My post on the arrival of the Tejas has elicited a lot of response, on this blog as well as on the Bharat Rakshak Forum. A large segment of the critical responses have chosen the perceived neglect/hostility of the air force to the Tejas project to be the focus of their ire. One of the most strident voices that have come out belongs to poster Veena. His views are clear and are placed cogently. There are however other points of fact and opinion that would make his denouncements somewhat less valid. I would try to present these facts and views for Veena and my other readers.
Veena starts his argument with a very valid statement of history.
Ok, let me flesh out what I am saying. The emerging technologies in the 70s and early 80s were crystal clear. FBW controls,digital avionics , glass cockpit, composite structures, new gen engines (F100) and finally new maintenance concepts (LRU,on condition etc).
However, from there he jumps to a few conclusions that are non sequitter.
The problem is that there was no vision or even interest at a fundamental strategic level at the IAF & HAL in terms of competency building! They couldn’t care less. The focus was on importing designs and doing screw driver assembly and passing it off as “indigenous”.
The GOI in its wisdom had decided that the responsibility of aeronautical design would be reposed on the HAL. There were early turf wars. In the Late fifties Air Marshal Harjinder Singh created a small design center at Kanpur that produced two small aircraft called Kanpur I and Kanpur II in the absence of any other given name. The aircraft were constructed and initial test flights were performed. It immediately drew fierce opposition from HAL and the Civil Aviation Authority. Authority to conduct protracted tests on these could not be obtained. The design effort had to be junked. Air Marshal Harjinder was however a persist an person. Even though his design effort was thwarted, he was determined to create the capability to manufacture larger aircraft. With the blessings of Sri Krishna Menon (who was then the RM), he set up an infra-structure for aircraft manufacture from raw materials and named it the ‘Air Craft Manufacturing Depot (AMD)’ of the Air Force at Kanpur. The Air Force foresaw the need for a replacement for the Dakota in the short run. Negotiations were held with AV Roe of UK for detailed manufacture (NOT just assembly from CKD parts) of their model 748. Matters proceeded quickly. The parent company was in the process of merger with Hawker Siddley. As is usual with British companies, the British entity began dragging their foot about timely supply of jigs and tools. They were however surprised to find that as soon as they failed to deliver the contracted items of jigs and tools, the AMD created jig out of the initial set of drawings attached with the contract and proceeded to manufacture the aircraft. There was a huge techno-commercial/diplomatic row. Unfortunately, 1962 came about. Krishna Menon’s shelter was not available any more. The new dispensation decided that the Air Force had no business in manufacturing aircraft. The AMD was converted into the Kanpur division of the HAL which built the rest of the HS748 aircraft. (Interestingly, the Navy was always been authorized to play around with ship architecture following the traditions of the Royal Navy, and a specialized Constructors Branch of officers exists in the Naval organization for this purpose). Therefore, in my opinion, the critical conclusions drawn by Veena might benefit from a revisit.
In the next segment, once again Veena commences with a valid statement.
It could have been pretty easy to have an R&D project with say the Ajeet (which the HAL knew inside out) to have FBW controls, a composite wing and experimental avionics and you could have built that capability in the period 1975 to 1985! The Brits built their FBW competency by having a hold your breath, a JAGUAR (yes, the very same aircraft we are talking about) tweaked for relaxed stability with FBW. The French did the same with a Mirage III.. Yup the same kind used in the Arab-Isreali conflicts in the 60s!
