Sanctioned in ’83, LCA Tejas is yet to take off
Rajat Pandit, TNN Feb 12, 2008, 01.55am IST
NEW DELHI: When defence minister A K Antony witnesses a flight demonstration of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in Bangalore on Tuesday, he should take a close look at the fighter which typifies all that is wrong with defence projects in India.
The LCA project was sanctioned way back in 1983 at a cost of Rs 560 crore to replace the rapidly aging MiG fighters.
A quarter of a century later, with project costs already pegged at Rs 5,489.78 crore, the LCA is still at least four years away from becoming fully operational.
And when IAF finally inducts an LCA squadron, around 2012 or so, it will fly with American GE-404 engines and radars developed with Israel’s help, apart from several other ‘foreign’ parts in what is touted to be an ‘indigenous’ project.
Yes, developing a supersonic fly-by-wire fighter jet from scratch, with international sanctions in place for several years, is an extremely complex task. “But taking almost three decades is criminal,” said a senior official.
“All the agencies involved in it like the Aeronautical Development Agency, Defence Research and Development Organization, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and even the IAF, which has frequently changed requirements of weapons and electronic warfare midway, have to share the blame,” he added.
For the record, the two LCA technology demonstrators and three prototype vehicles have clocked over 800 flights till now, accumulating 425 hours and covering a flight envelope of 1.4 Mach and 15-km altitude.
Last year, the LCA even test-fired its first air-to-air missile, prompting the defence ministry to proclaim it as “a historic event” marking the beginning of the “weaponization” of Tejas. But the fact remains that the deadlines for the IOC (initial operational clearance) and FOC (final operational clearance) of Tejas have been revised time and again. As things stand now, IOC is projected by 2010 and FOC by 2012.
IAF, on its part, has ordered only 20 LCAs so far, despite pressure from the defence R&D establishment, unsure as it is of the delivery date and whether the LCA will be a top-notch fighter once it is ready. Incidentally, IAF and Navy had earlier projected a requirement of as many as 220 LCAs.
The less said about the indigenous Kaveri engine, which was meant to power the LCA, the better. The repeated failures of Kaveri – its development cost has jumped to Rs 2,839 crore from the initial Rs 382 crore – has meant the first 40 LCAs will have the American GE-404 engines.
With no solution in sight, DRDO has invited proposals for foreign collaboration for the co-development of Kaveri now. Keeping all this in mind, the overall development cost of LCA will zoom well over Rs 12,000 crore before it becomes a reality.
Readers’ opinions (33)
vivian fernandes (bombay)
12 Feb, 2008 09:21 AM
I have recently started working for the aviation industry and i have come to learn that although building a plane sounds easy there are so many parts that have to fit together that it is a mind boggling process.. However like many of the readers have mentioned,it should not take us 24 years to make a plane fly .. I do agree that the indian scientists are underpaid and i think it is high time we start bringing in private contractors like most of the western countries do.. so i think the only solution to this problem is to bring in people who know what they are doing and not leave projects in the hands of un educated,3rd rate politicians who might as well sold the parts for the plane on the black market to line their pockets..
Kotresh Tambrallimath (Bangalore)
12 Feb, 2008 09:00 AM
Indian Scientist salary is 5 to 10 times less than normal software Engineer salary. Because of this transition rates are high, so project is getting delay. Regarding cost of project, all are talking about 5000 cr. but how many billions of dollars US has invested to come to this position ??? Developing our own technology and building LCA is far far far better than Buying Black box(F16). I am very much thankful to all our scientists who are working in ADA and DRDO for there effort and dedication.
Krishna (Pennsylvania, PA)
12 Feb, 2008 08:31 AM
Well…I have worked on the LCA’s cockpit software programs in the early 90s. I know very well that we tried imitating F16’s fly by wire technology. We even followed USA DoD standard for software documentation. But I don’t understand why there is so much delay in taking off. I think we could not even copy something properly.
Prasad (Atlanta, USA)
12 Feb, 2008 08:24 AM
Even if we consider 12K Crore to develop an aircaraft from scratch (and belive, me there are many more things to an aircraft apart from the engine), I think it is not a bad price. Considering India has 12 lakh crores in its coffers as foreigh exchange and its income has multiplied manifold in past few years, 12 K crores for this project is not at all astronomical. We have to be cognizent of the fact that the project was executed by a government agency in complete isolation until recently without any private participation. India has learned a good lesson from it and is now encouraging privte participation in these kind of projects. I think we need to look at it much more positively. Every project is a learning curve and we have learned our share from this one too. I find such reports a bit too harsh towards all the good work which has gone into it. As a responsible mouthpiece of Indian media your esteemed publication should refrain from publishing such articles, which show our research establishments in bad light.
12 Feb, 2008 08:21 AM
Its time for the government to come out of the politics and took hard decision and recruiting from top premier colleges by offering them competetive pay.India have enough talent to build anything the only thing is that there should be strong will power behind it.