fly­ing high

With Te­jas and Rudra, Naren­dra Modi bets big on in­dige­nous de­fence prod­ucts

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - R Swami­nathan

Some­thing un­usual is hap­pen­ing in the de­fence arena: the Naren­dra modi gov­ern­ment has shown remarkable courage to em­bark on a long and ar­du­ous jour­ney that will have a long-term im­pact on In­dia’s na­tional se­cu­rity. cu­ri­ously, it seems to be re­ceiv­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily thin sup­port for such a rad­i­cal move. The gov­ern­ment, and in par­tic­u­lar de­fence min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man, is go­ing to re­ceive sev­eral brick­bats for a se­ries of quick and de­ci­sive steps that they have taken in the clos­ing months of 2017.

Three steps are prom­i­nent not just for their im­me­di­ate im­pact on the de­fence forces and our mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness, but also for point­ing out a clear tra­jec­tory for the way in which we can de­velop our­selves in the medium to long term.

Two of th­ese steps are re­lated as they were part of the larger bat­tle be­ing fought for the con­trol of

the pro­cure­ment process of long-term de­fence needs. It makes sense, then, to un­der­stand th­ese two steps first be­fore get­ting to the third one. Since this is a long es­say, it’s nec­es­sary that I quickly men­tion the three steps. The first two are the of­fi­cial de­ci­sions to or­der 83 Te­jas mk1a and 15 rudras, In­dia’s home-grown light com­bat he­li­copter (lch). The third step is not to go ahead with the deal for Spike anti-tank mis­siles from rafael of Is­rael. It’s also a fair warn­ing to say that since Te­jas has been crit­i­cised the most, vil­i­fied mer­ci­lessly in me­dia and other fo­rums by a force that’s as sus­pect as it is ex­traor­di­nar­ily pow­er­ful, a sub­stan­tial part of this es­say has been de­voted to deal­ing with the spe­cific points on which Te­jas is sup­posed to have fallen short. most of the forth­com­ing at­tacks on this new di­rec­tion that favours in­dige­nous de­fence projects will be fo­cussed on bring­ing down the Te­jas air­craft, the shin­ing jewel, and hence my un­abashedly di­rect ti­tle.

Be­fore div­ing into the col­umn, the read­ers also de­serve three clear dis­claimers. Th­ese dis­claimers, need­less to say, can also be treated as con­clu­sions. I guess there is no harm turn­ing the typ­i­cal struc­ture up­side down and putting the con­clu­sions up­front. The first is that modi and Sithara­man need to be con­grat­u­lated and com­mended for their brave de­ci­sions. The sec­ond is that this col­umn makes that rare plea to them to cancel the quest for a for­eign sin­gle-en­gine mul­ti­role fighter and fun­nel that money to­wards in­volv­ing dif­fer­ent pri­vate-sec­tor part­ners to rapidly pro­duce 350 Te­jas mk1as and 250 Te­jas mk IIS. The third is that this col­umn ex­pects a mas­sive at­tack on Te­jas and other in­dige­nous de­fence projects and ex­horts ev­ery­one who cares about In­dia’s na­tional se­cu­rity to pre-emp­tively re­pulse it by all means and meth­ods.

The insidious pre­sen­ta­tion and a bat­tle only half won

Now that dis­claimers-cum-con­clu­sions are out of the way, let’s get down to the first two steps. The first step is the of­fi­cial or­der, a ten­der, placed by the In­dian air Force (IAF) for 83 Te­jas mark 1a sin­gle-en­gine mul­ti­role fight­ers to Hin­dus­tan aero­nau­tics lim­ited (Hal). The sec­ond is the first se­ri­ous or­der placed by both the IAF and the In­dian army for 15 of the lim­ited se­ries vari­ant of the in­dige­nously prod­uct lch rudra. ad­di­tion­ally, the In­dian army air corp (Iaac) and the IAF have com­mit­ted to buy­ing fur­ther 114 and 65 rudras re­spec­tively.

No se­ri­ous ob­server of the de­fence sec­tor is un­der any il­lu­sion about the need for a proac­tive in­volve­ment of the de­fence min­istry in th­ese two de­ci­sions. It in­volved a pitched bat­tle with cer­tain pow­er­ful forces ac­tively sup­ported by

the for­eign arms lobby. In the case of Te­jas, as I noted in my pre­vi­ous col­umn in gov­er­nance Now dated De­cem­ber 31, 2017 (‘Why the Fight for Te­jas and a r - jun is Not Just about the De­fence Forces’), there was a con­certed last-minute push in­sin­u­at­ing that the fighter air­craft was ob­so­lete, not fighter or mul­ti­role enough and, quite shock­ingly, not wor­thy enough of re­plac­ing the ven­er­a­ble yet ter­ri­bly aged 1950s-vin­tage mig-21 se­ries of air­craft. This push was timed quite con­ve­niently with the con­certed cam­paign by the global aviation ma­jors to push their re­spec­tive sin­gle-en­gine fighter air­craft – notably the lock­heed-mar­tin F-16 Block 70 and the yet-to-be cer­ti­fied Saab gripen e that is still un­der­go­ing flight tri­als.

That last-minute push was a pre­sen­ta­tion made by cer­tain sec­tions of the IAF to top of­fi­cials of the de­fence min­istry sprin­kled with cer­tain se­lec­tive facts and fig­ures. The crux of the pre­sen­ta­tion was on four seem­ingly in­dis­putable facts. First was that Te­jas has abysmal en­durance time of just 59 min­utes in the air as op­posed to gripen’s three hours and the F-16’s nearly four hours. com­bat per­sis­tence, which is air force speak for how long you can stay in the air, is a crit­i­cal re­quire­ment for both air-to-air and ground at­tack missions. Sec­ond was that Te­jas air­craft’s weapons load of three tonnes did not com­pare favourably to the weapons load of gripen and F-16, at six and seven tonnes re­spec­tively. Third was that Te­jas takes al­most 20 hours of ser­vic­ing for ev­ery hour it flies as against six and three-and-a-half hours for gripen and F-16 re­spec­tively. Fourth was that Te­jas has half the ser­vice life of 20 years as op­posed to 40 years for both gripen and F-16. The pre­sen­ta­tion was strate­gi­cally and se­lec­tively leaked to the me­dia which swal­lowed it hook, line and sinker and quoted the so-called facts with­out ad­e­quate ver­i­fi­ca­tion. For­tu­nately, the de­fence min­istry seems to have not taken the bait, but it’s still only a bat­tle half won. The war is still com­ing and all our in­dige­nous de­fence ef­forts need to be pro­tected. care­ful anal­y­sis and un­pack­ing of the seem­ingly in­dis­putable facts would have re­vealed three things.

Myth 1: Te­jas has poor en­durance time

First, Te­jas’s en­durance time was cal­cu­lated in a man­ner that hand­i­capped Te­jas in two ways. one, the most ba­sic ver­sion of Te­jas was used for the cal­cu­la­tion. Te­jas LSP8 (lim­ited Se­rial Pro­duc­tion-8 that is the ba­sis for Se­rial Pro­duc­tion (SP) 1-20, the first squadron) does not have a mid-air re­fu­elling probe that Te­jas mk1a, 83 of which have been or­dered, will have. Two, both the F-16 and the gripen’s en­durance time was cal­cu­lated us­ing the fuel ca­pac­ity that both air­craft could carry us­ing both con­for­mal and non-com­for­mal fuel tanks, cfts and drop tanks in tech­ni­cal lan­guage, while Te­jas’s fuel ca­pac­ity was cal­cu­lated only us­ing its in­ter­nal fuel ca­pac­ity. In short, it’s like com­par­ing two cars with one not be­ing al­lowed to stop at any fuel pump and not al­lowed to carry ex­tra bot­tles of fuel, while the other al­lowed both the fa­cil­i­ties. re­fu­elling probe and drops tanks are ex­actly like ac­cess to petrol pumps and ex­tra bot­tles of gas. If one were to com­pare the ferry ranges of fully loaded Te­jas, gripen and F-16 with fuel tanks, they aren’t that alarm­ingly dif­fer­ent. Te­jas has a ferry range of slightly over 1,800 kilo­me­tres, a gripen slightly be­low 2,000 Km and F-16 around 3,000 km. For be­ing the small­est air­craft of the lot, Te­jas does ex­traor­di­nar­ily well.

