How choices get made: Develop indigenous Vs. lisc.produce

In the ongoing perennially profitable game of supplying arms to India, foreign vendors follow certain invariable procedures, in cahoots with the three armed services (with air force in the van followed by army — the navy is more selective!) to maximize their take and ensure a competitive Indian defence industry simply doesn’t grow (detailed in my 2002, 2nd ed 2005 tome — ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’):
(1) The QRs (qualitative requirements) of items are put up by the individual Services (and are usually collations of best features picked from foreign arms brochures, etc),
(2) the vendors scrutinize the QRs and offer lesser technology item in the genre,
(3) DRDO offers to mount an indigenous effort to produce it,
(4) MOD tasks DRDO,
(5) Depending on if it is a platform (such as Tejas), the concerned service keeps modifying the QRs thereby delaying the agreed upon time lines and screwing up the cost estimate,
(6) The services pounce on the delays caused by their repeatedly changing/”updating” QRs to demand import of items to meet “urgent need”,
(7) Should a tech development program somehow get going going and succeed in reaching the designated QR level, the vendors who were previously unwilling to part with the high technology now suddenly realize they actually can deliver it, immediately!
(8) The concerned service sides with the foreign vendors and the indigenous project — absent MOD benevolent intervention, which’s the norm — spirals into peril. Case in point: DRDO ‘s UTTAM Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar project has achieved fruition, developed within good timeframe a proficient AESA for fitment on combat planes, including Tejas for instant performance upgrade. AESA radar permits the aircraft to switch missions mid-flight from ground attack to air-to-air and back. With UTTAM AESA radar on the point of availability to IAF, the Israeli company ELTA that was developing an AESA radar with the US-supplied 2032 computer because the US had earlier denied the superior 2052 computer for Indian use does an instant turnaround and informs IAF/HAL/MOD it can now produce the higher performance 2052 based AESA. So, MOD/GOI has to decide whether to go with the all-Indian UTTAM, or do the predictable, opt for th Elta 2052 AESA — favoured by, who else, IAF. This decision is pending. Any bets which way Parrikar will go — buy, buy 2052 AESA and bye, bye UTTAM, or UTTAM and bye, bye Elta?
If past/present is future, UTTAM will be dumped.

Another such but slightly different, decision may soon be on MOD’s table. It involves the jet power plant for Tejas. The original General Electric F-404 capable of 80-85 KiloNewtons of thrust equipping Tejas is to be replaced by the GE 414-INS6 engine capable of 98KN or 22,000 lbs of thrust, turbofan, with afterburner. This was an indent for the navalised version. IAF, always the laggard fetched up later to demand the same engine. In 2010, India contracted to buy 99 of the 414s for the Tejas Mk-2 program, with the delivery begun in 2013. With the total requirement of 500-600 engines for the Tejas (with each 414 engine estimated to pull 3,000 hours of flying, and 3.5 engines for the lifetime of each aircraft), HAL is seeking to license produce them in Banglaore, in its well-honed SKD-CKD assembly mode that guarantees HAL continues to learn nothing about ingesting and innovating technology, and even less about designing and making aircraft engines.

The incorrigible IAF, meanwhile, reconsidered the up-powered engine for the Tejas, and decided that because the heavier S6 power plant would require a heavier rear fuselage and hence a redesigned Tejas, it was in too much of a hurry and couldn’t wait for this modification to be engineered into Tejas. So, could it have 44 more Rafales (beyond the 36 of these French items PM Modi so kindly, and w/o much forethought, approved for purchase) please!

Russia, after being disappointed with India turning down offer to co-produce the FGFA Su-PAF FA engine, is now offering to collaborate with the GTRE (with experience of designing and developing the indigenous Kaveri engine for Tejas that attained 81KN on its testbed before it was abruptly ended) to design and develop an engine exactly to fit the redesigned Tejas Mk-2 to accommodate the larger 414 engine to meet the heightened performance standard of the GE 414 EPE (enhanced performance engine) able to produce 26,400 tons or 120 KN of thrust and a 11:1 thrust-weight ratio. Incidentally, the 414 EPE is powering the Super Hornet F-18 and the advanced Gripen the US and Sweden respectively are offering India should it ditch the French Rafale. Thus, up-powered Tejas would be an extraordinary all-INDIAN combat aircraft. In fact, the imported old 414s (in the 99 unit lot) could exclusively equip the export version of the LCA for which many countries are already lining up as potential customers, among them Sri Lanka and Egypt (both friendly states dropped their interest in the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Thunderbird after their representatives saw the Tejas put on a show in Bahrain a few months back). Neighbours and friendly states such as Vietnam, Philippines, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and states in Africa will not need much persuasion to buy it.

So the GE 414 EPE equivalent is what Russia is offering to design and build from scratch in India at GTRE, and get Indian jet engine designers and engineers in on its development from the start. The choice is then between a Russian-assisted Indian advanced engine or HAL license-manufacturing an American engine that is already 25 years old. Russian-assisted projects — Arihant SSBN, for instance, have not turned out badly, have they? It would be preferable to GE even permitting HAL to screwdriver the EPE, which’s the likely offer the American company will make to counter the Russian proposal. Because, insofar as one is able to confirm, the combat aircraft engine parameters the US has offered to co-develop with India (one of the projects on DTTI’s “doable” list the recently visiting US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter mulled over with the Defmin Parrikar), are below the 414 EPE level.

