospace/defence?

JOE: Naming a UAV ‘Fluffy’. In terms of organisation and technology India does not seem close to achieving its potential. Despite decent funding levels and a wealth of talent the aerospace and defence sectors seem dogged by chaos, painfully slow bureaucracy and corruption.

But sorry you did ask for a more positive response. The level of ambition is very impressive: as we speak, Indian companies are working on aircraft in every category: regional transports, helicopter gunships, stealth fighters, stealth UAVs, missiles and spaceflight. I would single out the Indian space effort as the most visible strength. India was the first nation to succeed on its first mission to Mars, a remarkable achievement.

LIVEFIST: Do you see India as a countervailing force to China?

JOE: Now I have Googled the word ‘countervailing’ I can answer. I guess this depends if you mean economically, militarily or in terms of spheres of interest. The answer to this question falls well outside my knowledge, but I will say that raising the boogieman of peer-peer warfare is great for defence contractors!

Coming up: #EyeOnIndia Part 3: The Aviationist founder David Cenciotti takes 10 questions

18 thoughts on “#EyeOnIndia: 10 Questions For Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles”

  1. Who the hell is this guy?
    He replied “Joke. Thirty years of development to produce an aircraft with short range, poor payload, and severe quality control issues throughout the manufacturing process leading to badly fitting structural components, slow delivery rates and high costs due to re manufacturing and alterations requirements.
    Does Livefest just ask random guys for approval?

    1. Tejas Project Defination stage started in 1988 and Phase 1 of Full fledged development started in 1993 with the induction date being IOC -2 that is Dec 2013. So the development time frame was 25 years or 20 years depending on from where you wanna start the count.

    2. Short range ? Tejas carries 2458 kgs of internal fuel giving it a range of 1700 kms. Gripen C in comparison carries 2270 kgs of fuel with a range of 1600 kms. However Gripen advertises its range with 3 x drop tanks , that is 3200 kms , roughly equivalent to Tejas’s 3000 kms with 3x Drop tanks.

    3. Poor Payload ? Tejas can carry upto 4 tons of external payload, as compared to 5 tons of a Gripen C

    4. High costs? Thats laughable! The Tejas mk1 unit costed just around 25-30mil$ a piece fly away , as against Gripen C’s 40-60 mil$. (This point is the most laughable among all)

    “licence to manufacture Gripen C/D.” I think it is fair to say that it is inferior in almost all metrics to the similar Saab Gripen.”

    Why? And pay more for what?
    An inferior flight control system?
    Lower Thrust to Weight Ratio?
    Lesser use of composites in the airframe?
    Higher Wing loading?
    Lesser Stealth?
    No Naval version?

    No Thank You! Tejas anyday above Gripen!

    1. Hi Rohit, Thanks for the feedback. I will attempt to answer your questions & points.

      1. The quote is from Justin Bronk, he is a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at RUSI. He is also Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal.

      2. The Indian Air Force disagrees with you on this point (https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/tejas-indian-air-force-f-16-mig-21-fighter-planes-ajit-doval-1083350-2017-11-10)

      3. According to the ADA, it can carry up 3500kg of external stores,
      only marginally more than a BAE Systems Hawk 128 (3085 kg)
      (https://web.archive.org/web/20150206093524/http://tejas.gov.in/IOC-Brochure.pdf) Even current Gripens can carry 5000kg. E/F will be 6000kg

      4. Depends how you arrive at your figures. Dividing the number of aircraft built by project costs to date. Fly away unit costs alone are a bit misleading for the producer nation of a system.

      “An inferior flight control system? ” In what sense?

      “Lower Thrust to Weight Ratio?” CAG reported decencies in both thrust and weight.

      Lesser use of composites in the airframe? I think you’re correct on this. A quick look puts Tejas at 45% of weight (which is very impressive) and Gripen at 25% https://ihsmarkit.com/pdf/Composites-Aerospace-Applications-whitepaper_264558110913046532.pdf http://csirturns75.in/light-weight-composites-future-of-aircraft-materials/ This is maybe to be expected as there were 13 years separating their first flights. Composites are a means to end though, I was speaking to a stress engineer the other day about how composites are often unnecessarily included (in civil designs anyway) in the name of modernity, but often the cons outweigh the pros.