Sec­ond, there are six ba­sic pa­ram­e­ters for as­sess­ing the po­tency and fight­ing ca­pac­ity of any mul­ti­role fighter air­craft: empty weight, loaded weight, max­i­mum take-off weight, speed at low and high alti­tude with a full weapons load, be­yond vis­ual range (BVR) ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. For un­pack­ing the myth of Te­jas’s in­fe­rior weapons car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, only the first three are re­quired. Speed at low and high alti­tude and with full weapons pay­load de­pends on the en­gine – F-16, Te­jas and gripen share the same gen­eral electric F-se­ries en­gine fam­ily – air­frame char­ac­ter­is­tics and the use of new-age ma­te­ri­als and man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques like car­bon com­pos­ites and riv­et­less shap­ing and mould­ing of parts and struc­tures. Te­jas is a class apart from F-16 and on par with gripen. I would re­ally like to press this point with rel­e­vant tech­ni­cal de­tails, but that would dis­tract from the point that needs to be made here. [any­one who wants to get into that tech­ni­cal de­bate can write to me di­rectly at rswami(at)gmail(dot) com.] BVR de­pends on the qual­ity and power of the radar, avail­abil­ity of in­frared track­ers, for­ward look­ing in­frared sen­sors and laser range find­ers – all of which are avail­able on Te­jas mk1a with sev­eral as de­tach­able pods – and the right ac­tive/pas­sive long/short range mis­sile mix in the weapons load. Te­jas mk1a will ini­tially be equipped with jointly de­vel­oped and pro­duced Hal-is­raeli el­bit el/m2052 ac­tive elec­tron­i­cally Scanned ar­ray (aesa) radar and later on re­placed com­pletely by the in­dige­nous ut­tam aesa. It must be kept in mind that only a hand­ful of coun­tries have mas­tered the tech­nolo­gies needed for the aesa radar. In­dia, with no small thanks to lrde and its sis­ter lab­o­ra­to­ries, is one of them.

Be­fore we get to ad­dress the core point of the in­fe­rior weapons pay­load of Te­jas, there is one thing to keep in mind, one al­ready men­tioned in pass­ing. Te­jas is the small­est of the three air­craft. It is the also the short­est in three crit­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters of length with 43 feet and 4 inches, height of 14 feet and 9 inches and wing­span of 26 feet and 11 inches. F-16, in con­trast, is 49 feet and 4 inches, 16 feet and 32 feet and 8 inches, while gripen is 46 feet and 3 inches, 14 feet and 9 inches (ex­actly as high as Te­jas) and 27 feet and 7 inches for the same pa­ram­e­ters. Yet, be­cause of its unique com­pound delta tail­less wing con­fig­u­ra­tion (a com­plex con­fig­u­ra­tion that’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to mas­ter but Nal, ada and Drdo sci­en­tists have), Te­jas has the largest wing area at 413 sq ft. F-16 and gripen have only

300 sq ft and 323 sq ft re­spec­tively. This large wing area pro­vides two ad­van­tages. It dra­mat­i­cally im­proves lift char­ac­ter­is­tics and ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. For in­stance, Te­jas has the best short take-off time among the three air­craft and it can pull the tight­est and the fastest 9 ‘g’ turns with full weapons pay­load. Delta wing con­fig­u­ra­tions are usu­ally con­sid­ered to pro­duce slug­gish re­sults in turns, but Te­jas crossed that ru­bi­con by evolv­ing some of the best con­trol laws in the world and then turn­ing them into a ro­bust and so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware pro­gramme that au­to­mat­i­cally man­ages flight pa­ram­e­ters. In a real-time war sce­nario both th­ese char­ac­ter­is­tics are ex­tremely use­ful. Short take-off time in­creases the num­ber of sor­ties pos­si­ble and the tight­est turns in the short­est time usu­ally proves to be the make or break in Within Vis­ual range (WVR) dog­fights. [look at how the rus­sians have al­most won the war in Syria against ISIS with a lim­ited num­ber of air­craft be­cause of the large num­ber of sor­ties that they were able to pull to­gether in a day. It is also no­table that the rus­sians man­aged to keep up the high sor­tie rates de­spite em­ploy­ing a ma­jor­ity of old air­craft, most notably Su24m2s and Su-25s. It would do well for those in power to re­mem­ber that there is more to air power strat­egy and air dom­i­nance than just hav­ing so­phis­ti­cated and ex­pen­sive fighter air­craft.] large wing area also al­lows for the pos­si­bil­ity to fix more hard­points in the fu­ture to carry a va­ri­ety of mis­siles, dumb bombs, laser guided mu­ni­tions and dif­fer­ent kinds of sen­sor pods. Te­jas has com­pa­ra­ble wing load­ing ca­pac­ity, which is the weight that per square me­tre of wing area can sup­port, with gripen. cur­rently, both gripen and Te­jas have eight hard­points each, while cer­tain vari­ants of the F-16, es­pe­cially the Block 60, have been cus­tomised with 11 hard­points. It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing here that when the F-16 first flew in 1976 – yes lock­heed­martin is hawk­ing us a 42-year-old an­cient air­frame – it had only four hard­points.

Myth 2: Te­jas can­not carry enough weapons

com­ing back to the so-called in­fe­rior weapons pay­load of Te­jas, a care­ful com­par­a­tive as­sess­ment of the empty, loaded and max­i­mum take-off weights of the gripen, F-16 and Te­jas with a clear in­ten­tion of turn­ing them into ra­tios would have once again re­vealed the age-old adage that num­bers and sta­tis­tics hide more than they re­veal. empty weight is the to­tal weight of the air­craft with­out any fuel and ar­ma­ments. In short, in tech­ni­cal terms, it’s a clean con­fig­u­ra­tion with­out any fuel. loaded weight is with fuel and ar­ma­ments. In short, it’s a mis­sion-ready con­fig­u­ra­tion. max­i­mum take-off weight in­cludes fuel loaded to ca­pac­ity, in­clud­ing drop tanks/con­for­mal fuel tanks, and weapons pay­load and sen­sors suite con­nected to all avail­able hard­points. In short, it’s a com­plete con­fig­u­ra­tion. Te­jas’s empty weight is 6,560 kg, loaded weight is 9,800 kg and max­i­mum take-off weight is 13,500 kg. an F-16 Block 60 vari­ant is 8,750 kg, 12,000 kg and 19,200 kg for the same pa­ram­e­ters, while a gripen is 6,800 kg, 8,500 kg and 14,000 kg re­spec­tively. even with­out get­ting into ra­tios, one can see that de­spite be­ing the small­est air­craft Te­jas is able to load and pull more than a gripen in both empty-to-loaded weight con­fig­u­ra­tion (3,240 kg for Te­jas in com­par­i­son to gripen’s 1,700 kg) and on par with the rel­a­tively larger F-16, which pulls up an ex­tra 10 kg than Te­jas at 3,250 kg.

