IAF Defends Single Engine Jet Contest, Strafes LCA Tejas: Report

There wasn’t a whiff of this one coming. And when India Today broke the story this week, it created more than just a flutter.

The newsbreak, televised Friday (video above) on India Today’s 5pm news show anchored by Livefist’s Shiv Aroor, tells of how the Indian Air Force has pronounced the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas a sub-optimal combat platform to ‘protect Indian skies’. The story by senior journalist Sudhi Ranjan Sen suggests the IAF’s words were in the form of a presentation to the Ministry of Defence to fight off a hitherto unknown government move to rethink a large impending campaign to build imported fighter jets in India and instead simply buy more LCA Tejas fighters.

The Make in India single engine fighter (SEF) is expected to be a face-off between Sweden’s Gripen E and the American F-16 Block 70 for a deal that involves the sale of at least 100 jets to the Indian Air Force off a new production line in India in partnership with the private ‘strategic partner’. Thirty-three years in development, the LCA Tejas entered tentative service with the IAF last year, with a total of 123 airframes on order to populate five squadrons. The India Today report suggests the Indian government is wondering why it needs to build foreign fighters in India if the LCA Tejas meets single engine fighter requirements. It is reportedly in response to these questions that the IAF has explicitly labelled the LCA Tejas an insufficient combat platform.

While the Indian Air Force and MoD haven’t officially reacted to the story, the suggestion that the MoD is even rethinking the SEF program is explosive. A Request for Information (RFI) on the contest was to have been sent out to Lockheed Martin and Saab by the end of September. That deadline, the IAF chief later declared, had then shifted to the end of October. With no RFI out yet, the India Today report has amplified questions over the delay.

The report is a perplexing one, given that the SEF program has been brandished as the spearhead of India’s Make in India thrust in the field of aerospace. Suggestions of a government rethink — or an effort to whittle down the scope of the SEF contest — would fly directly in the face of expansive discussions both prospective competitors — Lockheed Martin and Saab — have very visibly been holding with Indian industry under the aegis of the MoD’s ambitious Strategic Partnership policy.

The conflict, though, is an expected one and the India Today report perhaps reflects the multiple pressure points weighing on the government at this time. Consider the following:

  1. One of the first questions to justifiably erupt when the SEF contest was announced was why India needed imported light fighters when the LCA Tejas had turned the corner into squadron service and was on a path of steady improvement. Armed with the LCA’s performance data and timelines, HAL and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) have understandably brought to bear a great deal of pressure on the government to reconsider the SEF. There are specific interests at play here, of course — the SEF won’t involve HAL as a license production house, so the latter has no skin in the new game. Within the LCA Tejas ecosystem, ironically, the ADA has nursed misgivings that HAL simply hasn’t ‘owned’ the LCA Tejas as it should.
  2. The SEF fighter deal may not have begun in earnest yet, but make no mistake about the enormous political capital that’s already been invested in it. The world’s largest defence firm has the explicit backing of the most unsubtle and unpredictable political force in Trump to keep the contest at the very least on track. That along makes the India Today report explosive, given that there have been no indications so far that the Indian government has doubts about whether to push ahead.
  3. Obviously, both Lockheed Martin and Saab see space for their aircraft in Indian inventory alongside the LCA Tejas. The IAF’s reported pronouncements on the LCA only support the argument from vendors that one platform doesn’t replace the other. Of course, both Lockheed Martin and Saab explicitly recognise that concluding a deal with India will necessarily have to mean technology channels to the LCA Tejas program and the proposed AMCA fifth generation fighter. The LCA program however believes performance improvements on the Mk.1A and the less and less likely LCA Mk.2 would narrow the gap considerably. The truth is, the IAF is stoutly unconvinced.
  4. The SEF is an ambitious program brandished as one to cure several of India’s aerospace ills at once — the lack of large aviation-building capacity in the private sector, the lack of leading edge technologies on par with the best in the world, crucial aerospace skilling to support a new paradigm in quality manufacturing, the first true harnessing of Indian Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the global airframing business, and not least, quality employment with spill-over effects into other areas. It is these deeply ambitious goals that make the SEF program more than just a funnel to supply 100+ fighters to a customer grappling with squadron strength depletion. Critics of the program offer, on the other hand, that the energies and time spent on creating SEF capacity could well be channeled into improving the LCA program and accelerating the AMCA, additionally suggesting that improved LCA jets could populate squadrons faster than license built foreign jets off a greenfield Indian facility. It is into the IAF’s new pronouncements that these impulses have now smashed.
  5. It is difficult to ignore the inventory path the IAF is taking. With a pair of Rafale squadrons, over a hundred LCA Tejas jets and the prospective SEF jets inbound, we’re talking of three all new types in operational service. And this isn’t even considering more twin-engine jets the IAF could consider at a later time, in addition to fifth generation fighters. From an inventory perspective, the scenario plays out ominously: the subtraction of one type — all variants of the MiG-21, and the addition of at least three types.

