Taking Off

For an indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) disparaged by the Indian Air Force brass as “overweight”, “underpowered”, “obsolete”, “a three-legged cheetah” and, in technical terms, as a plane that “cannot fly without telemetry, pull more than 6G or an angle-of-attack (AoA) greater than 20 degrees” and “with an air intake that starves the engine”, is supposedly afflicted with “53 identified shortfalls”, and fails to meet the “minimum air staff requirements (ASRs)”, the Tejas, entirely unreported by the Indian media, performed phenomenally well at the recent Bahrain International Air Show. It has silenced the naysayers. The minimum that this success ought to do is get the government to reconsider the deal with France, because the fact is Tejas’ future will be inversely affected by the Rafale deal. If one is up, the other is out.

The LCA’s composites-built airframe and small size enhance its stealth features, translating into a small radar signature and the greatest difficulty for enemy aircraft to detect it. Bahrain proved that fighting quality. There can be no complaints.

Price-wise, India is willing to pay only $7 billion, France expects $11 bn. To put these figures in perspective, the Rafale programme was originally pegged at $10 bn for 126 aircraft, including transfer of technology (ToT). So how come, after reducing the demand for Rafales by two-thirds and deducting 18 per cent of the cost as value of ToT, the new price tag exceeds the original cost by a billion dollars? Worse, Paris is disinclined to offer sovereign guarantee regarding the delivery timeline and spares supply but is prepared to provide a letter from President Francois Hollande, which is worth nothing. Yet, the defence ministry is reconciled to forking out Rs 63,000 crore for 36 Rafales. This works out to Rs 1,750 crore or nearly $270 million per aircraft — a sum that could fetch three Tejas or two Sukhoi-30 MKIs, rated the best combat aircraft in the world.

Tejas, a 4.5 generation aircraft like Rafale, has always been underfunded by government and undermined by the IAF with periodic rewriting of ASRs. Three years ago, for instance, a mid-air refuelling probe was included, necessitating aircraft redesign that cost time, money and delays in the certification and induction cycles.

Scarcity of money is the real problem and requires making hard choices. Should the Indian government commit Rs. 63,000 crore to the Tejas and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programmes rather than sustaining the French aviation industry, it will signal serious intent, bring the streamlined Defence Production Policy-2016 guidelines into play, permitting the DRDO to transfer source codes and flight control laws to Indian private-sector companies, incentivise small- and medium-scale technology innovation companies comprising an Indian mittelstand to take root, motivate foreign suppliers of components and assemblies that currently comprise 70 per cent of Tejas to manufacture these in India and, conjoined to a policy pushing its export, germinate a viable, comprehensively capable, aerospace sector-led Indian defence industrial growth. This infusion of funds will fast-track the synergistic development of follow-on versions of Tejas, its navalised variant, along with the AMCA, and the fifth generation fighter project in partnership with Russia. It will be the cutting-edge of a “Made in India” policy showcasing indigenous capability.

With Rafale facing production problems — only eight aircraft were outputted in 2014 — all the contracted Rafales won’t be in IAF service before 2030. It is not the answer to India’s immediate need. A more economical solution that will also satisfy the IAF’s apparent craving for French aircraft is to procure the 30-plus upgraded Mirage 2000-9s the United Arab Emirates want to be rid of, and a third Mirage squadron (with 80 per cent of its life intact) available from Qatar. Infrastructure already exists to service and operate the Mirages. It will not complicate the logistics nightmare created by the diversity of combat aircraft in the IAF’s inventory, which Rafale’s entry will do.
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Published in the Indian Express, February 15, 2016, at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/light-combat-aircraft-tejas-iaf-rafale-deal-taking-off/#sthash.ukVxV71C.dpuf

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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12 Responses to Taking Off

  1. You may complain but the IAF brass is beyond redemption and will only look for foreign product. Sad state of affairs.

  2. Shaurya says:

    I think the cost of each Tejas is about $30-35 million. So that will translate to about 8 Tejas for every Rafale for the IAF. Mk 1A will bring in IFR, the 2052 radar and some more optimizations to an already nifty airframe.