The fig­ures also do not show Te­jas in a poor light in a com­par­a­tive as­sess­ment of both the empty-to-max­i­mum take-off and loaded-to-max­i­mum take-off weight con­fig­u­ra­tions. It’s nec­es­sary to re­mem­ber that F-16 Block 60/70 would in all prob­a­bil­ity be the last it­er­a­tion of the leg­endary fighter since the po­ten­tial of its air­frame has all but been ex­ploited to its max­i­mum pos­si­ble ex­tent. The gripen is also a more ma­ture plat­form with its po­ten­tial al­ready ex­plored to a large ex­tent. That’s one of the rea­sons why the un­der-de­vel­op­ment gripen e has been of­fered to In­dia. gripen first flew in 1987 and was in­ducted into the Swedish air Force in 1997. one must also re­mem­ber that gripen is a 30-year-old air­frame. There isn’t much to choose be­tween Te­jas and gripen in the empty-to-max­i­mum take­off weight com­par­i­son with gripen’s 7,200 kg just 160 kg more than Te­jas’s 6,940 kg, though the F-16 pulls in a shade over 3,000 kg more than both Te­jas and gripen at 10,450 kg. The gap in­creases quite a bit more in the loaded-to-max­i­mum take-off weight con­fig­u­ra­tion with gripen pulling in a good 1,200 kg more than Te­jas’s 3,700 kg and F-16 lift­ing 3,500 kg more, al­most dou­ble of what Te­jas can pull and lift cur­rently.

While this may seem to give some grav­ity to the insin­u­a­tion that Te­jas is an un­der­per­former, th­ese facts and fig­ures point to quite the

con­trary out­come. of

This col­umn makes that rare plea to Modi and Sithara­man to cancel the quest for a for­eign sin­gle-en­gine mul­ti­role fighter and fun­nel that money to­wards in­volv­ing dif­fer­ent pri­vate sec­tor part­ners to rapidly pro­duce 350 Te­jas Mk1as and 250 Te­jas Mk IIS.

the three air­craft, Te­jas uses the most ba­sic ge F-se­ries en­gine pro­duc­ing the least amount of dry and wet thrust. Dry and wet thrust de­ter­mines your take-off speed, cruis­ing speed and su­per­sonic speed, which is achieved us­ing af­ter­burn­ers, and the load car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. Yet, Te­jas has a su­pe­rior thrust-to-weight ra­tio of 0.96 in com­par­i­son to gripen’s 0.91 and just slightly lower than F-16’s 1.095. a thrust-to-weight ra­tio of close to one or greater than one is con­sid­ered phe­nom­e­nal among fighter air­craft. It means that the pro­por­tion of thrust gen­er­ated is al­most equal to or more than what is re­quired for the air­craft’s weight. This makes the air­craft fast, nim­ble and ex­tremely ma­noeu­vrable. a late model mig-29, for in­stance, con­sid­ered to be a for­mi­da­ble mul­ti­role fighter, car­ry­ing a mis­sion-spe­cific pay­load of in­ter­nal fuel and 4 air-to-air mis­siles has a thrust-to-weight ra­tio of 1.09, which is more thrust than what is re­quired for the air­craft, while a rafale m for the same mis­sion spe­cific con­fig­u­ra­tion has a ra­tio of 0.988. There are two im­por­tant as­pects to keep in mind here. The first is that the thrust-to-weight ra­tio of 0.96 of Te­jas has been achieved with its full in­ter­nal fuel, weapons and sen­sors pack­age load, and not in a mis­sion-spe­cific con­fig­u­ra­tion, while that of gripen and F-16 is the re­sult of the global test­ing stan­dards es­tab­lished by ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers that is 50% in­ter­nal fuel load and a ba­sic weapons pack­age, which is usu­ally four air-toair mis­siles. In short, when Te­jas achieved those num­bers its tank was full and all its eight hard­points were loaded. Te­jas was able to achieve those fan­tas­tic ra­tios de­spite car­ry­ing the weak­est en­gine of the three be­cause of the use of com­pos­ites and the unique mod­u­lar and hon­ey­comb struc­ture that ac­tu­ally has transformed its wings into a fuel tank. (Yes, Te­jas car­ries its fuel in the wings too.)

The sec­ond is that when Te­jas, F-16 and gripen are tested for thrust-to-weight ra­tio in their full con­fig­u­ra­tion (max­i­mum take-off weight), which in­cludes full in­ter­nal fuel load, two drop tanks, and the com­plete weapons and sen­sor pack­age, all three pro­duce a ra­tio any­where be­tween 0.57 to 0.62. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that in the max­i­mum take-off weight con­fig­u­ra­tion, even twin en­gine fighter air­craft like for­mi­da­ble mig-29, the su­perb rafale and the age­ing F-15 pro­duce very sim­i­lar ra­tios. What this re­ally means within the con­text of our com­par­i­son is that the late model F-16 Block 60 has favoured a heav­ier weapons, avion­ics and sen­sor load over speed and nim­ble­ness, while gripen has achieved a cer­tain sta­ble ma­tu­rity be­tween en­gine ca­pa­bil­ity, speed and weapons and sen­sor load, while Te­jas has the op­por­tu­nity and po­ten­tial to both sub­stan­tially in­crease its weapons and sen­sor load with­out com­pris­ing ei­ther on its speed or its in­her­ently un­sta­ble delta wing con­fig­u­ra­tion that pro­vides it su­perb nim­ble­ness and mis­sion-spe­cific range. That po­ten­tial is only en­hanced by the fact that Te­jas is go­ing to even­tu­ally get more pow­er­ful en­gines, in­clud­ing at some point the in­dige­nously pro­duced Kaveri (K-9/K-10) en­gines that will have much higher dry and wet thrust than the ge en­gines cur­rently on of­fer. Here one must keep in mind, and al­ways so, that Te­jas was and is en­vis­aged as a light air­craft to re­place mig-21s and take over and sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pand the age­ing fighter’s spe­cific mis­sion re­quire­ments.

Myth 3: Te­jas takes too long to ser­vice

The third point of ser­vice­abil­ity and the in­or­di­nately large num­ber of hours os­ten­si­bly taken to ser­vice Te­jas will not take same de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion that was re­quired to un­pack the myth of our home-grown fighter air­craft’s dis­mal weapons and sen­sor pack­age pay­load. In fact, it’s in­struc­tive for all of us to look to­wards lock­heed mar­tin it­self, one of the ma­jor play­ers push­ing the ser­vice­abil­ity ar­gu­ment in In­dia as a big plus point for F-16. amer­ica’s much vaunted and con­tro­ver­sial stealth air­craft F-35 light­en­ing II, pro­duced by the same lock­heed mar­tin, and de­pend­ing on the cal­cu­la­tion method used, takes any­where be­tween 41.5 hours to 52 hours of main­te­nance for ev­ery hour it flies in the air. The same lock­heed mar­tin when pressed for an ex­pla­na­tion by a con­gres­sional com­mit­tee and a task force con­sti­tuted by the us Depart­ment of De­fence said that any new plat­form em­ploy­ing tech­nolo­gies that are sub­stan­tially more so­phis­ti­cated than pre­vi­ously em­ployed will take a cer­tain amount of time to sta­bilise and em­bed it­self within any lo­gis­ti­cal and op­er­a­tional sys­tem. No words can be truer than that, and th­ese are as true for F-35 as it is for Te­jas in the In­dian con­text.

If in the con­text of F-35 and amer­i­can air­craft en­gi­neers, get­ting them to un­der­stand the process of main­tain­ing and pro­tect­ing the stealth coat­ing is an ap­pro­pri­ate chal­lenge with a mas­sive learn­ing curve, in the con­text of Te­jas, In­dian air­craft en­gi­neers and ground per­son­nel, get­ting them to un­der­stand and em­bed the pro­cesses of a plug-and-play self-di­ag­nos­tic main­te­nance soft­ware is the big chal­lenge and the big learn­ing curve. In short, ev­ery­one from air­craft main­te­nance en­gi­neers, flight crews, peo­ple who test dif­fer­ent kinds of air­craft sys­tems and sub­sys­tems to ground per­son­nel who man the air­craft have to get used to new ways of work­ing, new pro­cesses and new value chains. Te­jas is a mas­sive tech­no­log­i­cal jump for the IAF. Its sys­tems and sub-sys­tems are elec­tron­i­cally

That last-minute push was a pre­sen­ta­tion made by cer­tain sec­tions of the IAF to top of­fi­cials of the de­fence min­istry sprin­kled with cer­tain se­lec­tive facts and fig­ures. The crux of the pre­sen­ta­tion was on four seem­ingly in­dis­putable facts.

