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.