Great developments on the Tejas front; duplicate them for FMBT

Leadership has often been the difference between a successful and failed indigenous armament or weapons development project to which national prestige is committed. After the departure of Dr Kurt Tank from the HF-24 supersonic fighter project and the sidelining of Dr Raj Mahindra when the Mk-II of this aircraft was killed by IAF in order to procure the Anglo-French Jaguar low level strike aircraft, which mission the Marut Mk-II would have done far better. It initiated the process of IAF going over lock and stock and barrel to importing combat aircraft to the detriment of the security of the country and the national interest, a direction a seemingly unconcerned Indian govt actively encouraged — with defence minister Jagjivan Ram in the post-Emergency Janata govt allegedly pocketing rich commissions as the Maneka Gandhi edited magazine’Surya’ then claimed.

For the first time now Tejas will have two tested and proven persons at the wheel, with the Indian govt finally doing the right thing for a change with respect to the LCA. It has appointed Commodore CD Balaji, fresh from his success spearheading the development of the naval variant of Tejas as chief of the Aeronautical Development Agency, Bangalore. It was Balaji who ensured, for instance, that the navalised Tejas is a far more advanced aircraft than its air force sibling. Levcons (leading edge vortex controllers) have been configured into its airframe, making it a far more maneuverable warplane able, for instance, to pull high angles of attack at low speeds. Balaji’s hands-on control, commitment, and ability to eliminate/remove systemic and procedural obstacles are by now the stuff of legend. Senior US Navy officers whom I met in Washington some years back, who were part of the consultancy team Pentagon approved to liaise with the Balaji project, were full of praise for the streamlined manner in which everything worked, something they confessed they did did not expect. The USN consultants were hired to advice on such things as the strengthening of the aircraft’s fuselage, the exact placement of the arrester hook, the choice of an appropriate jet engine with the needed power-rating, etc.

In parallel with Balaji taking over ADA, Commodore Jaydeep Maolankar has assumed command of the National Flight Test Centre, also in Bangalore, replacing Air Commodore Muthanna, who was in place since 2011. NFTC with its team of test pilots is tasked with testing aircraft for their air worthiness and ability to do combat maneuvers they are designed for. Mavlankar, an MS in aerospace engineering from IISc, like Balaji at ADA, is the right fit — the proverbial round peg in a round hole (unlike the history of GOI usually appointing the wrong persons to lead critically significant high-technology projects and then wondering why they veer off into failure) So, the designer agency and testing unit will be in sync and Tejas can now expect to begin rolling fast to cross certification hurdles.

The important thing to note is that both Balaji and Maolankar are senior naval officers, and typify the navy’s quite commendable levels of commitment and eagerness to validate and operate indigenous military hardware, in this case, combat aircraft. It indicates defmin Manohar Parrikar’s recognition about the importance of getting the Tejas inducted into operational squadrons in the navy and air force fast. It is perhaps the first tremendously right and potent set of appointments he has made. It is now for him to ensure Messrs Balaji and Maolankar are not tripped up by the usual villains lurking in the corners — mostly in IAF and not least in his own ministry of defence and its department of defence production. He needs in particular roughly to drag IAF by the ear, if necessary, so to say, to appreciating and prioritising the Tejas in their scheme of things — rather than have this service clamour ceaselessly for Rafale and similar foreign aircraft.

This should also signal to the army that it is wrong to so casually torpedo the Future Main Battle Tank design, as follow-on, to the Arjuna MBT that beat the Russian T-90 hollow in field trials in all respects. And Parrikar should squelch at the earliest any move by army to tilt towards the Russian Armata tank displayed at the recent Red Square parade in Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. He should rescind army’s RFPs, and tell the COAS and his cohort that the army will have the DRDO-designed FMBT perhaps with its production shared half-and-half between DPSUs and a private sector combine in a competitive set up, both to judge the effectiveness/efficiency of public and private sector manufacturing skills and processes, and to get the best product out to the army, because it definitely will not have an imported tank. If Parrikar can summon that kind of conviction, MOD/DDP will fall in line, pronto.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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27 Responses to Great developments on the Tejas front; duplicate them for FMBT

  1. Abhishek says:

    But seriously Mr. Karnad what is the use of Arjun which as of now stands at 68 ton which will be of no use in mostly man made non tankable West Punjab and Southern Sindh…in any case India does not seem to be preparing for any armored thrust in the Western Border…

    • @Abhishek – Arjun MBT was built to army’s SQRs and specs. Did the army not realize the tank it wanted would be too heavy, and the rail/bridges infrastructure couldn’t bear that weight. Army can’t have it both ways — cannot ask a tank to be built to the specs they prescribed and once so built realize its faults, and ask for something foreign! The army officers responsible for ASQrs should be held responsible. The FMBT corrects some of these flaws. But under no circumstances should a foreign tank be allowed to come into the picture. And T-90 should absolutely be barred — considering it was outgunned, out-maneuvered, and out-everything by Arjun.