mapped and ev­ery sin­gle sub-sys­tem and its cor­re­spond­ing com­po­nents are part of a self-di­ag­nos­tic ecosys­tem. To com­pare the ser­vic­ing hours needed to fly an F-16, gripen and Te­jas for an hour is at best an ap­ples and or­anges com­par­i­son and at worst a com­pletely dis­hon­est way to deal with com­pe­ti­tion. as has been pointed out in sev­eral places in this col­umn it­self, F-16 is a 40-year-old warhorse and gripen is no spring chicken ei­ther, hav­ing touched 30 last year. The sys­tems, pro­cesses and the train­ing and re­train­ing of en­gi­neers and other per­son­nel, not to men­tion the spare parts ecosys­tem, is far more well es­tab­lished and ma­ture for both air­craft than for Te­jas.

an hon­est com­par­i­son would have been to see by what percentage and pro­por­tion have the ser­vic­ing hours re­duced over the course of one year in the 45th ‘Fly­ing Dag­gers’ Squadron, Te­jas fighter air­craft’s home. even a month-on-month com­par­i­son would have re­vealed that Te­jas is well on its way to be­com­ing one of the best air­crafts in the world in terms of the amount of ser­vic­ing hours re­quired for one hour of fly­ing. care­ful ob­servers of Te­jas’s in­cep­tion, growth, evo­lu­tion and its baby steps will know and ap­pre­ci­ate the thought­ful­ness with which the air­craft has been de­signed keep­ing in mind the ease of fly­ing and main­te­nance. The air­frame has been de­signed us­ing a mod­u­lar ap­proach. Sys­tems and sub-sys­tems, in­clud­ing at the ba­sic com­po­nent level, are easy to reach for an en­gi­neer and it’s like a sim­ple com­puter in terms of plug­ging out an old part, plug­ging in a new one and get­ting back to play­ing. large parts of the air­frame are also man­u­fac­tured us­ing car­bon and graphite com­pos­ites us­ing a unique bak­ing method. This makes the air­frame un­usu­ally strong and also pro­vides for 40 per­cent less nuts, bolts and riv­ets. With lesser num­ber of nuts, bolts and riv­ets, not only are the main­te­nance re­quire­ments min­imised, but even the ser­vice life of the air­frame is in­creased.

Myth 4: Te­jas ser­vice life is half that of f-16, gripen

This, of course, au­to­mat­i­cally leads us to the fourth myth of Te­jas’s ser­vice life be­ing half of that of F-16 and gripen. Since F-16 first flew in 1974 and gripen in 1986, any­one with a cu­ri­ous bent of mind will ask if both the air­frames have reached their full po­ten­tial, or at least have sub­stan­tially trav­elled down that road. Now, that’s a ques­tion worth ask­ing both lock­heed mar­tin and Saab and the rab­bit hole that it will un­cover will re­quire reams of pages and a huge amount of tech­ni­cal anal­y­sis. That’s for an­other day, an­other time and maybe a dif­fer­ent space. This par­tic­u­lar point of Te­jas’s ser­vice life is an out­right lie, un­like the pre­vi­ous three points that were based on cherry-pick­ing num­bers and string­ing them to­gether in a par­tic­u­lar way to make Te­jas seem in­ad­e­quate. This par­tic­u­lar point is also go­ing to take the long­est ex­pla­na­tion and might even test a reader’s pa­tience. But I am sure that such pa­tience will be well re­warded. Te­jas’s ba­sic ser­vice life is at least 30 years and with reg­u­lar up­grades its life can be ex­tended to at least 60 years. This par­tic­u­lar piece of in­for­ma­tion is re­mark­ably sig­nif­i­cant and means the fol­low­ing. a Te­jas air­craft that’s in­ducted to­day in the 45th ‘Fly­ing Dag­gers’ squadron can keep fly­ing till 2048 with only stan­dard and reg­u­lar main­te­nance that’s re­quired for any fighter air­craft in the world. The same Te­jas air­craft can keep fly­ing till 2078 with the kind of ‘deep up­grades’ that Hin­dus­tan aero­nau­tics is car­ry­ing out for the deep pen­e­tra­tion Jaguar (called DARIN II) or the kind that rus­sian, Is­raeli and In­dian com­pa­nies, both Hal and the pri­vate sec­tor, car­ried out as part of Drdo’s blueprint for the mig-21 Bisons, mig-27s and the mig-29s.

Th­ese up­grades have transformed what were

con­sid­ered to be ob­so­lete air­craft, so much so that the over­con­fi­dent amer­i­can fighter pi­lots fly­ing the much vaunted F-15s and F-16s dur­ing cope In­dia air ex­er­cises were of­ten roundly thrashed by the up­graded mig-21 Bisons up­graded with the rus­sian Kopyo/spear radar. The ef­fec­tive­ness of th­ese deep up­grades has not gone un­no­ticed and the rus­sians have their own pro­gramme of deep up­grades for al­most all their legacy air­craft from the Sukhoi, mig to the Tupolev se­ries. Now the Is­raelis, it seems, are catch­ing on to the trick. What might be con­sid­ered as blas­phemy to some, the amer­i­cans un­der Don­ald Trump are also se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing ‘deep up­grades’ for F-15s, F-16s and F/a18 Hor­nets, apart from their a-10 tank busters and their chi­nook heavy lift he­li­copters. The point, long and short of it, is that some of the world’s best air forces are pick­ing up con­cepts of frugal en­gi­neer­ing that our tech­ni­cians, en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists have evolved. There is, maybe, a per­ti­nent les­son that the In­dian de­ci­sions mak­ers need to al­ways keep in mind when con­fronted with sug­ges­tions of off-the-shelf im­ported ac­qui­si­tions for main­tain­ing and ramp­ing up our mil­i­tary and de­fence in­fra­struc­ture.

But that’s a rel­a­tively mi­nor point within the con­text of coun­ter­ing the insidious pro­pa­ganda about Te­jas’s ser­vice life. The out­right lie de­ployed by the pow­er­ful forces about our home-grown air­craft ob­fus­cates the most shin­ing as­pect of Te­jas, which is its ser­vice life. The typ­i­cal ser­vice life of any fourth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft pro­duced in the 1970s and the early 1980s, which prac­ti­cally in­cludes all the non-stealth air­craft that you can think of, from F-15, F-16, F/a-18 to mig-29, mig-35 and the Sukhoi-30/35 se­ries, is real­is­ti­cally only around 25 years. midlife up­grades and deep up­grades can ex­tend the life by an­other 20 years, and if the push comes to shove it can carry for an­other seven to 10 years be­yond that. In short, all the air­craft men­tioned above have a re­al­is­tic life­span of only about 45-50 years. There is a spe­cific rea­son for it.

all such air­craft, re­ferred to by many as fourth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft, were made a time when com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als were rarely used. Such air­craft ex­ten­sively use alu­minium and its al­loys like alu­minium-lithium, high strength and high car­bon steel and small amounts of ti­ta­nium for ar­eas which re­quire in­tense strength and heat absorption ca­pac­i­ties. For in­stance, both the amer­i­can a-10 and Su25, sim­i­lar to each other in mis­sion pro­file, use ti­ta­nium around the cock­pit area, al­most fash­ion­ing it like a pro­tec­tive bucket, to keep the pilot safe from low-level an­ti­air­craft fire. one of the key mis­sion re­quire­ments for both air­craft is to fly low and take out tanks. Sim­i­larly, Sr-71 Black­bird, the amer­i­can spy plane, and the mig-31 in­ter­cep­tor both use ti­ta­nium to ab­sorb the in­tense heat gen­er­ated by air fric­tion be­cause of their abil­ity to fly up to mach 3.2 speeds.

