Modi govt writing finis to Tejas?

Image result for pics of Russian FGFA


All work related to designing and developing the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft and its variants, including the right-weighted naval Tejas, has come to a stop at ADA and HAL. The plan was for the air force Mk-II version of the LCA Tejas light combat aircraft — a much improved version of the Mk-IA equipped with the indigenous DRDO AESA radar that Parrikar succeeded in forcing on the Indian Air Force to, in turn, lead in a natural progression to the follow-on advance medium combat aircraft (AMCA), which would also incorporate design features of the Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). The FGFA to be produced in India is to include the features the IAF wanted in it, such as the 360 degree radar surveillance and tracking, a two-pilot configuration (the IAF under Charlie Brown asked for, but better sense prevailed as Vayu Bhavan realized that would increase its RCS) and  even a new power plant. The Indian Govt has already invested in this collaborative project to the tune of some $1billion-$1.5 billion, and was cleared by then defence minister Manohar Parrikar in February this year.

This entire plan is now unraveling with the Modi govt, at IAF’s persistent prodding, doing a rethink on the FGFA despite enormous investment of monies and Indian effort into it. The HAL chairman T Suvarna Raju has written to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman strongly pitching for the FGFA program, especially stressing the fact that India stands to gain very advanced technologies that no other country is prepared to transfer in full,  including computer source codes for every technology and feature in it, which will be the building blocks for the indigenous aerospace industry. (See )

The question is will Sitharaman display some little common sense and see that the F-16 and F-18 combo the US govt under Trump is pushing on Delhi supposedly to cement the “100 year” strategic partnership that Rex Tillerson offered as a means of containing China and maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific/ Asia-Pacific region,  will take India back half a century in aerospace terms. That’s how old the Lockheed Martin F-16 and the Boeing F-18 really are. Agility-wise, the Tejas can run circles around the F-16 and F-18, what to talk of the Pakistan Air Force — flying the F-16 for the last 30 years — which no doubt, is licking its chops in anticipation of the IAF fielding its own F-16s, and once again making a grievous historic blunder of the kind that led to GOI, on IAF’s say-so, junking the Marut Mk-II in the early 1970s, buying instead the British Jaguar deep penetration and strike aircraft that cannot strike hard and penetrate deep at the same time, and ending the prospects of locally designed and produced combat aircraft and aerospace industry, and sealing the future of the country as an arms dependency.

Parrikar understood very well the importance of the LCA as lead-in hereafter to only Indian aircraft in IAF and Indian Navy’s inventory and resisted all overtures from the armed services in the direction of the FGFA rejection. Because let’s be clear what IAF’s enthusiasm for AMCA really is — it is a cover to ditch all indigenous aircraft altogether. Because without Tejas Mk-II and FGFA there’s no AMCA! This is the kind of brilliant tactical strategy the Indian military excels in — sawing off the limb of a tree the country is perched on. Parrikar saw through it, but lacked the guts to explain to Modi, stuck on simple-minded notions of ‘Make in India’  the importance of sticking with Tejas and marshaling all national resources into it, and going with the economical Su-30-Tejas variants option backed by FGFA as technology seedbed. But Modi went ahead and procured 36 Rafales from France anyway, preempting Parrikar’s correct choice of relying on augmented numbers of Su-30 upgraded to “super Sukoi” model, that would have resulted in a far superior Indian air order-of-battle than the hodge-podge fleet IAF will be fielding in the 2020s and beyond. God help the country.

Now what of Sitharaman? Her background is curious. A JNU product and, like many of this Leftist local university’ s alumni, she took to the opportunities offered by the big, bad, Western world like fish to water. She worked at a senior position in the American firm,  Price Waterhouse Cooper, in London, and as a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation, requiring security clearance from the UK security services. Incidentally, was this background of no concern to the ruling BJP and GOI before she began climbing their ranks to now be the Union defence minister? So, it should surprise no one greatly if she speedily puts her signature on contracts to buy the obsolete F-16s and F-18s, 100 more or whatever of the Rafale, and similar, usually technologically dated, imported hardware from US, UK, France, Israel, et al the armed services keep pleading for.

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.
This entry was posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Modi govt writing finis to Tejas?