      “Lesser Stealth?” There are no reliable public domain sources for this.

      “No Naval version?” Not currently, but Brazil takes the idea seriously.

      I’ve yet to speak to an analyst who would favourably compare Tejas to the Gripen.

      I hope this helps, and thanks again for your feedback. Sorry to inspire ire, I know military aircraft (and their relationship to feelings of national pride) are an emotive subject. I hope I have not caused offence.

      Thanks Hush-Kit

      1. 2. Im sorry, but the Indian Airforce has a NAMED Spokesperson , in most cases the Air chief. Such anonymous or nameless Hit jobs using the paid media does not change the fact that legit people such as the Air chief or Sq leader Ranga or anyone associated with the programme, speaks very highly of the Tejas – and they arent anon or nameless. Also those claims are simply lies, one of which I will clarify in my next point.

        3. From the Official brochure , Tejas Loaded Weight is 9. 8 tons(100% internal fuel). While from most other sources, the Max Take off weight is 13.5 tons, leaving about 3.7 tons has external payload.

        Now coming to Gripen C : https://saab.com/air/gripen-fighter-system/gripen/gripen/the-fighter/gripen-c-series/gripen-cd/
        http://aviationweek.com/site-files/aviationweek.com/files/uploads/2014/09/asd_09_25_2014_jas7.pdf

        The official link has advertised the payload to be 5.3 tons, but is that with 100% internal fuel? Lets find out
        6800(empty) + 2270(100% fuel) = 9070 kgs.
        Max take off = 14000 kgs
        Payload – 4.9 tons.

        But is that the real payload? No! Apart from Empty weight + Internal fuel, the Loaded Weight also includes the Weight of the Pilot, His Suite, the HMDS , Liquid Oxygen Cylinders carried and other on board systems.

        The same has been calculated for the Tejas and it comes down to some 780 kgs and has been included in the Loaded Weight of 9.8 tons.

        Thus, the real effective payload of the Gripen C is much lesser than 4.9 tons at 100% fuel?
        Now where does the 5.3 tons figure comes you may ask?
        The answer is by sacrificing Internal fuel.
        To paint as rosy a picture on brochures, the payload for Gripen is advertised with roughly 70-80% internal fuel.

        The same can be done for Tejas to get a payload of 4 tons.

        Hence in my original comment, I mentioned 4 tons vs 5 tons.

        4. Total programme cost divided by the number of fighters? Isnt that unfair to the one who has recently started production and has far lower fighters in service? Further the figures are dynamic and will keep changing as more fighters enter service

        Fly away cost figures are very easily available and are fixed.

        5. Tejas employees the most advanced Quadruplux or 4-channel Digital Fly by Wire System, comparable to the Flight control systems on the Eurofighter or Rafale. Gripen on the other hand uses an inferior Triplex or 3-channel Digital Fly By Wire system.

        6. Have you ever tried calculating the Thrust to Weight Ratios? The TW ratio is calculated Dividing the Thrust with the Loaded weight (at 100% internal fuel). For the Tejas mk1 its 0.96, while for Gripen is about 0.90.

        The latest ASR for the Tejas required a TW ratio of over 1.00 which is planned to be achieved with the GE414 on the Tejas mk2 . And hence the CAG has put that as a “deficiency” , by simply comparing it with the ASR.

        7. Developing and integrating advanced composites on an aircraft is not a easy process and not something everyone can achieve. I dont see why so much investment and effort on something where the cons outweigh the pros. Future 5th generation fighters would aim for 100% composites on the airframe.

