Earlier on Thursday, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh claimed the government’s decision to purchase 83 Light Combat Aircraft Tejas from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is likely to help in creating more than 50,000 jobs in the country. The deal, cleared on Wednesday by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, puts the government-owned aerospace and defence company HAL in the forefront of the ‘Make In India’ movement.
The frontrunner of Make India movement
“Aircraft were the only weapon platforms which we either imported or assembled. So, this is the first time that we will have an indigenous aircraft,” pointed out Retd Vice Admiral Shekar Sinha (PVSM, AVSM, and Nao Sena Medal and Bar for Gallantry).
“The big difference is that the design is made in India, which is very tough to make. Our own aeronautical engineers from the DRDO (Defence Research And Development Organisation) have done it. The second thing that has been made in India is the fly-by-wire system. The airplane controlled surfaces move on the electrical impulses, so that is another very complex technology which was completely developed by our scientists. Apart from that, the weapon system it carries is also indigenous – be it the air-to-air missiles, or air-to-surface missiles,” he added.
Sinha pointed out these aircraft will obviously meet the requirement of the light combat aircraft and will be a good replacement for MIG-21. The indigenous content right now is at 50%, so, the newer ones have the scope of adding another ten per cent of the indigenous component.
“It (aircraft) will certainly be exported. I know some customers who are waiting for its operationalisation. It can be sold to other countries too,” pointed out Sinha. “Now, the government has cleared on a case-to-case basis that India will become an exporting nation. For other weapon systems, India has already started that – be it the small arms, or missiles etc. The Prime Minister is really trying to make Bharat Atmanirbhar. In this field, it is a success story made by us.”
Not just export opportunity, the demand for Tejas aircraft has been made by the navy already, pointed out Retd Vice Admiral Madanjit Singh (PVSM AVSM).
“The Navy has expressed interest in the same aircraft (Tejas) and wanted its naval variant for a while. In fact, 20 years ago, we had given Rs 450 crore for its development and therefore, parallel trials have been also going on, for the naval version. The engine thrust requirement for the naval variant is somewhat different from the existing aircraft because it lands on an aircraft carrier in a limited space. So, hopefully, someday, we will also get a naval variant of this,” said Singh.
Singh pointed out while aircraft are now being made in India, it was the Navy where the initiative to indigenize truly started. “Navy was the first service to get into indigenization in a big way. We made our first indigenous frigates, INS Nilgiri, at the Mazagon Dock in 1970s,” he added.
Progress of The Aircraft Manufacturing Industry
Air Marshal Anil Chopra (PVSM AVSM VM VSM) said this deal will give a fillip to the aircraft manufacturing industry, and also smoothen the path for the roll-out of LCA Mark-2, and AMCA.
“Undoubtedly, it is a huge step, though a little delayed. After the completion of 83 LCA Mark-1, the HAL would have progressed the aircraft manufacturing industry significantly. Eighty-three is a large number, and it means from forty we will go to 123 LCAs, and it will positively roll on. There were several next steps which were held up, like LCA Mark-2, the AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) etc, because this was a hurdle. If the order was not placed now, the LCA line which had only 40 aircraft, would have been put on hold or would have come to a complete halt,” said Chopra. “Indian air force is in desperate need of fighting squadron, we have 30 squadrons instead of 42. This would obviously help.”
“Ultimately Indian air force wants close to 300 LCA out of which 123 will be Mark-1, and Mark-1As and the remaining will be LCA Mark-2,” pointed out Chopra.
“This deal will not only give a big boost to public sector aircraft industry, but also to the private sector. HAL has nearly 70 to 80 vendors from whom it is buying items or outsourcing part of the job,” he explained.
What Is Expected From HAL?
All three experts agreed that the primary expectation from HAL is to deliver on time and quality.
“The expectation is that HAL would ramp up production so that more aircraft can come to the air force. This year, they will make 12 aircraft but a good number would be 18-20 each year. Second is the design and development of Mark 1A. The work is already going on, and they should accelerate the process. The last thing that is expected from HAL is to maintain good quality. As of now, LCA quality is very good, and air force is very happy. I am a test pilot, and I have been very closely associated with this program when I was in service. So, I have spoken to a large number of pilots who have actually done the flight testing and they are all very happy with the quality of the aircraft,” said Chopra.
He pointed out this deal will undoubtedly give a boost to aviation R&D. A lot of state-of-the-art technology will come in, which will facilitate the jump to LCA Mark-1 to LCA Mark-2 and AMCA.
“No country in the world makes aircraft that are completely manufactured in the country. Even China doesn’t. Therefore, the goal is to make as much in India as possible, so that we can be self-reliant. Ultimately, things like radar, and engine must be made in India. There are only five countries in the world which can make engines in the world – France, UK, Russia, China and America. And, we should be one of those countries too,” said Chopra.