Dur­ing the 1970s and ‘80s there were only a few stan­dard air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques avail­able. air­craft were ei­ther made of stamped and moulded metal parts – a simpler tech­nique favoured by the Soviet fac­to­ries for mass man­u­fac­tur­ing air­craft – or were milled to blueprints and spec­i­fi­ca­tions, a more com­plex tech­nique favoured by Western com­pa­nies. even to­day, the rus­sians pre­fer sim­plic­ity, though their later gen­er­a­tion air­craft have started us­ing milled parts, which es­sen­tially in­volves carv­ing out parts from blocks of metal. each tech­nique had its pros and cons, and both did evolve with the times and in­te­grated the rapidly evolved com­puter-aided de­sign and man­u­fac­tur- ing tech­nolo­gies. Yet, the fun­da­men­tal physics of air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing re­mained the same: one couldn’t sim­ply stamp or mill a metal piece – whether alu­minium, steel, ti­ta­nium or any al­loy – be­yond a cer­tain size with­out sub­ject­ing it un­ac­cept­able lev­els of stress that would dam­age and en­dan­ger the air­craft and the pilot. This meant that ma­jor parts of the air­craft, like fuse­lage and wings, had to be riv­eted to­gether. all things be­ing equal, es­pe­cially the laws of physics, and with­out tak­ing into ac­count the spe­cific con­di­tions of use of a par­tic­u­lar air­craft, the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of avion­ics and weapons load and aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency of the air­craft, which de­pended on how well de­signed the air­frame was, the life of an air­craft es­sen­tially de­pended on two things: the kind and pro­por­tion of met­als and al­loys used and the num­ber of riv­ets hold­ing ev­ery­thing to­gether.

Be­tween the two, riv­ets (nuts, bolts and fas­ten­ers) ar­guably play a more im­por­tant role in de­ter­min­ing an air­frame’s air­wor­thi­ness and life. The num­ber of riv­ets, with lesser the bet­ter, in an air­craft is im­por­tant for two rea­sons. First, more riv­ets in­creases the main­te­nance time and costs ad­versely af­fect­ing the turn­around time and sor­tie rates dur­ing an ac­tual con­flict. Sec­ond, when riv­ets are used to join parts, the sur­faces of both the parts that have been bolted to­gether us­ing var­i­ous kinds of riv­ets are of­ten the first ar­eas to be ex­posed to metal stress and mi­cro­scopic frac­tures and fis­sures. Such metal stress in tech­ni­cal terms is re­ferred to as struc­tural fa­tigue. Th­ese cracks, invisible to the naked eye, can cause ev­ery­thing from a cat­a­strophic fail­ure when ex­posed to high ‘g’ forces to dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the ac­tual life of an air­frame.

an F-16, even a late Block 60 model or the pro­posed Block 70 be­ing of­fered to In­dia, is man­u­fac­tured us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of both the above men­tioned pro­cesses. De­spite all the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of soft­ware-en­abled blueprint­ing, com­puter-aided de­sign and so­phis­ti­cated in­dus­trial robots do­ing the milling and stamp­ing, the es­sen­tial man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nique re­mains the same. Now, that the man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses and pro­duc­tion tech­niques of a fourth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft has been es­tab­lished, it’s time to bring Te­jas back into the spot­light and for that one

needs to a take short but nec­es­sary de­tour to un­der­stand the cat­e­gori­sa­tion of newer fighter air­craft.

There are sev­eral rea­sons why an air­craft is clas­si­fied as a 4.5-gen­er­a­tion air­craft. That des­ig­na­tion is used to de­fine air­craft that are not fifth-gen­er­a­tion, the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of which are stealth and su­per­cruis­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, but have in­te­grated newer tech­nolo­gies ori­ented to­ward net­work war­fare, self-di­ag­no­sis and new- er man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses. The rus­sians of­ten use the ‘4+/4++’ des­ig­na­tion. Both are, how­ever, dif­fer­ent. The rus­sian SU-35S is bril­liant late evo­lu­tion of the Su-27 Flanker air­frame and is ar­guably the best heavy fighter in its class to­day out­class­ing even the leg­endary amer­i­can F-15 late mod­els that have been sold to South Korea and Qatar. The SU-35S in­cor­po­rates sev­eral fea­tures and cus­tomi­sa­tions that the IAF, with gen­er­ous help from ada sci­en­tists, Hal en­gi­neers and Drdo sci­en­tists, had first got­ten in­cor­po­rated into the SU-30MKI. Th­ese ranged from an all-glass dig­i­tal cock­pit, ad­vanced avion­ics from In­dian, French and Is­raeli sources to lit­er­ally forc­ing the rus­sians to cre­ate a cus­tomised ver­sion of the N011m Bars Pas­sive elec­tron­i­cally Scanned ar­ray (Pesa) radar for the air­craft. of course, the rus­sians have used in­dige­nous equip­ment for SU-35S. a 4+/4++ air­craft will have ad­vanced avion­ics, net­work-cen­tric war­fare ca­pa­bil­ity, ex­ten­sive use of radar ab­sorbent paint to re­duce the radar cross Sec­tion (rcs) and an abil­ity to act both as an early warn­ing plat­form and as re­fu­elling sta­tion for other fighter air­craft if the need arises. Th­ese are all con­sid­ered to be a 4.5-gen­er­a­tion air­craft’s defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics too, yet there is one crit­i­cal pa­ram­e­ter that the 4+/4++ gen­er­a­tion air­craft don’t ful­fil. even if they re­ally wanted to they can­not un­less the tool­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses of the air­craft are com­pletely changed. If that’s done, one might as well build a brand-new air­craft from scratch. That crit­i­cal fac­tor is the use of com­pos­ites in a sig­nif­i­cant man­ner in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

Te­jas, gripen, Ty­phoon and rafale are true 4.5-gen­er­a­tion fight­ers due to the use of com­pos­ites and the by-de­fault in­cor­po­ra­tion of dif­fer­ent pro­cesses and tech­niques of man­u­fac­tur­ing that come with us­ing com­pos­ites. In air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pos­ites refers to two man­made ma­te­ri­als: car­bon re­in­forced and glass-fi­bre re­in­forced plas­tics. Both are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult ma­te­ri­als to mas­ter. Ty­phoon and rafale use both. They are a dif­fer­ent class of fight­ers and it’s best to keep them aside for pur­poses of com­par­ing ap­ples to ap­ples and not to or­anges. For the record, how­ever, Ty­phoon and rafale uses 72 per­cent and 70 per­cent com­pos­ites re­spec­tively which con­sti­tute 40 per­cent and 26 per­cent of their re­spec­tive air­craft’s struc­tural weights. Th­ese num­bers are sig­nif­i­cant be­cause de­spite the high over­all use of com­pos­ites, the con­tri­bu­tion to the over­all weight of the air­craft is 40 per­cent or less in­di­cat­ing that crit­i­cal struc­tural com­po­nents like fuse­lage, wings and nose (called radome in tech­ni­cal lan­guage since it pro­tects the radar and also am­pli­fies its power) still use a sub­stan­tial amount of con­ven­tional ma­te­ri­als. It’s to be ex­pected since both Ty­phoon and rafale are among the ear­li­est 4.5-gen­er­a­tion fight­ers to take to the air, with Ty­phoon first fly­ing in 1994 and rafale a full eight years ear­lier in 1986.

gripen, which is a di­rect com­peti­tor to Te­jas, uses 25 per­cent com­pos­ites, which con­trib­utes to slightly less than 20 per­cent of the over­all air­craft weight, a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in com­par­i­son to Ty­phoon and rafale, in­di­cat­ing that sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of the air­craft’s crit­i­cal struc­tural parts like wings, fuse­lage, ailerons, radome have been man­u­fac­tured in­cor­po­rat­ing large pro­por­tion of com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als. Te­jas, in con­trast, is also com­posed around 30 per­cent com­pos­ites, but that con­sti­tutes 45 per­cent of the air­craft’s over­all weight. In short, Te­jas has most def­i­nitely used the max­i­mum pro­por­tion of com­pos­ites for the most crit­i­cal and the heavy struc­tural parts of an air­craft, namely fuse­lage, radome, wing and all the wing con­trol sur­faces like aileron. That’s an en­gi­neer­ing feat in it­self, some­thing that needs to be cel­e­brated with all the pomp and glory it de­serves. It’s not easy and just hand­ful of coun­tries – Swe­den, the us, France, ger­many and the uk – have this ca­pac­ity. even in con­ven­tional fighter air­craft en­gi­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy, Te­jas is first in the world on sev­eral counts. one in­stance needs par­tic­u­lar men­tion. The tail­fin is carved out of a sin­gle block of ti­ta­nium us­ing a fully com­put­erised nu­mer­i­cally con­trolled (au­to­mated) ma­chine that’s been in­dige­nously pro­duced. No air­craft man­u­fac­turer in the world has achieved this.

