The Tejas debate continues at a furious rate. I would attempt to respond to Vina who has been a persistent critic.
Vina’s first point was a personal opinion:
I do feel that the govt’s decision of getting the IAF out of the airframe business was correct. It is too specialized a field and requires a whole different set of skills than what a force trained for fighting would possess , unless the IAF too like the Navy goes and recruits Naval Architects, either builds a specialized cadre staffed with trained Aerospace engineers hired from outside and/or trained in IAF technical schools ,even if it is restricted to purely design , concept studies and architecture and not goes into actual building (which will require an even wider set of skills in manufacturing, sales,supply chain etc).
I agree with his view fully. No need to debate that. However, his next points are a mixed bag that need to be analyzed.
When the decision was made, what actually prevented the IAF from putting up money and sponsoring critical projects in these areas in HAL, NAL, DRDO labs and Academia like IITs an IISc ? I don’t recall a SINGLE such significant project in all these years……..
…..to have a 100crore project for investing in composites , avionics and sharply focused FBW project , even if you had no separate R&D budget . That kind of money would have gone an incredibly long way in the 70s and 80s when a 4 figure salary was rare. Who had that kind of strategic vision back then. Can the IAF do it even today ? I don’t think so. So really, with the Govt not putting up the money (they obviously wont put up the money without seeing an application and not fund R&D purely on stand alone) for that sort of thing, it simply fell between the cracks and did not get done at all,
Here you are imagining a situation where (some time in the late 70’s) the chief of the air staff gets on to the SA to RM and tells him, —-‘Mr xxxxxx, here is a perfectly serviceable Gnat/Hunter/Mystere/Marut. Please take it. I believe the Americans are trying to learn how to control an unstable flying platform. I want you to replicate it. I will fund the costs you incur. I need to learn how to design FBW for unstable platforms.’ —- ‘ and bye the way, here is another Rupees 50 Crores. Please get NAL to tinker with the concept of using composites for aircraft structures. I have a dream of making a 4th generation fighter for the air force. It will be great if he can help me with that knowledge when I get to the point of designing that aircraft.’
Such a scenario could not come about in India in that time frame; not even if the CAS swore on his testimonial to the MOD that he would make do with 5 aircraft less when the next Mig21, 23, 27 and Jaguar were to be procured! The CAS would be powerless even if he knew that one Vina will pillory him for his abject absence of Vision in years to come.
Let me now exit from the theater of the absurd and examine what exactly happened to the LCA project and reduce that to a language of the common man.
– Some time in the late sixties, the air force realized that to perform its allotted task, it would need three or four squadrons worth of deep strike aircraft. The Government had taken a decision not to pay for the development of the Orpheus 10 by Rolls Royce. In the absence of a suitable engine the Marut could not be developed to its full potential. A new air craft therefore needed to be purchased from abroad. This need, and the logic there of were written down and presented to the Government.For the next seven or eight years there was nothing beyond a ‘proposal’ pending with the government.
– The previous two tech upgrade of the Air Force had taken place in 1958-59 (Mystere/Hunter/Canberra/Gnat/Marut) to 1962 (MiG21/Su-7,AN12,IL14,MI4) . It was realized that a major re-equipment cycle would be due in the nineties. The Air Force therefore began talking to HAL in the middle seventies for the need of a modern fighter. It was clearly an air force project for a new induction in the making.
– Initial proposals were prepared by the HAL Design Bureau. In the early eighties Dr Arunachalam appeared on the scene as the SA to RM. He decided to use this opportunity to upgrade the capabilities of the entire aviation industry and jump into 4th generation technologies. To him, it was clearly a DRDO project with a focus on breaking new frontiers; a laudable aim, but clearly at a variance with the air force’s project goals.
– It must be understood that the air force had no quarrels with the ambitious goals of the DRDO project. It was however unable to reconcile its own re-equipment needs with the inevitable trajectory of the very ambitious DRDO goals. A compromise had to be reached.
– I do not know if there is a written document recording the compromised understanding for the situation. However, it appears that it was agreed that
Air Force funds will not be used for the development project as the AF will need its allotted money for import of weapons. Air Force will however pledge funds for acquisition of the proposed aircraft when the project reaches the stage of manufacture.