    All that is left to do now is to ensure we have a production line for this baby in private hands – in addition to the one HAL is setting up. Let HAL get some competition, India’s needs are too large to be fulfilled by a single organization.

  3. andy says:

    Respected sir
    The 50 mirage 2000 from the UAE & Qatar would be a low cost induction & go someway in making up fast depleting squadron strength of the IAF.It would also address their fetish for western aircraft(AC).
    That the IAF is very worried about low induction rate of new AC is palpable & is apparent by their evinced interest in procuring the combat Hawk,integrated with ground attack munitions.This seems to be another strategy by them to make up nos & avoid inducting Russian kit,which they apparently find unreliable.Its another matter that the combat Hawk is an unproven & probably underpowered Ac & would not be up to the mark in its designated role of counterinsurgency (COIN) or close air support (CAS).
    So apparently the IAF needs to make up numbers & wants western Ac.What’s the solution ?Induction of the 50plus mirages would ,in my view,offer a partial solution.I would like to add that if the IAF must have a dedicated CAS AC,then it should be a battle proven platform & if possible it should be the best that money can buy,rather than the combat Hawk which is being promoted as a CAS platform almost as an after thought.
    If there’s one platform that is the gold standard for CAS AC it has to be the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt 2 of the US air force, also known as the Warthog. It has been the mainstay CAS AC of the USAF for over three decades (almost of the same vintage as the Mirage 2000).These jets(A10s)are extremely maneuverable & cost efficient to operate.They not only perform as CAS AC but also carry out forward air control (FAC)operations,wherein they mark targets for guiding other AC to the target.The warthog is powered by TWO GE-TF 34-GE-100 turbofan engines, which have proved their capabilities in extreme weather conditions, like operations in the gulf war 1991,operation Iraqi freedom,war in Afghanistan etc.Thus having seen action in hot conditions these engines would be highly reliable in Indian conditions. If added to the depleting numbers of the IAF these jets could be force multipliers & great support for ground forces.They may not only be used in war but could also be deployed for COIN(anti naxal)operations.
    Being a dedicated CAS AC(unlike the jugaad that is the combat hawk)designed around the GAU-8 Avenger rotary canons & coupled with 560kg of titanium armour, the A10 is also known as the flying tank.Other armament it can carry on its 11 hard points are Hydra crv 7 70 mm rockets,Zuni 127 rockets,Aim 9 sidewinder A to A missiles,maverick A to G missiles etc.It was so successful in the 1991 gulf war, in the ground attack role, that USAF shelved plans to replace it with an advanced version of the F16 fighter.The A10 flew 8100 sorties in the gulf war & enjoyed 95.8% mission capable rate.By the time of the Afghanistan war the A10 had become the most sought after AC for ground attack by the marines.About 60 A10 were flown during operation Iraqi freedom to support troops forward movement in hostile environment. The ability of the A10 to get pilots back to base even after taking debilitating fire is legendary among the pilots fraternity in the USAF.
    Though slow moving these jets can cause havoc when the canons open up.They have been constantly upgraded since their induction. In 2005 precision engagement upgrades,improved fire control system & electronic countermeasure system were installed. Also new wings were to be provided to the entire A10 fleet.With these upgrades they can serve till 2035.Before being transferred to friendly countries the manufacturer has mentioned that the AC would be refurbished & overhauled.
    So what would this used but upgraded, refurbished & overhauled A10 cost?The combat Hawk would cost upwards of $20 million each.The A10 has been quoted at $12 million each.So for approximately half the cost of an advanced jet trainer,having dubious pretensions of becoming a speciality combat AC,we can have a battle proven,tough & reliable platform flying in IAF colours. A 100 A10 would cost just $1.2billion(peanut’s when compared to the cost of other platforms) 5 squadrons inducted in double quick time(maybe two years at most) would go a long way in making up the dwindling numbers in the IAF.For comparison,the assembly line of the Tejas was set up for Rs.1556 core or more than $2.2 billion.So for $1.2billion we get 100 AC for ground attack,which means that 100 multirole AC are freed up for air dominance role.
    Prima facie the A10 warthog does make a compelling case for itself by dint of it being battle proven & a very very cost effective platform.Wonder if the Mandarins of the MOD or the primadonas of IAF would give it a serious thought?or would they only be interested in wasting the hard earned exchequer’s monies by buying a flashy Ferrari (Rafael) when a sturdy Toyota (Tejas)would suffice.