The use of com­pos­ites by Te­jas is also sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it de­stroys the lie that’s been ped­dled about its ser­vice life through sheer en­gi­neer­ing logic. com­pos­ites have two char­ac­ter­is­tics. They are ex­tremely light­weight and ex­traor­di­nar­ily strong. This du­al­ity comes from a

The tail­fin of Te­jas is carved out of a sin­gle block of ti­ta­nium us­ing a fully com­put­erised nu­mer­i­cally con­trolled (au­to­mated) ma­chine that’s been in­dige­nously pro­duced. No air­craft man­u­fac­turer in the world has achieved this feat.

com­bi­na­tion of the ma­te­ri­als used and the man­ner in which they are fused to­gether in a com­pli­cated bak­ing tech­nique where thou­sands of ul­tra-thin lay­ers has to be care­fully at­tached to next to make an ab­so­lutely com­pact sheet. Not even tiny bub­ble of air can en­ter th­ese lay­ers. Th­ese two char­ac­ter­is­tics give com­pos­ites more strength in a square inch than any con­ven­tional ma­te­rial. This ex­tra­or­di­nary strength al­lows com­pos­ites to sig­nif­i­cantly by­pass the size prob­lem that the fourth and 4+/4++ gen­er­a­tion air­craft face. What it means is that air­craft parts made of com­pos­ites can lit­er­ally be moulded as one piece. a con­ven­tional fourth-gen­er­a­tion wing may take up to three parts, while a Te­jas wing is just one sin­gle piece.

What this means for the en­tire air­craft is as fol­lows: 40% re­duc­tion in the to­tal num­ber of parts com­pared to a metal­lic frame air­craft, num­ber of fas­ten­ers re­duced by half, that is, to 5,000 from the typ­i­cal 10,000 that would have been re­quired, 2,000 fewer holes be­ing drilled into the air­frame, over­all weight re­duc­tion by over 21%. apart from all other sorts of re­duc­tions, from costs, pro­duc­tion and as­sem­bly time to main­te­nance hours, there is one sub­stan­tial in­crease. The en­tire life of the air­frame and by ex­ten­sion of the air­craft has sub­stan­tially in­creased be­cause the use of com­pos­ites, es­pe­cially in the crit­i­cal parts like fuse­lage and wings, gives Te­jas an en­gi­neer­ing edge af­forded by sig­nif­i­cantly fewer nuts, bolts and riv­ets to stave off struc­tural fa­tigue for a longer pe­riod of time than any con­ven­tional fourth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft.

By un­pack­ing th­ese four myths, I don’t ex­pect the at­tacks on Te­jas to cease or the same myths not to be per­pet­u­ated in dif­fer­ent forms and shapes. In fact, I ex­pect the at­tacks to in­crease in in­ten­sity and fe­roc­ity. But what I hope is that when such myths and un­truths about our home­grown fighter are bandied about care­lessly, there would at least be a small and in­formed mi­nor­ity that would blow the pur­vey­ors of such myths out of the sky with sheer weight of facts and en­gi­neer­ing logic.

Te­jas’s lit­tle brother Rudra’s fight to the top and lessons for the big brother

The rudra faced a dif­fer­ent and in a way more un­fair fight. The pow­ers that be pit­ted rudra – the first at­tack he­li­copter to land in Si­achen’s high alti­tude for­ward bases, which is no mean achieve­ment – against the iconic amer­i­can-made apache-64e ‘long­bow’ at­tack he­li­copters. Two things must be kept in mind. First, apache-64 first flew in 1975 and has un­der­gone sev­eral up­grades over the years and the 64e ver­sion is the most ad­vanced of the lot. The long­bow has also seen ac­tion on sev­eral fronts, most notably dur­ing the two gulf Wars, and came out with fly­ing colours. Sec­ond, the apache-64e won the In­dian con­tract for 22 at­tack he­li­copter-cum-gun­ships against the ex­traor­di­nar­ily ca­pa­ble rus­sian mi-28n ‘Havoc/nighthunter’. The mi-28 first flew in 1982 and like apache has un­der­gone sig­nif­i­cant up­grades and is com­bat tested in afghanistan. The rudra, de­spite the un­fair­ness of such com­par­isons, passed all tests in a “spec­tac­u­lar” fash­ion meet­ing ev­ery sin­gle bench­mark of the Qual­i­ta­tive Staff re­quire­ments (QSR) com­fort­ably and in some cases top­ping both the mi-28n and apache-64e de­spite be­ing of a dif­fer­ent class. In terms of anal­ogy, it’s a like a medium weight boxer hold­ing his ground in the heavy­weight di­vi­sion. The word ‘spec­tac­u­lar’ is not mine but of a highly placed IAF source who I know is not prone to us­ing ad­jec­tives lightly.

rudra is a di­rect de­riv­a­tive of the Dhruv he­li­copter, which has a civil­ian ver­sion, sev­eral armed forces vari­ants for util­ity, med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion, troop trans­port and lo­gis­tics and a he­li­copter gun­ship ver­sion. Need­less to say, Dhruv first and rudra later, faced a few be­nign and sev­eral hos­tile ques­tions and at­tacks about their strength, use­ful­ness, cred­i­bil­ity and even facile dis­cus­sions about whether they were in­dige­nous enough to be called home­grown. How­ever, un­like the Te­jas and ar­jun, the stakes were never high enough for th­ese at­tacks to ei­ther be­come in­ten­sive or all-en­com­pass­ing be­cause of two rea­sons. First, the IAF and the air arm of the In­dian navy were di­rectly in­volved in evolv­ing the re­quire­ments for the ad­vanced light he­li­copter (alh) pro­gramme, which is how Dhruv was ini­tially called. Sec­ond, sev­eral part­ners were in­volved from the be­gin­ning. For in­stance, ger­many’s messer­schmitt-bölkow-blohm, which is now part of air­bus, was the de­sign con­sul­tant while France’s Tur­bomeca (now Safran He­li­copter en­gines) helped ex­ten­sively in de­sign­ing the en­gine that even­tu­ally led to the Hal de­vel­op­ing the ex­tremely ca­pa­ble in­dige­nous en­gine Shakti that

has ex­cel­lent high alti­tude per­for­mance. He­li­copters that can per­form ef­fec­tively in high alti­tude ar­eas are a crit­i­cal need for In­dia to main­tain its dom­i­nance in Si­achen and other moun­tain­ous ar­eas around both the Pak­istani and chi­nese bor­ders.