Indeed we should have expanded our capabilities in the 70s and 80s when aeronautical science was undergoing explosive changes with the arrival of computing power. However, who’s job do you think this competence building was? The air force had been steered away from R&D in no uncertain terms, and the job was clearly in the lap of DRDO. The HAL could also take it up if they so desired. The fly by wire experimentation by BAe at Warton was no secret. Many of us (including me) have visited that facility and studied it. There were many worthies from HAL and various DRDO entities too who had seen this experimentation at Warton. No effort was made to replicate it on our own. (Later, the LCA team did seek and derive assistance from BAe about FBW, of course on commercial terms.) Should we imply negligence and worse on the air force for not taking up something that was not a part of its charter? Thus, when Veena says that
Where is the Indian version of an FBW Jaguar ? You did help fix a big flaw in it at the HAL during the production run, you did the Darin upgrade which the others adopted.Why not the FBW ? That is because there was no “operational need” and as an organization you couldn’t think ahead strategically,
I feel the statement is being unkind to the Air Force. Instead of assuming that the Air Force found no Operational Need for FBW, perhaps it would be wiser to inquire whether there was no ‘Organizational need’ on the part of the DRDO or ‘Commercial Need’ on the part of HAL.
Veena goes on to say many things about lost opportunities implying negligence ineptness greed for foreign products and so on on the part of the Air Force.
Okay, the IAF had the Mig-21 since 69 or so. What have the done with it? The Chinese played with it intensely and have multiple versions including different wingforms and even one of their latest AJT is a Mig21 derivative. Why didn’t India have a FBW version of the Mig-21 with side intakes and a good radar in the nose and a MIL-1533B bus flying in the 80s? After all, the likes of Prof Prodyut Das (he posted in response in his blog) claim the best substitute for a Mig-21 is another Mig-21 or something to that effect if I remember correctly. It would have been silly to do that in the late 80s, but eminently sensible in the 70s! So what stopped the IAF from doing it rather than continue producing some tired old incremental upgrades of Mig-21s until mid 80s ..
Actually, the MiG21 was inducted into the Air Force before 1965. By 1967, HAL was assembling/manufacturing the aircraft. Yes, Veena is right. There is no justification why we did not discover the know why part of the manufacture while we learnt the know how to put it together. But, I ask you again, was it the task of the Air Force to do it? I do humbly suggest that Veena’s rhetoric
So what stopped the IAF from doing it rather than continue producing some tired old incremental upgrades of Mig-21s until mid 80s
should be answered by the statement that the Air Force was not authorized to dabble with design and development unless specifically ordered (like it was for the Gnat). Incidentally, I can state here as a participant that major and detailed papers for the up gradation of the MiG 21 were doing the rounds from 1971 onwards. Unfortunately, the air force could not convince the powers that be that such an upgrade is possible and necessary till the early nineties, and even then no one in authority was convinced that it could/should be done by ourselves. As can be seen from my post ‘The Tejas Arrives’, I was a strong votary for upgrading the MiG21 by ourselves. It was articulated in 1982 in no uncertain terms.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that experience cannot be purchased. It can be gained only through sweat and blood. I therefore have no quarrel with Veena when he says:
IF that had been done , you could have entered the LCA project with a solid industrial and technical base to do it and you wouldn’t have seen the kind of slippages we had.
In the absence that and because of the lost decades of the 60s , 70s and early 80s, we had to start from scratch. The LCA is really some 4/5 projects rolled into one ..FBW, Composites, Avionics, Radar, Engine and maybe Electronic Warfare. Each of which in normal circumstances would have been researched, developed, proven and tested separately! Each of those is a separate 5 to 10 year project at least. The FBW, composites,mission avionics, and electronic warfare are successes , while the Radar and Engine are partially successful (HAL should never have been given the radar responsibility) and GTRE against all odds for a project as complex as the airframe itself has a working engine! All in all quite good.
Unfortunately, Veena then loses centripetal logic and becomes tangential. He goes on to say:
I really have little patience with the service folks who sat on their backsides in the period 60s to 80s and for whatever reasons dropped the ball, to come back and dump on the LCA and other projects (like Arjun) for slipping timelines and “bad project management” and this and that and claim these are “R&D” projects and are not “operationally oriented” . Of course, there will be a big R&D phase because YOU dropped the ball there because you couldn’t think strategically as an organization, and when it came to even “operational oriented” stuff of making it into a fighter out of a prototype, dropped the ball again by totally neglecting it and going comatose!
