Tejas, Hawk and HAL

The decision of the Government to have HAL produce a combat version of the British Hawk originally procured from BAe as primary jet trainer for the air force (and navy) makes sense but only in a limited sense. HAL expects, according to news reports, to produce the entire complement of 123 aircraft on order before beginning the assembly of a slightly redesigned Hawk enabled for ground attack missions, especially in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. But the IAF head ACM SP Tyagi in 2004 had, in fact, promoted this plane as a dual-use trainer-cum-COIN aircraft. It is another thing altogether that the latter mission never was the remit of the Hawk in IAF. If the Hawk was capable then of low altitude, low-level ground attack missions, where’s the requirement for redesign or even for the wholesale reconfiguration of the FCS to integrate more role-appropriate weapons, except as a way for BAe to wringe unwarranted profit out of the Hawk project in India?

The newly combat-enabled, India-sourced, Hawk is also being touted as an ideal export product and, may be, there’s a niche in the international arms bazaar it can fill. But this last is a development that no doubt follows upon the spectacular and, apparently unexpected (by HAL), success of the Tejas LCA at the Bahrain International Air Show, which has emboldened the HAL’s leadership ranks. This is all to the good, except for the fact that this Hawk will still only be a Meccano type-assembled product for an HAL which, burdened by its longtime, self-imposed, and cultivated disability to ingest and innovate imported technology, will have little or nothing to do with redoing the aircraft for world-wide sale. One can see why BAe is keen. Hawk, in its supposedly new avatar, will keep the British aircraft designers and manufacturers of components, assemblies and sub-assemblies busy and extend its life besides, of course, keeping the money till turning over for the UK defence industry.

Considering the central role of DPSUs, armed services, and other state agencies in scuttling Indian military R&D programmes in the past, the Hawk development leads one to wonder if this isn’t an artful means thought up by HAL and the dominant import lobby in IAF to blindside the Tejas, given the fact that the combat version of Hawk in its air-to-ground mission will overlap the role of the multi-role Tejas with superb handling characteristics at low alt, low speed and in flap-down mode (demonstrated in Bahrain).

Moreover, there’s the huge problem with HAL’s capacity. The cobbling together of the combat-capable Hawk will crowd out the production floor for the Tejas, whose production will need ramping up. And, as between Hawk and Tejas, HAL will, as always, likely make the wrong decision and favour the former at the expense of the indigenous warplane. Further, how can its limited capacity, in the event, also accommodate the production of the FGFA from Russia — which project is on the cards? This will compel the Modi Govt — assuming it means what it says about widening the country’s defence manufacturing base — to trust in the aircraft manufacturing potential of the private sector. There’s no other way because HAL simply cannot enlarge its skilled workforce and install new production lines in the short to medium term in the relevant time frame any faster than the Indian private sector can.

In fact, Tejas is the right product for onpassing, as argued in this blog, of aircraft design and technologies created by ADA and DRDO to a select Combine of Indian Companies, headed by L&T or Tata, for its production to meet the requirements of IAF and a possibly huge export market in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where, again, the Hawk and Tejas will clash for customers. One hopes the Modi regime will show some imagination and prompt precisely such a competition pitting the HAL-assembled combat Hawk against the locally designed, private sector manufactured, multi-role, immensely more capable, Tejas. May the better aircraft win! This is the way to give wings to a revenue-generating and competitive Indian aerospace sector.

But, so far, the BJP regime hasn’t displayed the political will to do things differently than in the past — a fact that remains the biggest single barrier to productive systemic reform and change.

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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8 Responses to Tejas, Hawk and HAL

  1. quickboy says:

    There is one confusion in this so called Private party integration with Tejas. Bharatji, can you specify what benifit handing over the production of Tejas to private companies will bring to HAL?. It will be more of another profit making venture for Private companies?. Is it not?. Where will the innovation part come?. Wont it make more sense if HAL is made an umbrella company with each type of aircraft project assigned to subsidiary companies to be formed. So that HAL can become a huge Design and Development House. also why is this DRDO and ADA simply not developing aircraft prototypes and engines, instead of waiting for some Air Staff requirement?. IAF has in it’s whole history bought aircraft from Foreign manufacturers and adapted them for it’s usE. iSN’T IT?. Why should HAL and ADA wait for the so called ASR to develop their own aircraft ideas?. Also I feel if the budget actually strat to allocate funds for R&D in defence separate from Military and defence and then use the outputs and idea to the benifit of defence IAF resistance to aircraft development should not matter. Let there be prototypes and air shows by our research organisations and if they find buyers let them put the assembly lines and sell it.