Air Force will provide necessary manpower for flight testing and other requirements as requested by the DRDO
DRDO will be fully in charge of the project.
-To assert its full control over the project, the DRDO created a new design authority entity as the ADA and cut off the HAL design bureau from the loop. A little later, a National Flight Test Centre was created and the ASTE/Flight Test group of the HAL were excluded. These actions generated some interpersonal irritations.
-Dr Velluri became the head of ADA. He wanted some one younger than Dr Raj Mahindra to head the design effort. Dr RM departed. Dr Velluri too did not last very long. He resigned. Dr KH became the head of design. The post of DGADA that Dr V vacated remained unfilled and was held by the SA to RM as an additional charge.
-To set the ball rolling, the AirHQ issued an ASR in 1985. By now the Air Force was reconciled to the Idea that the LCA will primarily be an R&D project under the DRDO. Therefore, the ASR reflected all the desires expressed by the scientific community; an unstable platform controlled by FBW technique, an airframe largely built of composites, a glass cockpit, a multi mode radar, an indigenous engine with FADEC, indigenous ECM/ECCM/electronics/weapons/missiles – the works. The ultimate product had to be an aircraft that could be used by the Air Force. Therefore the ASR projected an aircraft that would do everything that a MiG 21 could do, albeit do it a little better.
-The DRDO was still confident of doing the job in a decade. The Air Force was a little more pragmatic. They would have been happy to introduce the aircraft by 2000.
-The GOI provided seed money and accepted the plan for building five prototypes. The project definition phase started, and lasted till 1989. The project Definition Document frightened the IAF. AVM Krishnaswami wrote a critique pointing out the likely pitfalls and suggested that two technology demonstrators be built before building the prototypes for testing the real aircraft.
-There was then a lull for four years.
—There was rapid changes in the Government
—International oil prices rose dramatically
—The GOI was in a financial crisis
—Dr VSA retired and migrated to the USA and was replaced by Dr.APJA as SA to RM
—Dr APJA accepted Khicha’s critique.
-In 1993 funding was received for two TDs and work began for actual construction.
-In real life at the working level there were a lot of exchanges of ideas through out this period between air force and and R&D people. In general, the doubts raised by Khicha continued to disturb the air force. As days and months rolled by, it became clear that the Kavery will not be ready in time for integration with the prototypes. In any case, most people felt it unwise to mate a brand new engine to a single engined aircraft under development. No effort to find a test bed for the Kavery was visible. Strangely, the ADA seemed quite open to the idea of mating the Kavery to one of the PVs for its development flights. The cry from the air force was to separate the two projects went unheeded for a long time.
-The story was the same for the MMR. It was clear that the time lines for the two projects were not matching. Yet, no corrective activity was visible.
-Apprehensions about the FBW were high. The air force preferred a more conservative approach of a hybrid system with French collaboration wile the DRDO opted for a more daring quad digital path with American help. The French entities walked out of the collaborative arrangements. They had been enthusiastic supporter of the LCA till then.
-In the meanwhile, many of the subsidiary developments for the LCA project were becoming reality. Thus, when the Air Force started importing the Su 30 MK from Russia in 1996, it negotiated for the incorporation of all DRDO developed stuff available at that point of time (along with some French and Israeli stuff) into it. The very fruitful MKI concept was born.
-Pokhran II in 1998 created a new situation. All American help stopped. The FBW now had to be completed entirely on our own. Did it delay the project significantly? I can only quote Air Marshal Rajkumar from page 100 of his book
Now that the sanctions had been imposed, no interaction between the teams was possible, and I feared the worst. I could not have been more wrong in my assessment because the pace of FCS development actually picked up. Adversity had proved to be a great tonic.
The other factoids gleaned from the same book tells me that other hardware/software problems delayed the first flight of the TD 1 after the FCS had been installed. So, american withdrawal of help did not affect the time line for the FCS per se. Yes, the withdrawal of help made maintenance of the GE 404 engines more challenging, but we managed. And also, the withdrawal of american support forced us to develop some of the critical components indigenously. All for the good I think. The TD 1 flew in Jan 2001. It was a big achievement.