      The basic hull and turret of arjun mk2 weighs 54 tons down 4 tons from 58 tons of arjun mk1, new additions like containerized ammo with blow off panel, mine plough and various other stuff contribute to extra weight which can be dismantled when need arises. The T-90 weight was given without any of these assortments you should note.

      Click to access 1796701917IPCS-Special-Report-23.pdf

      t-90 -ground pressure —————12.5 psi—weight—————-46.5 tons
      arjun————————————– 11.9 psi– weight—————-58.5 tons
      M1A2 abramms————————15.4 psi–weight—————–69.54 tons
      leopard2———————————–11.8psi–weight—————–60.9 tons
      leclarc————————————–13.5psi–weight—————–54.5 tons,

      SO even with 58.5 tons Arjun excerts lower ground pressure per square inch in mk1. With 54 tons it would be much lesser for mk2 if extra assemblies are stripped down.

      Actually Arjun crossed the Ravi at lassian which was marked non tankable in IA maps which had lighter t-72s and T-90s.

  2. archit says:

    Is a light fighter like Tejas comparable to larger aircraft like Chinese versions of Su-30, Su-27 , J-10 etc? Why has it taken so long and why is the MoD sleeping if ADA is delaying? 30 years if i am not mistaken.
    Your article seems to focus blame of delayed development on IAF, I don’t think that’s the real issue. What do you replace phased out aircraft like MiGs with, if these clowns don’t deliver in time? You seem to be shielding the makers from your criticism, or appear to have some axe to grind against the IAF. Not an unbiased view

  3. @Archit — you may wish to look up my pieces on Tejhas in the IAF section of this blog. You will see why IAF merits a lot of the blame. Once you have killed off an indigenous fighter designing and production capability, it isn’t easy to get back the lost skills and competences. If you are talking of the 30 years it’s taken for Tejas, the degree of difficulty may be gauged by the fact that the most experienced combat aviation industry in the world — the US is struggling mightily to field a platform — F-35 going on 25 years and costing over a TRILLION $. So, let’s have a bit of perspective here.

  4. AAYUSH's says:

    Sir, its a very enlightening post. I hope all the defence forces realize this national,security threat. Sir, would tejas be able to match something like FGFA we are developing with Russia. And why are we still making pakistan specific battle strategy ? Why is there no mountain warfare research coming up ? What about the so called mountain rangers? Wouldn’t a LCA more helpful in mountaineos terrain and even for an anti terrorist operation.

    • These are very different aircraft for very different missions and should be seen as complementary and not as being in competition. Besides Tejas id 4.5 gen, FGFA 5th gen.

  5. Dear Mr. Karnad:

    Why is it that the Indian Navy alone seems to be an eager proponent of indigenous hardware? Why does the Indian Navy alone have more success in using indigenous equipment?

    The leadership for all the services comes from the same wellspring. So, what is it that sets the sailors apart from the soldiers and pilots?

  6. archit says:

    So what is the Spec to Spec comparison between the LCA and Say J-11,J-10, Su-30 MKK, JH-7A et al? No answer given for previous question?

  7. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    The start is the same for Navy and others but only Indian Navy has a history of revolting for the motherland. That history forced them into chasing the PM for allowing them to attack Karachi in 71, when the 71 war was not about the Navy to begin with. That genetic material is intact.

    BTW seems like the spate of ‘accidents’ in the Indian Navy has gone down. Wonder why?

  8. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    @BharatKarnad – Feels good to notice that you are vocal about what is obvious but is often pushed under the carpet. NLCA is second to the IAF LCA only because of the larger weight and the constraints of the naval operations.

    Posted the following somewhere. I don’t think it will be published there. But is probably better deserved here. TIFWIW.

    Copy paste follows:
    Mr. Pushpindar Singh Chopra an Aerospace expert – well I admit this is still far better than the self-acclaimed-designing-cum-philosophizing-capabilities-of-DGMF.