Dhruv and rudra, like Te­jas, also faced the im­pact of the us-led sanc­tions af­ter the Pokhran nu­clear tests and the alh team of­ten had to think on its feet and do things in a cre­ative and in­no­va­tive man­ner. Three out-of-box mea­sures need to be men­tioned here, some­thing that the team which is de­vel­op­ing the su­pe­rior iterations of Te­jas from mark 1a to mark 2 would do well to keep in mind. The first was to rum­mage through and lever­age the mas­sive in­ter­nal strengths that lie in our nu­mer­ous and low pro­file cen­tral and state lab­o­ra­to­ries, univer­sity ecosys­tem and the pri­vate sec­tor and ap­ply them as so­lu­tions. For ex­am­ple, like Te­jas, Dhruv also faced the crit­i­cism of be­ing over­weight and not hav­ing the legs to fly. The alh team, iron­i­cally, took a leaf out of the ada and used the Kevlar and car­bon fi­bre com­pos­ites de­vel­oped by the csir-nal lab­o­ra­to­ries for the Te­jas radome and air­frame to pro­vide strength and re­duce the weight of Dhruv. To­day, sixty per­cent of Dhruv’s air­frame, con­sti­tut­ing around 30 per­cent’s of he­li­copter’s weight, is made out of com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als. The sec­ond was to quickly move to­wards in­di­geni­sa­tion of im­ported sys­tems and sub-sys­tems, even to the ex­tent of adopt­ing an it­er­a­tive and rapid pro­to­typ­ing ap­proach. For ex­am­ple, the alh team ag­gres­sively moved to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of the in­dige­nous Shakti en­gine and proac­tively sought the en­gage­ment of In­dian pri­vate play­ers. also, the de­sign team kept re­work­ing parts, com­po­nents and en­gi­neer­ing lay­outs to re­spond to real time feed­back as the Dhruv was put into ser­vice. This is a good les­son that the gas Tur­bine re­search es­tab­lish­ment (gtre) can adopt for the Kaveri-en­gine and Kabini-core de­rived K-9 and K-10 ver­sions. of course, one does un­der­stand that de­vel­op­ing a jet en­gine from scratch is a dif­fer­ent ball game than de­vel­op­ing a rel­a­tively simpler he­li­copter en­gine. The third was not to wait for do­mes­tic or­ders or de­pend on the min­istry of de­fence or the forces. Hal ag­gres­sively en­tered the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket and started com­pet­ing against the best in the world. The ini­tial for­ays were dis­ap­point­ing, but it gave Hal an ex­cel­lent un­der­stand­ing of what it took to com­pete at the global level. To­day, Dhruv and its sev­eral vari­ants serve civil­ian in­sti­tu­tions and mil­i­tary and po­lice forces of Turkey, Peru, ecuador, mal­dives, mau­ri­tius, Nepal, Suri­name and even Is­rael. That’s a tremen­dous achieve­ment con­sid­er­ing that Hal has had to go head-to-head in open ten­der com­pe­ti­tions with global he­li­copter ma­jors like Bell.

What th­ese three mea­sures, to­gether, did for Dhruv was to re­duce its it­er­a­tive cy­cle mak­ing it eas­ier and simpler to keep bring­ing out new ver­sions, thereby negat­ing any crit­i­cism that was thrown at it, while at the same time gar­ner­ing in­ter­na­tional ku­dos and fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, some­thing that’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily dif­fi­cult to counter no mat­ter how de­ter­mined any pow­er­ful force is to bring down an in­dige­nous ef­fort. It must also be men­tioned here that the Hal worked ex­ten­sively with the In­dian navy, a force that has a fairly ro­bust record in sup­port­ing in­dige­nous projects and in­duct­ing them, and con­vinced them through sev­eral rounds of strin­gent tests of the world class stan­dards of Dhruv and rudra. The clincher for both, a tip­ping point be­yond which it was dif­fi­cult for any­one to sab­o­tage the project, was when the In­dian navy in its fi­nal round of tests in 2012-13 to pick up a he­li­copter for coastal sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions said that rudra’s sen­sor sys­tems were so ad­vanced and so pre­cise that it was able to not only track

To­day, Dhruv and its sev­eral vari­ants serve civil­ian in­sti­tu­tions and mil­i­tary and po­lice forces of sev­eral coun­tries in­clud­ing Is­rael. That’s a tremen­dous feat con­sid­er­ing that HAL has had to go head-to-head in open ten­der com­pe­ti­tions with global he­li­copter ma­jors like Bell.

ships at a 14 km range, but was ac­tu­ally able to read their names as well: an en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel made pos­si­ble by the joint ef­forts of In­dian sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers, lab­o­ra­to­ries, In­dian com­pa­nies and project man­agers.

Spik­ing Spike and giv­ing nag a new lease of life

The third step taken by modi and Sithara­man is to cancel the deal for Spike anti-tank mis­siles that were to be ac­quired from rafael Industries of Is­rael. This step is not con­nected to the first two in any di­rect or ma­te­rial way, but por­tends to a larger nar­ra­tive of in­di­geni­sa­tion and self-suf­fi­ciency, if not self-reliance, that seems to be de­vel­op­ing in the top-most lay­ers of In­dian de­ci­sion-mak­ers led by modi. The Spike or­der was worth over a bil­lion us dol­lars and would have given the In­dian army close to 8,500 of th­ese fourth-gen­er­a­tion ‘fire-and-for­get’ mis­siles, in­clud­ing their shoul­der mounted and shoul­der fired man Por­ta­ble, or man­pad, ver­sions. Bharat Dy­nam­ics lim­ited (BDL) was to be the sys­tems in­te­gra­tor.

How the Spike deal got through and how it reached al­most the fi­nal stage is a lit­tle bit of a mys­tery – more so when the in­dige­nously pro­duced, equally ca­pa­ble, sim­i­larly ver­sa­tile, ex­ten­sively tested, ap­par­ently in­ducted Nag anti-mis­sile was al­ready avail­able. The most com­mon the­ory is that BDL, which pro­duces the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion French an­ti­tank mi­lan mis­sile and rus­sian Konkurs un­der li­cence for the In­dian armed forces, just did not have enough pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity to ful­fil the re­quire­ment of 7,000 Nag mis­siles in its var­i­ous ver­sions. BDL de­nies this and no one re­ally knows how the best so­lu­tion came to be the di­rect im­port of the Is­raeli mis­sile and its li­cence pro­duc­tion at BDL. of course, the sim­ple ques­tion then arises as to how Bdl’s pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity would have mag­i­cally in­creased to pro­duce the 7,000-odd mis­siles, ex­actly the num­ber of Nag mis­siles en­vis­aged. The first 1,600 Spikes were to be di­rectly im­ported as stand­alone kits from rafael.

Typ­i­cal con­ven­tional at­tacks will fea­ture two prom­i­nent thrusts, a ground at­tack com­pris­ing en­emy ar­mour and an air at­tack com­pris­ing a mix of mul­ti­role, air dom­i­nance and ground at­tack air­craft. From that per­spec­tive, two mis­sile sys­tems will al­ways be crit­i­cal in de­ter­min­ing how ef­fec­tively a coun­try is able to de­fend it­self and then quickly mount a counter of­fen­sive. The first is short-, medium- and long-range sur­face-to-air mis­siles that have to be so­phis­ti­cated enough to jam all sorts of en­emy elec­tronic counter mea­sures (ecms) and have enough legs, which de­pends on the com­po­si­tion of solid pro­pel­lants, to pur­sue an en­emy air­craft when it de­ploys eva­sive ma­noeu­vres. The sec­ond is that the anti-tank mis­siles should have the punch to stop en­emy ar­mour in its tracks. This means that the anti-tank mis­siles have to be so­phis­ti­cated enough to negate elec­tronic coun­ter­mea­sures, have the ca­pac­ity to sus­tain dam­age that could be in­flicted by ex­plo­sive re­ac­tive ar­mour (era), and still pen­e­trate the ar­mour, and de­feat other kinds of mea­sures rang­ing from low tech smoke screens and to hi-tech elec­tro op­ti­cal ac­tive pro­tec­tion de­vices like the Sh­tora sys­tem de­ployed on the rus­sian T-90S tanks.