  1. M says:

    Why would any country allow India to enhance it’s defence potential? Arms bought by India allow everyone to be happy with kickbacks, long term dependencies with multi-billion dollar upgrades. The systemic degradation of DRDO by foreign arms manufacturers keeps everyone happy. Every time we buy equipment from abroad, we make that government happier as also our politicians, bureaucrats and sadly even some of our generals.

    • Kya says:

      Soviet Union and then Russia genuinely tried to make India self sufficient in arms and new technology. such as missiles. The Russians did this for their love for India.
      I know because having traveled to Russia a few times I see their respect for India which frankly India of today does not deserve.

  2. Rao says:

    Your comments are bit strange here !!!
    1. Nirmala Sitharaman just by being a JNU product and working outside India became an anti-national?? You are questioning her loyalty because she worked in BBC and PWC? You yourself have spent considerable amount of your academic life in the US. What is the guarantee and credibility of your loyalty? Who are you lobbying for ??

    2. Today, you have suddenly started missing Manohar Parrikar ?? When he was trying to sort out the mess in the MoD, you were criticizing and practically abusing him with heaps of innuendos, every week. Now, suddenly this heart change indicates that your analysis has fundamental weakness and is bit shortsighted.

    You are slipping in your analysis. It won’t be far before you lose your credibility !!!

    • Rao@ — Passing strange but go back to my blogs and you’ll find support for Parrikar until he started giving way on the indigenous.

      • sanman says:

        Sir, the problem with our indigenous stuff is that it doesn’t perform as well. Arjun tank, LCA, even anything larger than a small passenger aircraft seems to be beyond our competence and capability. I remember when that Negroponte fellow came up with One-Laptop-Per-Child, then suddenly our huffing-puffing politicos rushed forward to rebuff him, insisting we could do it better (why hadn’t they done so previously?) Then their own effort languished for months and years before issuing some lackluster product. I feel we should produce indigenously mainly to sell abroad, so that we can buy even better hardware from abroad. At least domestic arms production can produce jobs, if nothing else.

  3. Viv S says:

    The FGFA to be produced in India is to include the features the IAF wanted in it, such as the 360 degree radar surveillance and tracking, a two-pilot configuration, and even a new power plant.

    Not its not.*

    The Indian Govt has already invested in this collaborative project to the tune of some $1billion-$1.5 billion, and was cleared by then defence minister Manohar Parrikar in February this year.

    No it hasn’t.**

    Agility-wise, the Tejas will run circles around the F-16 and F-18

    No it can’t. ***

    The SE program is a mistake in the making, and the IAF needs to capitalize on the outstanding cost-effectiveness of the Tejas. But that doesn’t excuse plain ignorance about the realities of military aviation.*

    Because let’s be clear what IAF’s enthusiasm for AMCA really is — it is a cover to ditch all indigenous aircraft altogether. because without Tejas Mk-II and FGFA there’s no AMCA!

    Nonsense. The Tejas MkII might have been a valuable stepping stone in terms of sensor fusion & EW (maybe), but MKIzing the Su-57 doesn’t bring anything to the table as far as the AMCA is concerned.

    The GoI & HAL have being doing the ToT dance for 40 years – Gnat, MiG-21, MiG-27, Jaguar, Su-30 and now the Su-57. Thinking that ‘this time it’ll be different, this is the one that’ll revolutionize the defence industry’.

    And every time failing to recognize that screwdriving together SKDs & CKDs and moving onto build-to-print production doesn’t reproduce the actual design experiences that went into developing those aircraft in the first place.
    * The two seat variant was ditched long ago for reasons of both RCS & cost.

    ** The PDC was pegged at $295 mil and the actual disbursal from that corpus remains unknown.

    ***The SH (which is very different from the F-18 BTW) & F-16E/F are larger heavier aircraft with considerably more capable mission systems (in the Rafale class). As far the WVR combat is concerned, the Tejas can hold its own against them but running circles around them is just absurd hyperbole.

    • Jeet Hormuz says:

      Well said. Mr Karnad, the best I can say is that your ignorance is only bested by your stupidity

    • Viv S@ — so you think the “TOT dance” is going to turn in India’s favour with screwdrivering the antiquated F-16-F-18 in India?