        8. There is no official figures available for the cross radar section of any fighter for that matter. However the fact that Tejas has 90% of composites by Surface Area on the Airframe which minimize reflection of radar waves and a few other signature reducing features, apart from a smaller size , it can be estimated to have a lower RCS than the Gripen.
        Further on my visits to Def Expos , I was told that Tejas’s radar signature is estimated to be just 1/3rd of the Mirage2000, which is also flown by the IAF.

        Also its not about national pride. I havent come up here saying Tejas is superior to a Rafale or an Eurofighter.

        But through my years of research I have got a fair share of how things work in the Defence industry.
        Painting rosy pictures on the brochers , using paid media to sabotage competitors, etc are not uncommon.

        Thats where your own research and calculations come into play.

      2. Hi Hush-kit, reading comprehension seems to be lacking in your reply.

        1. Justin Bronk – and what makes him any sort of expert on India or Indian aviation? He has neither visited India nor does he have any significant technology experience. What you did was provide an appeal to authority, and a flawed one at that. IAF serving personnel rank the quality of systems in the Tejas, including many indigenous items as being above anything else they have in service and matching the best of imports. The high threshold established by the IAF SQRs is such that even so, the IAF wants continued improvements in the Tejas. Do google for Commander Maolankar interview Tejas to get an idea as versus relying on Bronks or beancounters.

        2. Your comment citing a Mail Today article misses the point that the IAF, in a disingenous move, compared the Tejas Mk1 to a Gripen E/F. Something which the MOD picked up on, and hence the Tejas Mk2 program was launched.
        Instead you might want to read up on Tejas from serving IAF pilots who compare it favorably avionics and flight control performance wise, to the upgraded Mirage 2000 in IAF service.

        3. Carrying weight is only one part of the answer. The bigger issue is to what range and with what overall airframe performance. Comparing the Tejas to the Hawk, hence is a joke. One is a pure fighter, the other a mostly subsonic platform whose only real transonic oriented platform was barely sold abroad and has not even been kept really current. Those 3.5 Tons on Tejas can be spread across BVR, WVR, LGBs and a host of other weapons. Good luck finding a Hawk which can do the same today. Your E/F brochure bashing is equally flawed. SAABs empty weight targets are yet to be met. Their paper specs remain that.

        4. The Tejas had a Quad FBW from day one. CAGs comments are meaningless without the context of how ambitious the IAF ASQRs are.
        As regards analysts and their opinions, who cares? These analysts have no access to IAF or ADA data and like Justin publish ridiculously inaccurate claims on programs they have literally no idea about.

        5. Its amazing how patronizing you are viz programs you are literally ignorant about. You run an aviation website and when corrected, bring in references to national pride. To what end?
        Do you seriously think the whole world revolves only around the west?

        1. ” He replied “Joke. Thirty years of development to produce an aircraft with short range, poor payload, and severe quality control issues throughout the manufacturing process leading to badly fitting structural components, slow delivery rates and high costs due to re manufacturing and alterations requirements.

          One may well think this refers to the Eurofighter, a platform Bronk constantly plays up as the best thing since Sandwiches and Tea.
          Clearly, the chap has no idea of aerospace and real world efforts and how arduous they can be.

        2. 2. I would add to the fact, that the mail today article has purposely downplayed the capabilities of the Tejas mk1, whether it be the range or payload or maintenance.

          3. At 100% fuel, Tejas can carry 3.5 tons while Gripen C can carry round about 4.5 tons (exact figure is hard to know as Gripen is not publishing its loaded weight figure)
          However to make it look more rosey Gripen C advertises its payload at 5.3 tons which can be achieved by sacrificing fuel.
          According to Group Capt. Ranga, the Tejas can hit a 4 tons payload as well, most likely using the same means.

  2. So many factual inaccuracies in this that i stopped reading, lol. This guy works in a firm selling news and views on aerospace, seems to be know very little about Tejas though. 20 years dev time not 30. And its not inferior in all specs to Griphen.

  3. Chandra Shekhar Singh

    He seems to be an expert of some other areas. He clearly lacs any substantial knowledge in aviation. Ya he is looking like a Saab agent.