    However, when Mr. Pushpinder Singh says – the benefits of the more powerful F-414 would be negated by its additional weight and the re-design of the Tejas that they say will be needed to accommodate the engine. He may be right in some cases but he is more likely wrong here.
    In your July 2008 post you have claimed that a “top HAL designer” opines about the auxillary air intakes for LCA and says “Where it really matters it may not give added thrust.. in other places it will give.” Notice he too is rather unsure which is understandable. As pointed out in that essay, the suction effect of the engine-compressor will force open the spring-loaded auxiliary air intakes and with the higher suction of the F414 more air will get sucked in too.

    In 2013 this is what Air Commodore Parvez Khokhar (retd) speaking on LCA Mk-1 – vayuaerospace.in_IndiasLCATejasupdate.pdf – 2013 – “thrust is not being produced has nothing to do with the engine performance but has everything to do with design of the air intakes that do not permit optimum pressure recovery”.

    Thus IMHO the auxiliary air intakes also could not provide enough mass flow in some critical regimes, and that these regimes are most likely the very high demanding STR requirements. LCA Mk-1 that was supposed to carry 4 tons is now carrying only 3.5 tons so it could be that even in the relatively relaxed take off requirements there may be cases -high temp. high alti- where not enough help would be available despite the auxiliary air intakes. And as is understandable from your tables the F414 will require probably 10%-15% more air compared to F-404.

    This is another claim this time from people who should know – in 2014 – Dr. Tamilmani says that the Tejas Mk-II does not require an intake re-design since the MK-I intake was in any case intended to be used with the Kaveri engine which has a greater mass flow than the current F404-GE-IN20 . Studies have shown that the existing intake can easily handle the additional mass flow from the F414-GE-INS6… The Mk-II design will specifically address the sustained turn rate – saurav-jha_the-radiance-of-tejas-a-bright-prospect-for-make-in-india

    So this means that while at the compressor face the air mass flow is supportable by the air intakes still the F-414 engine may not fully get utilized in the edge of the envelop flying. But sure as hell, despite this, the IAF ASQR would be fully met. Currently ASQR is the goal – so the IAF buys it.

    Essentially Dr. Tamilmani is selling what the buyer wants to buy, not what is the best for the buyer. Essentially because the buyer has made it an ‘izzat ka issue’.

    Anyhow, the F-414 was an Indian Navy requirement for its version of the LCA which could simply not have been achieved with Kaveri or F-404. The F-414 and the LEVCONs, will enable IN to meet their much more demanding takeoffs and landings to be completed purposefully with fuller payloads and yet get the fuller lift and maneuverability at edge of the envelop flying. Ultimately merely lift or merely thrust is not going to help much and all kinds of airframes have some or the other limitations. What is truly required is the best judgment balance between Lift and Thrust etc. Something that is enabled by the patient attitude of IN and the longer term technical vision of IN in putting the LEVCONs from NLCA Mk-1 stage itself.

    There are still two more things that can be done and they are to further reduce weight and drag such that the available thrust and lift would still be sufficient for some very tight maneuvering. Both of which ADA is planning to do with LCA Mk-2. But then here again whatever is done by ADA will find its way into NLCA Mk-2 also and in this respect the IAF and IN are again somewhat evenly matched.

    IAF brass can simply never match the Indian Navy which has a very long tradition of seeing difficult and high investment projects through.

    • Errrrrrr, WHen did Pushpinder singh of vayu,became an expert on Aerospace??

      Please dont take him very seriously on tejas!! he has made enough spurious comments on tejas in his vayu strat post speech , which he will regret later when tejas mk1 completes FOC in a few months.

      Ge 414 (1110 kG)doesn’t weigh a ton over GE-404(1036 kG).

      The dimensions of GE 414 and GE 404 is almost the same.

      The extra thrust comes from better SCB tech , increased turbine entry temp and better operating pressure ratios, which mr Singh is totally ignorant of!!!


      The role of Aux intake is not to increase the total thrust of GE 404 above its 84 Kg rating. But to supply more air for the engine when quick acceleration for the fighter is needed in cornering , by supplying more air which leads to faster increase in thrust till 84 Kg, So HAL engineer was not unsure, but you got it wrong,

      What aux intake does is to increase the thrust a bit more rapidly (akin to pick up in bikes or the zero 10 100 Kmph in so many seconds figure for cars) within 84 Kn thrust limit of GE 404 .