17 thoughts on “IAF Defends Single Engine Jet Contest, Strafes LCA Tejas: Report”

  1. Can anyone please explain why the present government is against the single-engine “contest,” when it itself had started it after completely junking the MMRCA process? Is it that the LCA project suddenly improved by leaps and bounds in the past two years?

  2. The Govt is right. What a mess the Indian Military is making for itself. There are enough reports where the fighter pilots and test pilots who actually flew the LCA are happy with its performance. It seems the problem is with the Air Marshals of the IAF. For whatever reasons (corruption ? commisions ? ), they prefer foreign maal. The same with the Army generals. Although Arjun beat T-90 in the trails and the tankmen who used Arjun loved it, the generals prefer T-90 over Arjun giving ridiculous excuses.

  3. There is nothing new and nothing to be alarmed of in this report. We already know the Tejas Mark 1 and even the Mark 1A Jugaad is not up to scratch on all parameters – all of which have been publicly documented. This does not reduce the importance of the Tejas or the need to support its programme development into other future versions/platforms that may be under consideration. 123 is a good order base for future development. Let’s walk before we pull 9gs.
    This also does not mean our govt should undermine the need to have an aircraft that can give us credible air dominance – the current LCA would find it hard put to match a J10 let alone the aviary of J11/15s the PLAAF flies. But with a Meteor armed Gripen or an F16/70 its a whole new ball game – and when your Meteor/Asraam/R74/RVV-AE/Derby armed Aesa fitted F414 powered future DRDO platform is ready, India would have taken meaningful steps towards a viable home-designed weapon system.
    If we keep at it constantly, we may even acquire the holy grail of aero-engineering – a desi fighter engine that delivers. Cheen nu veykh. I hope we nincompoops – composed of brilliant individuals but a rotten system – can hold it together and make it work

    1. Gurkirat Singh Hanspal

      Exactly my sentiments. All those who have kept themselves abreast with the defence know fully well the strengths of the LCA program and the weaknesses of the current LCA fighter. As such what the air force is saying is not wrong. Keep developing the LCA but by the time mk2 comes along we do need another fighter to fill in the gaps.

    2. What many clueless people don’t realize is that Tejas is still far from being an indigenous fighter since its very guts–engine, guns, radar, missiles–are foreign. We are far away from being self-reliant in these critical fields thanks to our superb DPSUs who have been in business for over half a century. Calling the shell of LCA as “indigenous” is a slap to all self-respecting Indians.

      1. Mera joota hai Japani yeh patloon englishtani sir par lal topi rusi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani — interpret this famous old song line anyway it holds true

  4. The liars in the IAF have given a presentation laden with half-truths to the Defence Ministry.

    1 ) The endurance mentioned is only of the Tejas Mark 1, which is only the 1st version. There is a Tejas Mark 1A under development by the HAL, which will reduce many hundreds of kgs of weight, that was used for testing. This will undoubtedly increase the Tejas’ range and endurance. And I’ve not even begun about the larger and more powerful Tejas Mark 2 . . . .

    2 ) The point about a lesser weapons payload of “only” 3 tons is also misleading. The Gripen E’s empty weight is about 7 tons. If it takes off with it’s own weight under it’s belly, then don’t expect it to fly deep into Pakistan, and come back. It will be so sluggish and guzzle so much fuel, that it can barely fly a few hundred kms from base, before being forced to turn back. That way, even the Tejas Mark 2 should be able to carry 6 to 7 tons of payload.

    3 ) The Tejas’ maintenance times will obviously be improved, as it sheds its caterpillar skin and is flown more often by the IAF, and refined to a higher and higher degree. The Su-30s that the IAF flies aren’t paragons of maintenance either.

