With the media shut out, HAL quietly handed over the first series production Tejas light combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force today, marking the beginning of what will hopefully be a long series of handings over over the next few decades. With the Tejas still months away from final operational clearance, today’s ceremony — and it really was a ceremony — was mostly for the cameras (which weren’t there, so who was this for?). But seriously. For all the symbolism that today’s ‘handing-over’ was about, I’m not about to rain on the programme’s parade. Not today.
Ten years ago, when I began reporting defence, then IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy was on his way into retirement. I ambushed him at a government event in October 2004 for a quote on the LCA Tejas, which at the time was having considerable trouble. He wasn’t happy. But he did say something no other chief did say. Not that I remember at least. He said, “I’m fed up of the to-and-fro between us and the builders of the LCA. I’m willing to accept the aircraft right now, as is. I am willing to commit my pilots to start clocking numbers on this machine. We need to spend time learning about it, not fighting about it. I am willing to make that commitment.”
He meant what he said. But he retired weeks later. And there isn’t a lot you can do after that. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there weren’t other chiefs who wanted to see the Tejas in service as soon as possible, but a book remains to be written about the schadenfreude that was the development of the Tejas. It is in that light alone, if nothing else, that the handing over of an airframe to the IAF today is an occasion that shouldn’t be made light of.
[On a separate note: I’ve been stricken by a severe allergic sinusitis, the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Anyone. Spring couldn’t be here sooner. Have a good season, all.]