      Tamil mani is not selling magi noodles here, K-9 and GE 414 has almost the the same air flow requirement, thats why ADA proposed just 10 mm increase for tejas mk2 air inlet over tejas mk1.Then you may ask how Ge 414 will give 98 Kn with such marginal air inflow. The answer is better SCB tech leading to higher Turbine entry temperature, higher operating pressure ratio combining to produce more thrust with better thermodynamic efficiency, Exactly the stuff ,”eggspurts” like Pushpinder Singh of vayu pretend to be unaware off!!!

      SO most of the critics of tejas program like the legion of retired chairmarshals from IAf, defence “eggspurts ” of the Pushpinder Singh , rajat pandit type are continuously misleading the public with false propaganda.

  9. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Regards the non-committal on FMBT and the unequivocal confidence in philosophizing and designing the FRCV. Looks related. This is like genetics speaking.

  10. Shail says:

    ~!@#$%^&*()_+ : Flawed understanding of Aerodynamic engines etc- also completely irrelevant to the context of original post by Dr Karnad, which was essentially a call for self -reliance in fighter manufacturing. ( BTW, FYI The 404 was inadequate because of the mk i being 1500 kgs overweight and drag issues. the 414 with approx 1000 kgs more thrust and some other mods was a “fix”. Re-design will be a minor issue, well within existing expertise.)

    Its the concept of a low range light fighter, which is reliant on aerial refuelling for any meaningful mission in todays regional geo-political and military context which is the major systemic flaw.
    The AMCA was meant to address that gap. Considering demonstrated long lead times and low (still evolving) indigenous Manufacturing base, This needs to be started full bore NOW.

    The LCA is exactly that — “Light” . A Naval LCA supported only by internal fuel and no AWACS, and refueller out at sea cannot match a J-15, no matter what scenario plays out. Capability and Performance differential is too vast.

  11. archit says:

    You see, while the boffins at the MoD and HQs have short tenures(and indeed the RM as well) , many decisions are tenure based and contribute little to the overall vision and perspective. Continuity and lack of strategic focus, combined with very little real technical understanding of complex issues combined with strategic aspirations, leads to arguments like “cutting off your nose to spite your face”, i.e. belittle the user and man responsible, rather than the decision makers and manufacturers, wherein actually, the co-ordinators/overssers of such effort should squarely face blame for lack of mutual understanding. The lack of military knowledge is evident amongst many of the commentors above, flaming and emotional hype, rarely replaces logic and a quantified assessment of say the Tejas or Arjun vis-a-vis the competition expected would be just one piece of the grand chess game. The evolving nature of the competition, precludes getting stuck to one’s rigid views. Will armour play any significant role at all in a future indo-china conflict? then why invest in any tank at all? why not divert resources from an obsolete design like a light fighter based on 4 or 4.5 gen to cruise missiles, UCAVs, ABM, cyber and Electronic war domains? Doesn’t seem to be many asking these questions, rather the good doctor stubbornly persists in attacks on the establishments and its structures, and the posters stick to bickering amongst themselves with little knowledge.
    where is the strategic discussion? does make in India get limited to a not-needed tank and purportedly incapable aircraft? Is the purpose to build a Military Industrial complex with state of the art R&D, and attract the suitable men and women there or not? will that be satisfied with thinly disguised reverse engineering efforts touted as indigenous? There are adulatory posts on Naval efforts, when probably only part of the Hull and Propulsion design is actually indigenous. There is no talk on Maritime focus and strategy, Aerial Strategy, counters to the awakening giant in the neighbourhood etc.

  12. Sharad PATIL says:

    Thanks for the article. Regarding the way INDIA is procuring and developing Fighter aircraft, I am wondering why don’t we have a faith on ourselves OR on our partners?
    1. We have Tejas Programmer, though MK1 and MK2 are still on paper.
    2. Indian government is still interested in Grippen, I believe both the aircraft are of same category.
    3. India will be procuring around 36 Rafales from France, don’t we have Sukhoi to do the same stuff? again whats the use of having just 36 planes?
    4. India is also developing fifth generation aircraft FGFA with Russia and again
    5. India is developing its own fifth generation aircraft AMCA…

    If you are co developing with other nation then again you are developing your own…whats the use of it? and in that case how can you expect the other nation to share ALL the technology with you?

    And I am not sure the next generation war will be accomplished with these aircrafts, rather India should invest in enhancing BVR capability and next generation Drones…those are next generation war…I dont think we will have to have such a huge investment just for dog fight….