      • Murali says:

        He clearly said that the SIngle-engine fighter deal is a mistake then why you are bringing that here to justify the FGFA. HAL is going to do the same screw-driver job for FGFA anyway and that too at a huge cost.

        When their own Air force itself is buying only a dozen fighters then why we have to buy this fighter. Let them prove its worth by ordering more.

  4. AP says:

    The story is planted by HAL. F16 and F18 are not obsolete. They are also upgraded and match the capability of any modern medium combat aircraft with advance weapons. They are equal match to Rafael if armed with advance weapons. We have invested far too long in Russian FGFA offer, to some extent revived their defense deal driven economy. It’s time, some realistic assessment is done, cut the losses and equip IAF speedily to be able to maintain Air Supremacy in the region.

    • You must be a new reader of this blog. You apparently believe in dressing up grannies, as I said in an earlier post on the subject, for the Debutante’s Ball. Won’t work with F-16/18.

    • sanman says:

      F18 still has some competitiveness with SuperHornet, but F16 is an older plane whose upgradation has hit a ceiling. Newer generation planes from the US are either not for sale, or too expensive and have too many strings attached as well.

  5. Shaurya says:

    @Viv S: So you claim to know more than the S. Varthaman committee and HAL chief who are on record that the production and build of the FGFA will help build India’s stealth capabilities?

  6. Kya says:

    The “Aaj tak ” channel of ” India Today ” infamy run by Aroon Poorie is pining for F16 like there is no tomorrow. This channel says that everything is cleared for the importation of F16 and F18 ! As if India is being favoured by the usa !! I remember that in year 1979 till 1981 there was a big debate in USA about selling F16 to Saudi Arabia. So that is already 40 years old. The F16 was designed 55 years ago.Background of this India Today’s machinations. We know “Aaj taak ” collaborates with the in-house “Mail Today” a tabloid of very nasty anti-India inclination, and very racist against anyone not Anglo. “India today” has made fun of Hindi speaking state of Haryana first and then Bihar and UP mid 80s onwards. Check the editions of this magazine of early 90s. How they lampooned Devilal of Haryana for not being an English speaker and Bihari and UP people while.

  7. Aban says:

    As expected, assembling imported components and passing it off as ‘make in India’. Problem is Modi has surrounded himself with Niti ayog types. Amitabh Kant recently said in an globalised world , assembling imported parts designed and developed outside India is an acceptable thing and designing and manufacturing the entire product is like socialist era import substitution !! With such great advise from the Babudom expect more screwdriver stuff . Remember we ditched Bhel and L&T for Chinese power plants and instead of improving railway manufactuting , we are importing entire trains. Defence sector will not be any different.

  8. Rohit Nair says:

    I have been following your blogs and videos for past few months. Though your writings are sensible and reasonable. I sometime feel bit insecure on how things are running in national security matters with regards to bureaucracy and military. Are we threat wise not catching up with other nations like you are saying and hedging on foreign suppliers for technology and choking our self to supply lines of western power.

    I have a humble request can you right one success story or good things done by GOI on matters of national security if possible? I do not want to sound demanding but it is a request.

  9. Rohit Nair says:

    Hi Bharath, I agree with your point that pushing for F16 can be a disaster with regards to its old technology, TOT and especially Pakistan knowledge about this platform. What is your thought on F18 super hornet though, this is a proven naval aircraft and can be used as complimentary to Mig 29 and act as leverage if one of them does not supply us with spares or technical details in near future ?

    In case of F16/F18 being cancelled, how long do you think India will take to reach the stage for MKII version of Tejas to be operational?

    • Tejas Mk-II will take 2-3 years, less time than the Services are affording F-16/18 for induction. The spares support with Russia is because even after nearly five decades we haven’t properly learned to work their indenting-supply system.

      • Siddharth Joshi says:

        I agree that India could have done better in managing the spare parts supply chain particularly with respect to the frontline combat assets like SU-30 and the Mig29’s. However one thought does come to mind: India is probably the best customer for Russia regarding military equipment. From a pure business standpoint (disregarding the geopolitical and strategic angle for a second) it was in Russia’s interest to keep its best customer satisfied through proper after sales service so that India would not have any reason to look for other suppliers. What is the reason that in spite of top echelons of the Indian Political and Military Leadership raising the spare parts issue with Russian counterparts the situation only improved at the margins.