I think the analogy of dropping a ball is inappropriate. It is more a case of holding a baby. The Air Force, like an expectant father is anxiously waiting outside the confinement room waiting for his new born child to be given to his care. The child was born eleven years ago after a twelve year confinement following a eleven year courtship. More than a year ago, the doctors had promised that the baby’s initial cleaning was was ‘almost’ over, and the baby would be in his lap any moment now. More than a year has gone by and the doctors are still discussing some problems in a hushed tone. The poor expectant father stands exasperated and confused while a set of off duty nurses are telling him that it is all his fault; he should have gone in and taken charge of the delivery from the hands of the doctors!
Enough of levity. We must now return to serious facts and allegation cited by Veena.
And no it is not just the LCA alone . Think of all the whining about the lack of an AJT and the how many decades (was it 25 years ?) and pilots lost before we got the Hawk! Well, we did have the “earlier Hawk” called the “Folland Gnat” in service for donkey’s years. That was originally designed and used as a trainer! What stopped the IAF from asking HAL to not close the Ajeet assembly line, enhance whatever was needed to bring it upto scratch as a modern day trainer and maybe if it made sense at all, even put the Adour from the Jaguar into an enhanced version and presto, you would have had an “Indian Hawk” . Nope.. It was all about.. Oh, the Govt /Babus aren’t giving us money to buy an AJT and you waited 3 decades for it to finally come through!
Veena is of course right about the long wait for an AJT. (The Air Force was not found sleeping on this job. It was agitating real hard for a long time.) However, Veena is not correct about the Gnat. The Gnat was not originally designed as a trainer. The Indian fighter version was the first. The Gnat trainer for the Royal Air Force was derived out of the Gnat fighter after very substantial changes that made it almost a different aircraft, visual resemblance notwithstanding. Primarily, the flight controls and the wings were changed. In the process, it had become a milder aircraft in the class of an Intermediate trainer. Our need was for something with higher capability. The Gnat entered the IAF nominally in 1959, entered squadron service in a meaningful way by late 61 and became a useful weapon in 1963-64. HAL produced a two seat version of the Ajeet twenty years later. By then the Gnats were all retired and the Ajeet variants were on their way out. The two seat Gnat had too many deficiencies for it to be an effective AJT. The original fighter Gnat was a thoroughly optimized design. It was almost impossible to tinker with it without taking away its prime abilities. Therefore the two seat Gnat was dropped.
Veena’s reference to the Hawk AJT reminded me about an incident dating back to 1981 or early 82. I was still the Project Manager for the Jaguar project. The LCA conference mentioned in my post ‘The Tejas Arrives’ had not yet taken place. There was a meeting scheduled in Bangalore with the top brass of BAe that was cancelled at the last moment as the BAe officials were held up in Delhi. I was a bit put off as I was on a tight schedule. I cornered the India Resident rep of BAe who was available in Bangalore and asked for an explanation. It transpired that the BAe staff were held up because they had to give a presentation on the Hawk at Delhi. I was amused. I asked him why they were wasting their time trying to sell a trainer to India? We had all the ability to design build something in the class of the Hawk I said. I did not think we would ever import an aircraft like that. The BAe rep smiled. He said that he was a Brit and a betting man. He would wager a Pound that they would ultimately sell the Hawk to us. It may take us a decade to do so, he said, but we will sell it to India. I found his assertion and confidence odd. I had full confidence in our ability to design and build a Hawk class aircraft. I could not fathom why we would import such an aircraft. On my return to Delhi, I queried the Plans Staff about it. I was told that the DRDO had been requested to take on the task of building an AJT but they had declined on the plea that as they were reserving all their strength for the impending LCA project they had no spare capacity left to undertake an AJT project as well. This of course is hear-say evidence. I have no official knowledge about it. However, the confidence of the BAe rep might have stemmed from his knowledge of such a situation. The Air Force of course continues to get the rough end of the stick from people like Veena.
I am getting no joy out of writing this repartee or in engaging in this debate. This is all about the past that we cannot change. I would much rather think about the future and how we can gain from the LCA project. Believe it or not, a large number of people within the Air Force ardently wishes for success of this project.