    • @patil — As to why GOI doesn’t trust an Indian designed LCA is a mystery. And true as I have repeatedly contended, the cheaper Su-30 does everything Rafale does, only more effectively, and that we are in fact transitioning into a pilotless aircraft age — but try convincing IAF which is always a generation behind in everything, including thinking. But re: Tejas, it is flying and very well at that. Mk-II is the aircraft IAF should get in large numbers. But it should begin inducting the Tejas Mk-I to form three or four sqdns after securing FOC at an accelerated pace.

  13. Ganesh B. says:

    What are your thoughts on getting the A10 Warthog?

    • In an earlier blog I had expressed my support for the A-10 option mooted by Rear Admiral Raja Menon (Retd). This would in fact be the most apt buy for the army! IAF would not be interested because it is slow moving, ponderous, its underside heavily armoured, and a fine platform for ground support, which mission our air force is not interested in. Hence my suggestion that the army should go in for this aircraft, complemented by a reduced fleet of helicopters. And India could have this aircraft at a really economical rate.

      • Col JP Singh says:

        An A-10 would be an excellent ground support aircraft to operate in the High Altitude environment where attack helicopters cannot operate and the Air Force is not too keen to operate is ground support role. Refurbished and upgraded with the latest avionics this should be an ideal choice for ground support operations in places like the Tibetan Plateau.

  14. dhruva says:

    Dear Sir,
    The army and IAF’s posture are not without merit. Consider
    1) If any combat happens with China or Pak, it is the IAF and the army that will share the brunt of fighting more than Navy – which has mostly been a sidekick in previous wars (no role at all in 1947 & 1965 + only minor role in 1971). It is far more critical to have their equipment in order.

    2) The army rightly believes it is not going to win any wars with Arjun. 80% of Arjuns are out of order even when they are mint fresh from factories. You cannot win a soldier’s confidence with this showing – particularly when the soldier’s mission, life and limb depends on his equipment. The onus is clearly on DRDO to do more and win the confidence of soldiers. DRDO’s ineptitude in the past has cost lives in the past – particularly when they gave false promises on making weapon locating radar and vetoed ANQP radar from US. That cost us dearly in Kargil.

    3) The jury is still not out on Tejas. The proof of the pudding is in the pudding itself. Only the IAF pilots will tell if it an aircraft worth flying. On paper, Tata Indica is a far better car. But in performance, even the Alto can exceed the performance and finesse of Tata India.

    I don’t think the DRDO should aim for complete nose to tail product. Rather it should master the sub-assemblies like the Israelis have done (radars, targeting pods, missiles, EW suite) . That is more hi-tec, achievable and fruitfll. However, if we just make the airframe and fit everything foreign inside the skin, then it hardly qualifies for an indigenous product.

    • @dhruva: Of course, the military has to have the best in any war they may have to fight. But — and it is a big but this — one has to also see the possibility of all-out war the chances of which in the present and foreseeable future are negligible. This being so — the best weapons from where ever we can get them by paying whatever price is demanded by the vendor — become the perfect excuse for the military to persist with imported hardware, thereby perpetuating the arms dependency that is both a bane and the country’s shame.

  15. Abhinav says:

    Why not specify a list of parts that are making Arjun heavier. Then ask Indian industry to compete and build these parts with lighter materials and same specs. An alternative could be to fund two or three engineering colleges two come up with a lighter but sturdier parts. I believe a lot of shells and ammunition that India imports can be made in India by private players.
    Taking this logic further may be Indian MOD and forces should list down all the machinery that it imports and ask Indian organizations to develop them fully or to begin with their components. I have read that China when imports a Russian fighter seldom goes back to Russia for components. it develops them in-house. may be a will to indigenize is most important.

    • @Abhinav –This is precisely the sort of solutions that will work and, which, by the way the Indian industry has been pleading for!

    • Samuel D says:

      It’s really easy- Kanchan2 armor consists of: RHA Rolled Homogenous Steel plates- is the main culprit and needs to be replaced with suitable Titanium alloys. Next, Kanchan2 filler materials used like ceramics, rubber can be replaced by suitable much lighter carbon nanotechnology fibers-based sheets and also Kevlar [Israelis have used the same on Merkerva MK4 version]. HAL has developed a 5th gen shape memory alloy polymer composites which could also be used instead of Kevlar I feel Sirs…

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