FOR­EIGN COL­LAB­O­RA­TION

SP's Aviation - - MILITARY -

that the In­dian De­fence Min­istry “en­vis­ages the pos­si­bil­ity of a pri­vate In­dian com­pany form­ing a joint ven­ture (JV) with a for­eign fighter man­u­fac­turer to re­con­fig­ure the Mark-2 with the more pow­er­ful Gen­eral Elec­tric F414-GE-IN56 en­gine.”

In Septem­ber 2015, the IAF in­di­cated the re­quire­ment of 100 Te­jas LCA Mark-1A air­craft, for which a for­mal or­der is yet to be placed. The plan of man­u­fac­tur­ing and com­ple­tion is from 2018 to 2023. The project for de­sign and devel­op­ment of LCA Te­jas Mark-2 was sanc­tioned in Novem­ber 2009 at a cost of ` 2,431.55 crore with prob­a­ble date of com­ple­tion (PDC) of De­cem­ber 2018. How­ever, be­cause of de­lay in fi­nal­i­sa­tion of en­gine con­tract, the project could start only in De­cem­ber 2013. As a re­sult, maiden flight of first pro­to­type and op­er­a­tional clear­ance are likely to be com­pleted by De­cem­ber 2019 and De­cem­ber 2022, re­spec­tively. How­ever, the De­fence Min­istry wants the project to be com­pleted by 2018 and hence the search for a for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tor. In some ways, there has al­ready been some for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tion on the LCA project. Euro­pean Aero­nau­tic De­fence and Space re­named Air­bus Group, pro­vided con­sul­tancy on flight test­ing while Lock­heed Martin and Das­sault made some con­tri­bu­tion in the de­sign stage. Back in 2013, DRDO had asked Swedish com­pany Saab to sub­mit a pro­posal for part­ner­ing on de­sign­ing the Mark-2 and estab­lish­ing a man­u­fac­tur­ing line for the fighter. Saab did so promptly, but, with a change in the top man­age­ment of DRDO in June 2013, the new in­cum­bent Av­inash Chan­der was hes­i­tant to award a con­tract with­out com­pet­i­tive ten­der­ing. How­ever, re­port­edly T. Su­varna Raju, Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of HAL has re­cently stated: “For en­hanc­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of the indige­nous LCA, HAL is in talks with the Saab.” Swe­den and In­dia have signed sev­eral agree­ments last year in pur­suit of ‘Make in In­dia’ campaign and Swe­den is look­ing for ways to in­vest in the In­dian de­fence sec­tor. Se­nior Saab of­fi­cials have ex­pressed will­ing­ness to help the LCA project and it ap­pears that such a col­lab­o­ra­tion may come to fruition in the com­ing months. Dur­ing April 2016, a high level Saab del­e­ga­tion was re­ported to be in In­dia to dis­cuss the modal­i­ties of a pos­si­ble partnership with HAL on fur­ther ver­sions of LCA. How­ever, once stung by their past ex­pe­ri­ence, Saab is likely to in­sist on a govern­ment-to-govern­ment deal if they as­sist In­dia in de­vel­op­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing a light fighter air­craft.

What could be the tenor and tex­ture of a for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tion? It is un­likely that the de­sign and devel­op­ment func­tion would be ab­di­cated by ADA to a for­eign en­tity for two rea­sons. Firstly, ADA would like to stay in the sad­dle as far as the LCA project is con­cerned and se­condly, a for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tor is un­likely to trans­fer tech­nol­ogy with­out a quid pro quo. That brings us to the next ques­tion: What role then could a for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tor play? Ide­ally, the de­sign and devel­op­ment could be brought to an ac­cept­able stan­dard with min­i­mal for­eign help and the pro­duc­tion could be parceled out to a for­eign en­tity will­ing to set up an as­sem­bly line. This op­tion would take the load off an al­ready over­bur­dened HAL as also in­tro­duce a higher level of pro­duc­tion qual­ity than HAL has been able to achieve. Al­though HAL has fa­cil­i­ties match­ing in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, pro­duc­tion has suf­fered in the past in respect of qual­ity, de­liv­ery sched­ule and in­ef­fi­cient work cul­ture that per­vades the pub­lic sec­tor. The IAF def­i­nitely feels that a move to pro­duce LCA Te­jas over­seas will en­able timely re­sult and yield su­pe­rior pro­duc­tion qual­ity than that of the HAL. Cost could be a speed breaker with this op­tion but HAL is not an in­ex­pen­sive op­tion so far with its mo­nop­o­lis­tic hold over the In­dian mar­ket. Re­port­edly, HAL has been di­rected to look for al­ter­na­tives like more out­sourc­ing and cre­ation of joint ven­tures to en­hance rate of pro­duc­tion.

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