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 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/hal-strongly-bats-for-fgfa-project-with-russia/articleshow/61189233.cms )
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.