    Also please do some research on another topic, which I dont get any idea on internet or elsewhere. There should be a Civilian aircraft industry with affordable low tech planes for individuals to fly and use for Business or pleasure trips, May be a four seater tuboprop with say some 150-200KG of luggage and a 750Km range should work. and will be cheap enough. If Indians can buy Toyotas and ford and BMWs they could afford a simple plane for family too. Why is there no such attempt by HAL or anyone else. Also why are there so few flying schools in the country?. Is there a huge cost problem there or are there a lot of restriction like only BABUs can fly?.

    • quickboy — tech innovation is spawned by profits companies make. It is because DPSUs — HAL, et al, were never compelled to fight for survival in the marketplace — with the defence production dept in MOD routinely channeling all production contracts their way, that they never got the hang of the competitive business of making and selling armaments. Hence, they they have stayed stuck at the screw driver technology-assembling stage from the 1970s onwards. It has grievously hurt the national interest with the country paying through its nose for transfer of technology and the DPSUs unable to do much with it because of their basic inability to absorb and innovate technology. This is at the heart of India’s continued reliance on imported arms, and the country’s great shame. This fact of arms depenmdency, moreover, pretty much torpedoes India’s pretensions to great power.

  2. andy says:

    Respected sir, completely agree with you regarding handing over production of Tejas to the private sector,would certainly result in a quality product & timelines would be met unlike HAL which is a poor adherent to timelines. Also there’s a urgent need for coin or close air support (cas )aircraft in the iaf ,with 140 mig27 to be retired by 2022,in addition to 75 mig 23 bns already mothballed..The moot point is whether the hawk ajt can do the job..primafacie it doesn’t appear to be such a good idea,for the simple reason that apart from new flight control systems & electronic warfare suites & the air to ground weapons integration & upgrades,the underbelly would have to be heavily armored because cas missions require an ac which can absorb surface to air fire(Sam,small arms etc)the cas ac air frame has to designed for durability, the cockpit& aircraft systems have to be protected enabling it to absorb significant amount of damage & continue flying, also it needs short take off & landing capabilities to permit operations from air strips close to the front lines.All this would make the ac very heavy.Its highly unlikely that the single Rolls Royce 871 turbofan engine would be up to the task,while the hawk does have some limited capability in air to air & air to ground attack role,its primarily designed towards training pilots in weapons delivery,but in combat situations especially in the Himalayan sector it would cut a sorry figure.Anyways most air force’s around the world have stopped inducting & are phasing out speciality cas ac in favour of helicopter gunships & also versatile multirole ac like the Tejas.Añyways in a combat situation top cover for the hawk would have to be provided by the mirage 2000 or mig 29 in the iaf.All said & done the combat hawk doesn’t seem a very good idea unless it’s only for export.

  3. andy says:

    Respected sir,
    Could you enlighten us on the kaveri engine program?Is it dead or being pursued? If as some reports suggest it’s still alive,what’s the need for such secrecy?Your incisive thoughts would be invaluable in shedding some light on this ambiguous state of affairs regarding the Kaveri.

  4. As far as I know, the Kaveri engine while underpowered to pull Tejas, under a different name, will likely equip a powerful combat drone under design and development.

  5. Mns says:

    Completely agree with you. Modi, for all his fire and brimstone has turned out to be a damp squib, afraid to use his own power. He has neither done enough to support DRDO et al or bring in L&T etc to supplant HAL. And assorted traitors can go around calling India names and this BJP Govt does diddly squat against them or their owners in the media game. Cowardice, for what?

  6. quickboy says:

    Did we get a pattern arising about this Indigenous development If we read these news items they are all too much of a mystery to be dismissed as incidents or accidents

    1. November 25, 2014 Air Commodore Parvez Khokhar (retd.), who was found dead in his house.
    had been strangulated and smothered and therefore murdered. the police found no cash or valuables missing from Khokhar’s home. Then why?. He was the former project director of India’s indigenous fighter aircraft Light Combat Aircraft. He had reportedly told a journalist that Tejas was superior to the existing workhorse of the IAF the MIG 21 and better then even the Mirage 2000

    2.In October 2011, Sqn Ldr Baldev Singh (retd.), who was associated with the development of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme, allegedly committed suicide The 58-year-old was Director (Corporate Planning and Marketing), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL).

    3. Earlier that same year, in March, Group Captain Motilal Neluri, a retired Indian Air Force officer, died when he fell down an elevator shaft

    4. in March 2009, a Saras Prototype II, an indigenously developed multi-role transport aircraft which was on a test flight, crashed near Bidadi, killing three Indian Air Force officers. The investigation report has been released by DGCA, It stated that the relighting test of the engines were not properly stated and the instructions provided were incorrect, The copy of the same is in this page (dgca.nic.in/accident/reports/VT-XRM.pdf)
    Can all these merely some accidents or is there a connection to it all ?. If yes what is it?. I did not find many TV channels who are interested in any of this. They all seem to be content with creating some kind of Anti-BJP storm only. Or maybe the latest finding JNU row.

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