    • Some years back Rear Admiral KR “Raja” Menon (Retd), ex-ACNS (Ops), in fact suggested India acquire the A10 warthog from the US. Had supported this, adding that the deal involve transfer of production technology as well.

      • Shaurya says:

        To acquire a warthog type aircraft, there are multiple issues that need resolution. These type of operations envision an expeditionary and/or sustained CAS operations with the aerial threat eliminated, these ops need to meet our strategic-political objectives. I would like nothing more but for this shift to happen for there are many such opportunities in the area and the extended littoral states, but think it is a long shot. There are some other issues, our air forces are simply not thinking CAS at those levels. CAS for the IAF is a secondary role. For such an effort, we at least need integrated commands or for AAC to own such a capability.

        What we should do in the short term is acquire the gunship on the C130 platform, a few of them for anti armor operations and these bests can fire a 105mm shell from the air!

        Long term, we should start a program to build a twin engined CAS aircraft (I am of the view that apart from AMCA, we have a whole host of needs for various twin engined craft) even the current Kaveri can be use to power such a craft but that requires investment and foresight again.

        We need to make Kaveri or whatever its new avatar is fly again.

  4. andy says:

    Just to correct myself “the assembly line of the Tejas was set up for Rs.1556core or more than 2.2 billion dollars”. Should read ” the assembly line of the Tejas was set up for ₹1556 crore or more than 220 million dollars”

  5. Manoj says:

    HAL/ADA has to tackle both challenges ie. engine development and fighter development in parallel. Given the complexity involved in engine development that are powerful enough to power supersonic jet engine, we should de-link it from fighter development which it self is very challenging.

    IMHO HAL-ADA should put AMCA with GE/foreign engine on priority instead of going step by step to tejas-MK2 and then to AMCA. The later (or current route) will suck up all resources without leaving space for engine development which will bring HAL-ADA to square one even if AMCA is ready as engine will be still imported.

    Instead this is what i propose.

    1. Let HAL produce tejas-mk1a in +300 numbers incentivizing the private players to stay invested while encouraging them to upgrade to next gen systems.

    2. Abandon the plan to use GE engine for tejas-mk2 and let derivative of kaveri engine power it. any enhancement in tejas-mk1a is not worth redesigning for yet another imported engine.

    3. let navy buy imported naval fighter instead of waiting for tejas-mk2 as these numbers are really small. so not enough incentive for diverting hal limited resources for this aircraft.

    4. HAL-ADA should speed up AMCA with GE engine and after that may be AMCA-mk2 can be with Indian engine.

    this way jet development will not hinder engine development and vice versa.

  6. Rahul(Kolkata) says:

    Wondering where are the likes of Tejas haters like @Shail these days…It seems after the breathtaking show of Tejas in Bahrain, @Shail has gone into a Shell..

  7. MS says:

    Mr Karnad,

    I come to your blog to satiate my curiosity/appetite for defence tech and India’s possibility.

    Your last para sums it up..if they want French, givem them mirages. It appears from your notes and others’ that the maintenance costs are too high for rafale or any other foreign jet. Time for LCA and AMCA and create the industry in India for electronics and other components. India could give 7B or half to French but for nuclear barracuda and other stuff.

    We do not have hospitals, no great infrastructure and to spend billions on a fighter jet that will not stand against Chinese is simply a waste of precious money. You have not pointed out whether bringing Rafale in picture could be a way to get Russia on board to help in setting up spares manufacturing capability in India. How to address spares bottleneck?

    • Russian spares supply is a problem, and it is finally being resolved in the way it should have been all these years — by having them manufactured here by pvt sector Cos. Russi is tying up with the Tatas. This should relieve the strain.

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