        Is there some lobby within the Russian Military Industrial complex that prevented the spare parts issue from being resolved in an professional manner. Whose interest was this lobby serving by mishandling the Indian account

  10. Public trust in arms industry and the gov procurement agencies is very low across the world. After an elaborate selection process for the MMRCA, when it came to final price negotiations we saw how the deal fell though. PM Modi out of the blue, went on to commit to buy 36 Rafales and we are stuck with the expensive white elephants. Of course, Dassault now wants to sell more of these expensive planes from the same back channel outside the bidding process. To top it all Lockheed who’s F-16 lost the competition, wants to sell it obsolete plane, also through the back channel, without competitive bidding.

    People will definitely see all this with suspicion and what Mr Karnad is saying will find support. Who ever is picking holes in Mr Karnad’s article, is missing the big picture that self reliance is a worthy goal, which deserves deferring top of the line arms purchase in the immediate term, for the sake of, own platform and technology, in long term.

    Surely folks who read this blog are aware of the kind of shady arms dealers, that USA was dealing with in Bush era, for supplying weapons to their Afghan war. This rolling stones article on this literally two man arms company AEY is one such example.

  11. Nirav says:

    They’ve been saying from the last “2-3” years that the FOC for the basic LCA is round the corner, anytime soon.

    And you claim mk2 is 2-3 years away !
    Saar, the years are supposed to be Earth years, NOT Jupiter years..

    With the F16/18s atleast the air force and navy will have proven operational fighter jets in their inventory rather than vaporware. Which the mk2 is, for the moment. Also for the moment the sops for the FOC aircraft haven’t been finalised yet as FOC is not achieved yet.
    There is a distinct possibility of a delay in the FOC version production, let alone the Mk1A.

    They’d pompously stated a weight reduction of 1000 kgs when the Mk1A were announced and now have silently back peddled on it. No mention of any such weight reduction any more. Who got cold feet ?

    @ the LCA running around the F16/18 in circles, well.. pass on the weed, sounds potent.

    Btw, HAL pitching for the FGFA is the stupidest thing one can imagine. If the airforce doesn’t want it, what business does HAL have in rooting for it? Just to keep their jobs ?
    The worthies @hal can’t produce more than 16/yr LCA. Why can’t they build the LCAs on the Sukhoi line once it’s vacated ?

  12. The armed services, I have discovered, are often not the best judges of national interest when procurement is on the line.

    • Nirav says:

      it is not their job, building up Indias MIC.
      what is our national interest wrt procurement is the domain of the MoD and MoF and CCS.

      On one hand the country has placed a very difficult task- for Preparing and winning a two front war. How can it be done with weapon systems that are either just not good enough or simply do not come on time ?

      In light of the above and the way the procurement is messed up, i see no reason why the forces should not go for the best available and *proven* equipment from abroad.

      DAC cleared 83 MK1A in 2016 at an estimated cost of 50,000 crores.It can go higher.
      Funny thing is, this was done in Nov 2016. We are almost in Nov 2017. There is no news of the ambitious 1,000 Kg weight reduction. No news of FOC – “just round the corner”, No prototype even.

      And you said MK2 is 2-3 years away ?!!

      ALL this while, the airforce is seeing a rapid decline in squadrons.
      While we talk of national interest wrt procurement and indigenous production, why are we forgetting that the air force can NOT fight with something they dont have and exists only on paper with no proven track record of adhering to timelines.

      Now, if we change their mandate from winning a two front war to defending against a two front war, decision making would become comparatively easier.

      Are we prepared to do that ?

      • Kya says:

        Daily the rag tag paki suppirted terrorists dare attack indian arny and defence forces directly and killing one ir two soldiers , and you think that we will be able to win or even defenced ourselves on two front wsr with camel air firce and puny hawitzers of 3rd rate angloamerican variety?
        Being a side kick of usa may raise your mirale in baosting but in real war our defence unoreparedness since traitor sardar mmsingh will pay dearly.