It has become fashionable in the cyber space to diss the Air Force for its ‘lack of support’ for the LCA project and for giving it a ‘step-motherly’ treatment. I find this tarring entirely strange and totally unjustified. From the conceptual stage, the Air Force has been supportive of the project. Even though the project had ceased to be a ‘Air Force Project’ from an early date, the Air Force has never held back its professional advice on aims goals and on project management. It has continuously supplied the project with trained manpower and with materials and aircraft whenever necessary. It has mede two Mirage 2000 aircraft available to the project. Practical professional advice have been offered at the level of CAS (eg. rumbler strip method of garbage cleaning from TD-1 as mentioned in Air Marshal Rajkumar’s book). ACM Tipnis has gone to the extent of flying personally in the chase aircraft for the first flight of the TD1. Cyber Warriors and worriers still think the IAF is not concerned!
As a matter of fact, the Air Force must be concerned about the LCA project on a number of counts. Firstly, the Air Force must be concerned about the proclivity of the DRDO on the under-assessment of tasks to be done. Let me pull out two instances from Air Marshal Rajkumar’s book. First; on assuming office in 1995, the Air Marshal’s professional assessment was that the TD1 was about five years away from its first flight. At the same time, the DRDO was confident that the first flight will take place ‘next year’. In actual fact, the first flight took place six years later. This sort of erroneous forecast makes forward planning difficult for the Air Force. Second; the TD1 airframe was rolled out prematurely for a function by the Prime Minister. There was really no technical reason for going through this drill at that particular time. Later, the airframe had to be pulled back, stripped and reassembled. It took about eighteen months and added substantially to the timeline for the first flight. Thus the Air Force gets concerned when not technical influences are permitted to intrude into a highly technical plan of action.
There are other concerns for the Air Force. In the cyber world there seems to be an impression that as soon as the new air craft type is sanctioned Initial Operational Clearance and ordinary Air Force Pilots are allowed to fly the aircraft, the the new type becomes an asset for the air force. In real life it is not so. From our past experience we know that about four or five years are necessary for a fleet to stabilize and become a useable weapon system. The Marut and the Gnat entered service around 1959 but could become useable assets on by 1963/64. The Mig 21 entered Service in 62/63 but became a weapon system only in 1967/68. The air force needs this time to generate stocking level, supply chain. maintenance procedures, and to generate the core body of technical and tactical knowledge and experience. For this purpose, the air force needs to possess sufficient number of serviceable aircraft that can be operated intensively for a sustained period. Not a single series production Tejas aircraft has come out yet. It appears that the target rate of production would be about eight aircraft per year. That would make it 2015 before the air force commences intensive flying and about 2017 till it becomes a weapon system. After the first two squadrons are formed, a new Mk2 version of the airplane will make an appearance. It is not known how long that will take to go through all the steps and stabilize. The introduction of the MMRCA fleet will coincide with this time frame. The Air Force will be stretched. The Air Force is thus anxious.
As I have said in my earlier post, this debate is now infructuous. Switching our attention to the tasks ahead would be more fruitful. However, before I close this debate, I would like to take up the question of ‘dropped balls’ mentioned by a number of posters, mentioning the HPT 32 specifically. This aircraft was designed and built by HAL on a demand by the Air Force. The performance did not fully satisfy the Air force, but the Air Force accepted it. Over time, many problems cropped up in operating the Aircraft, engine failure during aerobatic training being a main problem. The engine was an established reliable international item. The failure was assumed to be a aircraft design defect related to fuel supply plumbing. HAL could not put it right but also did not accept design defect as the cause. The Air Force had to abandon the use of the fleet of aircraft. In the early 1980s, the HAL had produced a turbine engined version of the aircraft called HTT34. It never entered air force service. It is being insinuated that it is all the fault of the air force. I wish to place a poser for the critics. The HTT34 was produced when Air Marshal LM Katre was the chairman of HAL. LMK was actually the driving force behind the development of the HTT34. It was his desire and his drive that made the aircraft fly. From HAL the Air Marshal went on to become the Chief of Air Staff. Yet, the HTT34 did not enter service with the Air Force. Does any one know why?