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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24 Responses to How choices get made: Develop indigenous Vs. lisc.produce

  1. Venkat says:

    We need to get our basics right first.
    The defence and prime ministers today drive defence acquisitions. These two Guys are damned if they do it, damned if they don’t (look at comedy in any procurement artillery, assault rifle, carbine, Light helicopter, MRTA). The Guys today, Modi and Parricker are taking decisions , let us be honest. They are trying to make for lost time.
    This needs to change, maybe the MoD has wrong genes. They are essentially file pushers.
    . By the way who is responsible for defence of India ? Defence secretary ? Individual chief of staffs ? Whom can Modi hang in MoD ?

  2. MS says:

    I thought no point commenting on your last piece on Rafale deal when it is done-why waste white space when the doors are closed after the deal. Commenting is fun only when one can marshal opinions to build a voice for support for an alternative else it is just a waste of time.

    Of course, sometimes the deals could be a front for paying for something that can’t be disclosed to the world like nuclear test simulation.

    And, then I saw this note-very refreshing. Just when people are bored talking in favour of a wiser alternative to Rafale, you serve on the plate-the way gets things done. And, interest generates again.

    I personally would like to imagine that HAL is like HMT though DRDO could be turned around. DRDO needs transformation in leadership. Instead of burdeoning HAL with new contracts(and seeing them tighten the screws to the parts they receive) private sector should be brought in who will be required to invest and therefore complelled to digest tech and innovate to recoup their investment and achieve sustainal competitiveness.

  3. Bhavik says:

    Most of the problems with Indian services are effects of one single coherent cause “LACK OF OVERALL LONG TERM STRATEGY” which Mr.Karnad has been shouting about since ages.

    Forget the big majors, India can easily learn from Iran about how to make a strong and self reliance domestic defense industry. Whatever the western media would like to promote Iran is an extremly strong power. The latest estimate suggests Iran to be exporter of arms to more than 50 countries, definately not a small number!

    • &^%$#@! says:

      What can one say about a country where a former NSA takes the post of an office peon in some foreign think tank?

  4. Shaurya says:

    The 414 was also rumored to power the AMCA. If there is one area where I would like top funding and top oversight, it is propulsion. Shame that no government has paid serious attention to this critical area.

  5. &^%$#@! says:

    The Indians need to pursue development of the Uttam AESA radar, even if they buy the Elta 2052 based system. Its an old strategy to thwart local development by “magically” offering a technology which was previously denied. However, in all fairness, the Uttam will still require around 3-5 years to fully develop and stabilize. So, if the Indians want to have the cake and eat it, they need to both buy the Elta product and continue to develop the Uttam.

  6. Ashi sidhu says:

    To add with Israeli aesa radar u cannot export it to Egypt
    Nonetheless the new defence policy bust the license manufacture myth = indigenous product
    It says the government will fund the defence products designed in india

  7. MS says:

    I would refrain from buying a new system but would pay them money to colloborate with them and improve our own system-or go the chinese way-buy a few, take their help in digesting the technology, and move on to innovate.

    I have commented on this blog before that India wuld face a scenario where our jets would be sort of chased and mobbed by their fighters. In 1962, we had streams of soldiers coming in, this time it will be jets coming.

    The frustrating thing here is precious tax payers money will go in acquiring tech that will go obsolete and we start buying again. All the time, people who have starry eyes will get weary eyed because we as a nation would be no where near Germany-even in Dreams.

    That is why it is crucial to colloborate with foriegners and innovate but be bringing in private players who will have a stake in success when they have invested some money.

    Lastly, though I talk about our fighters getting mobbed, I do not foresee a war as long as we have a dozen silent submarines with long range missile lurking around, and Agni in the green foliage.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      JV’s don’t always work. One of the reasons the Indians got into the Barak venture was to acquire sensor technology. In this regard, India got next to nothing. Having a stake in success is not the only factor in fostering innovation. By and large, the “legendary” Indian private sector lacks the coherence of objective, consistency and commitment to innovate in serious design and manufacture. They will be as dependent and tied to foreigners as the DPSU’s.

  8. andy says:

    What’s really intriguing is, if the Kaveri engine could produce 81kn on its test bed,then why go in for GE F404 engine for Tejas ,that produces about the same power,80 to 85kn?Heard about throwing out the baby with the bathtub, but this is ridiculous to say the least.

  9. quickboy says:

    Bharatji, What you say makes perfect sense, But the saying “Common-sense is not very common” is proved time and again by IAF, Did you read this piece appeared on media a few days back


    The worst part is IAF does not even have a plan or thought as to how to solve it’s Jet engine requirement anywhere other than spending or planning to spend a huge amount of money, Quote from the article says,
    “Unfortunately, only 10-15% of these are expected to be from indigenous sources as the technologies needed are not available indigenously.” The report lists maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) as a major area for industry participation, as “creating a defence MRO in private sector has not only become a reality but it is also well facilitated by liberal government policies”.