  13. When will DRDO make an Indian radar of this sort ..

    • There’s a DRDO project to make an AESA radar. Whether it is the same one with with Elta 2052 computer, downgraded because of US objections to transfer of this computer to the Elta 2032 or not, I am not sure.

      • Kya says:

        Quote ” because of US objections to transfer of this computer to ”
        And many traitor Indians want to trust usa and her spy infested obsolete arms for our defence.!
        India needs to sort out the traitors inside own country especially the so called arms dealers and defence experts along with english media coolies.

  14. Nirav says:

    @kya : it might not have occurred to you. All wars won by India were with imported weaponry.
    for the moment right from small arms to MBTs to fighter jets .. none of the indigenous equipment are either upto the mark or are inordinately delayed.

    and if you think F16/F18s are antiquated, pray tell where does that leave the LCA ? Its a similar 4th gen jet which is yet to achieve FOC in 2017 meanwhile both the american jets have had lakhs of flight hours and combat hours over the span of decades.

    get your head out of your ass and try and get a holistic understanding of whats at stake before calling others “traitors”

  15. vivek says:

    i believe elta is 2052 is already under test with jaguar

  16. The first institution we should shut down is DRDO-the military wing. Then trim HAL by 50%. As for the LCA, the less said, the better. I worked on this project in 1988, at ADA under Dr H. Kota. Sadly, there was no progress thereafter, when ADE undercut ADA and gummed up the works. 1984-2020, 36 years to get an ac going! With 75% foreign components. Compared to the F-16. It is as agile as a hippopotamus to a Bharat Natyam dancer.

    • The answer, @onoelo, is not to junk the LCA but to trim the hippo so it can dance. This won’t happen if the import option is left open, the program is not put in ‘technology mission’ mode and on a war footing, and the IAF is not made the agency responsible for bringing the aircraft upto speed.

  17. Anant Nerurkar says:

    With due respect to Mr. Karnad, his assessment of the Tejas issue is flawed. As an Air Force fighter pilot, and a test pilot for 15 years, I can confidently state that the Modi govt is doing the right thing. Obviously, he is consulting experts for taking these decisions. Please let them do their job.

  18. vonMoltke says:

    Professor Karnad has advocated – here and in his book – contracting out the production of Tejas to L&T and Reliance, using HAL premises and facilities (paraphrasing somewhat). Would he know why this (sensible) idea is not being followed up – beyond the usual Indian governmental suspects of bureaucratic inertia and lethargy? Are vested interests (e.g. in the DPSUs or elsewhere) against such a move? Or is there an unwillingness to favour a particular set of private companies? Or some other reason?

    • Have flogged this solution for years, alas, w/o effect. Too many bureaucratic and political vested interests. Just to reiterate the proposed solution, first detailed in a Paper as member of the 1st NSAB in 1998-99: Form two competing defence industrial consortia by dividing up all DRDO, DPSU, Ordnance Factory Board assets into two near equally capable complexes and get the Tata’s and L&T (not Reliance) to head them, and have them compete for all arms contracts, with the GOI fundin development upto the prototype stage, have a runoff, and weight the selection heavily, as incentive, to the item that has more indigenous tech by value (not weight!). How these two combines get their tech and how is their business. This at once eliminates all corruption and encourages indigenization.

      • Aban says:

        Sir, do we have adequate human capital (engineers, scientists) needed for such large military-industrial complex? Our best and brightest talent is more interested in queuing up for visas.

  19. Yes. Where do you think all the Lockheed, Boeing, Dassault engineers and technicians for their presence here are coming from? From the DPSUs, OFB and DRDO, for God’s sake. Except they paid three times as much and are expected to produce or get kicked out — precisely the mode that should be adopted by GOI for all govt hires.

  20. Jaiparkash Narain says:

    It seems the biggest enemy of this nation is its own Govt, the FM & PM, who wouldn’t understand the need for the nation and the Defence Ministry and doesn’t allow defence Minister to work as an independent and confident minister to take the ship forward as he should and as he wishes. As long as Jaitley remain the FM he will not allow the Govt to function toward the self-sufficiency of def technology since it is not in his interest as he continues to favour corruption from the back door.

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