    What is extremely sad here, that the IAF stayed feigned ignorance about the Teas Mk.1A and the upcoming Tejas Mk.2. This is tantamount to not just deceit, but also treason.

    The Ministry of Defence must next give a hearing to the DRDO, and ask them to rebut the points raised by the IAF. I’m sure they will.

    1. Gurkirat Singh Hanspal

      Though there is some truth in what you’ve stated, there is also some misinformation from your side. With regards to IAF…..they have not lied, they’ve just spelled out their technical points in layman’s terms. Of course if one gets into the nitty gritty’s of it then you can have an argument about what IAF stated. Secondly though mk1a and mk2 will have marked improvements over the current version, let’s not forget that they are still some time away from realisation. IAF is not against LCA, it just wants the LCA to be in mk2 state before it gives the thumbs up for full on production. In the meantime they do require a fighter. So that’s what they said. And like the first commenter here, there is nothing to alarmed of…..we all know that LCA is still not a finished product in it’s current form. The IAF more than anyone, is waiting for mk2.

    2. You are partly right here, we must continue refining Tejas and it will be good for the aeronautical ecosystem that is in its infancy but showing signs of maturing gradually. The trouble is Tejas 2 is still a dream that is yet to materialize. So in that case, we will surely need a SEF as well to be ready for China’s vicious dreams for power. In short, we need both. So DRDO’s plans to draw curtains to SEF program are pointless.
      I am more concerned about the fighter cocktail we are going to have in 10 odd years, it is going to be logistical nightmare!

      1. If China is the objective then FGFA is the right vehicle. IAF must own Tejas otherwise the ecosystem will never grow and the fighter will not take its rightful place in IAF inventory. Even whilst ADA and HAL improve Tejas from a feature perspective, rope in the pvt sector to improve it from a reliability perspective. It absolutely can be done.

        – Manne

    3. Weight reduction is not done in Tejas Mk 1A and it is pushed to Tejas Mk 2. Mk 2 Prototype is expected in 2021 only and after flight testing the production is expected to start in 2025 only. These are optimal estimates. Mk 2 has almost same spec as Gripen E.

      1. India must believe in itself and our people instead of investing in everyone else’s projects. Tejas mk II would be better then Grippen e or f-16-Block 70 which are not yet developed yet. We do not know what bugs will be in those system and it is always better to develop Tejas which seem to be a very similar or better aircraft then to go with hypothetical plane that is not in production yet and invest then investing in India. It is utmost shame a similar aircraft could be considered which are three times the expense of the Tejas. What is the level of corruption when government has no faith in its own people. Tejas having a higher wing loading can obviously out fly in higher altitude and do slow speed bombing which make it a very versatile plane that suits our environment and needs. Why invest tens of billions on someone’s else project when that money can be invested in the development of India. If the contest was started today it would at-least take three years of testing and evaluation , second will any of the manufacturers give TOT. So when will they project making the plane, so stick to Tejas as there is nothing else and develop the country. ? Tejas mk2 is stated to fly next year according to reports in IOC configuration.

        Certainly f-16 is an antique and the gippen -e have nothing more to offer, but taking money away from Indian development.

  5. Many PSU and government employment enthusiasts or maybe employees have mentioned and boasted about Tejas and how IAF is fooling everyone.

    The sorry story of failure to develop our own Jet engine ( Germans had developed their own in 1940s, We don’t even have our own for Ships and import from Russia and Ukraine ), along with Failure Tejas ( Navy has rejected it in very clear terms ).
    I won’t go much into details about Tejas, but to my PSUs employee , DRDO jingoist friends , or people with relatives in DRDO, HAL is classic example of what monopoly can do to an organisation, riddled with unprofessionalism and lack of integrity has seen it unable to support even the aircrafts it had licence to manufacture, like Dorniers and Chetak for Navy, their pathetic support to these along with lack of spares and acceptance towards development of ALH says a lot about their attitude.

    To sum up
    No one in good sense , would accept such sub standard LCA , Arjun MBT and other such sub standard systems/products , those who care for their solider who have our their life in line for you guys

  6. Every country for self reliance develops a platform over years, look at GRIPEN and F-16, why IAF wants Tejas to be perfect in the first go,
    My apprehensions which I expressed in another post ( appointment of present defense minister) has been proved correct
    Make in India to destroy developed in India, shameless politicians supported by spineless experts from MOD

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