    What a shame, plan to spend a mere 10% on Indiginous produce, Well did you read behind the lines, IAF is trying to say, we are not going to even allow the 50% offset clause requirement, Where will the 50% offset be used if IAF procurement plan itself say we will procure only 10% from India. and further this 10% is for what?.

    The plan is to share details of its requirements — from aircraft tyres to rotor blades and 3D printing technology, with specific quantities needed over 10 years — to enable private sector players to set up manufacturing facilities and replace imports
    The areas that the private sector can contribute in MRO range from airframe and aero engines to airfield safety systems like crash tender and arrester barriers, it says. The paper suggests a cluster of industries — particularly of micro, small and medium enterprises — to be set up to meet the needs of the air force.
    Well so IAF wants Indian firms to supply tyres, build arrester barriers, what else clean toilets maybe or do some surface painting on airports ………… Would like to hear what our super intelligent PM and MOD say,

  10. Sai says:

    Any penalties or punishments for spreading innuendos, misinformation, disinformation and simply muck at people who cannot write back?

    • What part is innuendo, misinformation, disinformation, pray?

    • quickboy says:

      All the people mentioned above, The IAF, MOD PMO all have enough and more resources to write back, IN fact the Govt has a whole department which is supposed to update things and answer queries of population, If it works or not is a question though.

  11. ishant 79 says:

    Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to break this arms dependency. Unfortunately, he was found dead in a Tashkent hotel. If India were to stand up on her own feet, even Russians will also not be happy with us. So what Modi is doing with his ‘Make in India’ campaign is he is inducing nations to manufacture in India. No nation will sell us their state of art tech and know how. Russia won’t give us the source codes of SUKHOI fighter jets. India, by hook or by crook, needs to get its hands on two technologies — jet engine technology, may be Japan, which is building its own fighter aircraft and submarines. The Japanese have started to realize that U.S. Navy insurance policy is just a farce. And aircraft carrier technology. If we get these technologies we will get our act ready in the coming decade.

    Most of the people know that Chinese have hacked US military websites and steal the design of F-35, the much talked about stealth fighter jet. The Chinese are making a copy of that plane right now. If the Chinks can do that, why can’t we? Considering USA is giving the nuke capable F-16s to Pakistani military establishment because of Saudi pressure, disregarding their own U.S. senate armed services committee advice. Why can’t we use the leverages we have, rather than always acting as a highly moral nation?

    • Shaurya says:

      >>Russia won’t give us the source codes of SUKHOI fighter jets.
      India has the BARS source code from MKI.

    • ~!@#$%^*()_+ says:

      If source code for BARS-N011M radar was not available then how are they integrating Astra to Su-30MKI?

    • &^%$#@! says:

      The Su-30 MKI source codes have been provided, as correctly stated by someone else on this thread. BTW, which is this plane that the Chinese are manufacturing which is a copy of the F-35, whose designs you claim were obtained via theft? Aerodynamically, the Chinese J-31 may bear certain resemblance to the F-35 but it’s a completely new air frame and a/c design.

      I fail to see how the twin engine J-31 could have been built solely from the allegedly stolen designs of a single engine a/c (F-35)! For starters, have you ever heard of the term “Centre of Gravity”, and how it affects the FCS off an a/c? One can steal all the designs one wants, but to build a 5th generation fighter air frame which is airworthy (which the J-31 certainly is) is a noteworthy achievement

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

    “and bye, bye Elta”!!! 😀

    IAF brass was so eager to buy Elta stuff that they did not even bother to wait and see if the Oblique Photography and SAR recce pods on Sukhoi were even working. They got the payment released for a product that had till its induction failed to meet specs. Wonder if they do meet the specs today.

    Would love to know if SAP-518 acquisition by IAF brass was decided before the Elta contract or after it.

  13. onkar says:

    If we accept Russia’s offer, will we able to develop an engine completely on our own? Will they give us complete knowhow?
    French are also giving an offer to complete the Kaveri engine. Is this offer as same as Russia’s?

    • Russia is more eager because it needs the money more, Its track record — consider Arihant SSBN — is also far better. France has time and again defaulted on ToT and refer to the SNECMA-Kaveri episode. And Russian jet engine tech is in no way inferior to France’s. So, dispassionately speaking, the better choice is obvious.


    Tejas as a air platform is very dynamic in the sense it is home made. Consider the electronics which are loaded into a fighter, 55-60 kn is inadequate. A power of 100-110 kn would make Tajas a super superb air platform. And GE-414 with GE-414EPE, I believe difference lies in quantum of air inhaled. Both are low bypass. Either installing a low pressure fan in the fore part to increase air inflow or higher frequency of fan rotation would make a 95kn engine to 110-120 kn engine. Difference lies in the amount of vibration caused due to above modification (s). Kaveri should and I would say must be continued with TVC. At 51 kn dry thrust, a metallurgical innovation could turn the turbine into producing 90-95 kn. Thanks

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