Since th­ese two mis­sile sys­tems are so crit­i­cal, it is but nat­u­ral that they are also go­ing to be re­quired in large num­bers. like Te­jas, ar­jun, rudra, the In­dian short- and medium-range mis­sile pro­gramme was also sub­ject to sev­eral dam­ag­ing false­hoods and base­less insin­u­a­tions. In­dia’s strate­gic mis­sile pro­gramme is quite well known be­cause of ex­tremely suc­cess­ful mis­sile and anti-mis­sile sys­tems like Prithvi and Prithvi air De­fence Sys­tem (PADS) and the en­tire agni se­ries of in­ter­me­di­ate and ‘near’ in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal range of mis­siles. of course, there was no in­cen­tive to tar­get those pro­grammes be­cause in­ter­na­tional mis­sile con­trol treaties like mis­sile con­trol Tech­nol­ogy regime (mctr) do not al­low coun­tries and com­pa­nies to sell mis­siles of those kinds and those ranges. But In­dia also has an ex­tremely suc­cess­ful mis­sile pro­gramme, led by Drdo, to de­velop both short- and medium-range mis­siles. Th­ese mis­siles are the short-range sur­face-to-air mis­sile Tr­ishul, medium range sur­face-to-air mis­sile akash, anti-tank mis­sile Nag and sev­eral other mis­sile sys­tems, most notably the be­yond vis­ual range air-to-air mis­sile as­tra. This pro­gramme was part of the In­te­grated guided mis­sile De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (IGMDP) that was for a pe­riod of time led by APJ ab­dul Kalam.

Since the in­ter­na­tional de­fence mar­ket for short- and medium-range mis­siles is highly com­pet­i­tive, it was no sur­prise that the In­dian mis­sile sys­tems were tar­geted. Tr­ishul and akash had to lit­er­ally go through fire and akash has been for­mally in­ducted. Be­tween the two, akash has been suc­cess­ful be­cause the Drdo put it through a strin­gent sys­tem of tests, tighter than what com­pa­ra­ble for­eign sys­tems go through. Th­ese tests are car­ried out even now af­ter ev­ery three months where ran­dom batches of in­ducted akash sys­tems are pulled out and tested. akash has come through fly­ing colours hit­ting their tar­gets ev­ery sin­gle time. Tr­ishul has had a mixed run, with global ma­jors some­times get­ting an up­per hand and get­ting their sys­tems to be adopted. This is not be­cause Tr­ishul is an

If one were to take the risk of read­ing into the emerg­ing pat­tern it seems that there is strong in­cli­na­tion, if not a strat­egy, to back In­dian ef­forts and In­dian prod­ucts. This is a wel­come de­par­ture from decades of im­port­driven strate­gies for es­tab­lish­ing our na­tional se­cu­rity.

in­fe­rior sys­tem, but be­cause it has of­ten not given the op­por­tu­nity to per­form and prove it­self. In­dia of­fi­cially wound up the Tr­ishul pro­gramme in 2008 and designated it a tech­nol­ogy demon­stra­tor. There is, how­ever, a strong case for re­viv­ing it. as­tra is go­ing through an even tougher time with the IAF ask­ing Derby, a com­pa­ra­ble mis­sile sys­tem, to be in­te­grated with Te­jas, which has been done. But if the de­ci­sion on the Spike anti-tank mis­sile is an in­di­ca­tion, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the or­der for the Derby and Python-5 mis­sile sys­tems was lim­ited and money chan­nelised to fi­nalise the pro­duc­tion and in­duc­tion of as­tra.

Tr­ishul, akash, Nag and as­tra are all world-class sys­tems able to com­pete with the best that the rus­sian, Is­raeli or the Western world has to of­fer. many of th­ese sys­tems have also ben­e­fit­ted from the col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach taken by the Drdo. The rea­son akash, for in­stance, is so ef­fec­tive is be­cause it uses a ram­jet rocket propul­sion sys­tem, a rus­sian spe­cial­ity, that al­lows it to sus­tain a mach 2.5 speed cou­pled with ex­treme ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. This means that the mis­sile is fast enough to catch any fighter air­craft and nim­ble enough to keep fol­low­ing it ir­re­spec­tive of what­ever eva­sive ac­tions that the fighter pilot might take. Sim­i­larly, Nag has a 0.9 sin­gle shot hit prob­a­bil­ity, the same as the amer­i­can Javelin and Spike and is also a ‘fire and for­get’ mis­sile, which means that a sol­dier car­ry­ing a man Por­ta­ble launcher can just aim once at a tank or a heavy ar­moured ve­hi­cle, shoot and move on. many an­ti­tank mis­sile sys­tems re­quire the sol­dier to keep the laser des­ig­na­tor painted on the tank for the mis­sile to reach its tar­get. In short, Nag has the same so­phis­ti­cated lev­els of ac­tive seek­ers in­te­grated into it as some of most ad­vanced French, amer­i­can and Is­raeli mis­siles.

There is al­ways a temp­ta­tion to look at th­ese three steps in iso­la­tion. In­deed, the me­dia has cov­ered it as three sep­a­rate steps with no con­nec­tions what­so­ever. There is, how­ever, an emerg­ing pat­tern, one that will im­mea­sur­ably glad­den the hearts of the ded­i­cated mi­nor­ity of de­fence an­a­lysts, jour­nal­ists and long-time ob­servers and a sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity of de­fence pro­fes­sion­als and per­son­nel who have been ad­vo­cat­ing for In­dia to achieve self-suf­fi­ciency and in­ter­nal strength on crit­i­cal mil­i­tary sys­tems and sub-sys­tems. If one were to take the risk of read­ing into the emerg­ing pat­tern it seems that there is strong in­cli­na­tion, if not a strat­egy, to back In­dian ef­forts and In­dian prod­ucts. This is a wel­come de­par­ture from decades of im­port-driven strate­gies for es­tab­lish­ing our na­tional se­cu­rity. as I have strongly con­tended in my pre­vi­ous col­umn, im­ported de­fence equip­ment, no mat­ter how cus­tomised they are to spe­cific In­dian re­quire­ments, puts our na­tional se­cu­rity at the mercy of other na­tions who can use it at the most op­por­tune mo­ment to deny us ev­ery­thing from parts to crit­i­cal soft­ware up­dates and source codes to twist our arms when we truly are in a fight to the fin­ish with our en­e­mies.

It’s al­ways good to re­mem­ber that the Western pow­ers led by the same us that wants us now to be­come stronger to take on china for its own nar­row na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests wasted no time in im­pos­ing crip­pling sanc­tions post Pokhran nu­clear tests. Th­ese sanc­tions were ar­guably de­signed more to dis­able our in­dige­nous ef­forts at ac­quir­ing crit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies than to ex­press a moral and political point against nu­clear weapons. Within that con­text, they achieved their pur­poses push­ing back our ef­forts to de­velop Te­jas, ar­jun and sev­eral other in­dige­nous mil­i­tary sys­tems by at least a decade if not more. Now, that our en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists have sub­stan­tially made up lost ground and are so close to suc­cess, we need a strong gov­ern­ment with a pow­er­ful leader who can look be­yond the snazzy mar­ket­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and the doomsday sce­nar­ios built up by the vested in­ter­ests about In­dian se­cu­rity weak­nesses and the in­ad­e­quacy of In­dian weapons.

Naren­dra modi has dis­played all the hall­marks of putting the spot­light back on in­dige­nous de­vel­op­ment and he seems to have found an able ally in Nir­mala Sithara­man. They are, how­ever, go­ing to pass through a pe­riod where they might end up ques­tion­ing the de­ci­sions taken by them and the tough path they have cho­sen to walk. It is here that they need to in­tu­itively trust the In­dian de­fence sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and our public and pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies. my third and fi­nal ar­ti­cle in this se­ries will give them five in­cred­i­ble real sto­ries of why our de­fence sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and our com­pa­nies need to be given our trust and sup­port. Th­ese five sto­ries, let’s hope, are all what they would need to con­tinue the course and al­low our in­dige­nous de­fence prow­ess to fi­nally shine through. Swami­nathan is vis­it­ing re­search fel­low at Upp­sala Univer­sity. He is an ur­ban­ist by train­ing and usu­ally writes about cities. As a deeply ad­dic­tive hobby, he closely fol­lows In­dia’s de­fence pol­icy writes when he feels that a par­tic­u­lar dis­cus­sion re­quires a truly In­dian and un­bi­ased voice.

PM Naren­dra Modi at Aero In­dia 2015 in Bengaluru


De­fence min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man at Jam­na­gar air­base in 2017



hin­dus­tan aero­nau­tics

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