  4. As long as foreign propaganda BS like this “opinion piece” continue to be peddled in Indian media websites, what can we say, pish-posh. If import lobby sections within IAF suffer from best of brochuritis to selectively target Indian programs, the brochure experts like these are most happy to oblige only.
    To my fellow Indians don’t worry have curry, SP-09 flew yesterday. Let’s move on.

  5. Shyam Prajapati

    while reading this, I remembered Jan 2001, just few days before Tejas’s first flight, how DRDO send letters to many aerospace giants worldwide for some guide before the maiden flight and the kind of response DRDO got, and how they were all proved wrong……… just saying

  6. Desperately trying to get a kind word LiveFist & ShivAroor talk to Joe Coles of Hushkit

    Factless & Clueless Coles at his smug-best!

    Fact1
    #Rafale with French-AA (AA : Armée de l’Air) have availability of 49% – lower than nearly any aircraft with IAF!
    Dassault has guaranteed 75% availability for Rafale in India! I wonder why they cant do it France?
    https://t.co/rpogzxaj98
    http://www.defenseworld.net/news/17812/Rafale_Fighter_Jet_Serviceability_Rate_With_French_Air_Force_Is_48_5_Percent
    http://www.liberation.fr/futurs/2015/06/19/armee-de-l-air-la-flotte-francaise-en-partie-clouee-au-sol_1333006

    Fact2
    Corruption in India?
    How can India’s corrupt bureaucracy get the lowest rates for avowedly the best aircraft that the global vendor base can offer? I wonder if @Hush_Kit has read anything about the $21 trillion scam in USA DoD?
    https://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2017/msu-scholars-find-21-trillion-in-unauthorized-government-spending-defense-department-to-conduct/
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/kotlikoff/2017/12/08/has-our-government-spent-21-trillion-of-our-money-without-telling-us/#459eef1a7aef

    Fact3

    Tejas Delayed?
    First prototype flight in Jan., 2001
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_HAL_Tejas#2001
    IOC-I – Jan., 2011
    IOC-II Dec., 2013
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_HAL_Tejas#2001
    Any clean-slate product that has moved faster in the last 50-yr?

    Fact4

    Tejas Costly?
    R&D cost ~US$1 billion?
    Any jet fighter started production at a lower development cost?
    Marginal costing – ~25 million?
    Slice & dice it any way you want … Any jet fighter at comparable cost?

    Fact5

    Tejas has low range

    Gripen D combat radius 500 km for most of its CAP missions!

    Anyways, this will be further enhanced by #Tejas MK2
    https://t.co/lk2uKm5263

  7. That’s it. I won’t ever again be visiting Hushkit.net. This joker is an aviation journo for Hushkit with this level of limited knowledge of another nation’s aviation industry and its challenges?

    And do we need a “gora” to come tell us whether our programs are jokes or hopes? What rubbish!!

    Let him go peddle the Gripen to Botswana, which needs fighters ugently. To fight off God knows whom. No corruption there, seriously.

  8. lca tejas is a joke???perhaps it wud have been a good idea to just but imported stuff and fill their coffers to suit the firangi intellectuals…
    nobody says that Tejas is a done deal, Mk1 was always more like tech demo than real true blue fighter…but the systems developed in the process are totally indigenous , not stolen from nazis or stolen from cyber espionage from americans…

    for every body angry with goras for insulting our capabilities to pull off a stellar job, do not be so, they have mocked us, ridicules us , be it moon mission, mars mission etc…they will never accept that we are doing some good.

    tejas is just a fighter for them, but it is a journey for us as a nation spiring to be aerospace power, already plans for Tejas Mk2 are afoot, focus shud now be on perfecting that design and flying the first MWF and AMCA by 2025 , that will force them to eat their own words…rest all is just tu tu main main, SINCE a combat hardened ACM is vouching for the Tejas, that is enough for me, i dont need certification from journalists, the pilots and air force which once criticised the fighhter , now praises it…that is a proof og the pudding, rest is all sensationalism, we have proved them wrong before, we shall prove them wrong again.

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