It was in 1969 that the In­dian Govern­ment ac­cepted the rec­om­men­da­tion by its Aero­nau­tics Com­mit­tee that HAL should de­sign and de­velop a com­bat air­craft for the IAF. How­ever, the project was for­mally ini­ti­ated only in 1983 and the fol­low­ing year, the Govern­ment de­cided to cre­ate a new agency out­side the HAL called ADA to man­age the LCA pro­gramme. While the LCA Te­jas is of­ten de­scribed as a prod­uct of HAL, its de­vel­op­ment must be cred­ited to ADA and a con­sor­tium of over 100 de­fence lab­o­ra­to­ries, in­dus­trial or­gan­i­sa­tions and aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions with HAL be­ing the prin­ci­pal con­trac­tor. As per a re­view com­mit­tee formed in May 1989, in­fra­struc­ture, fa­cil­i­ties and tech­nol­ogy with the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try had ad­vanced suf­fi­ciently to ex­e­cute the project. The de­sign of the LCA was fi­nalised in 1990 as a tail-less delta-wing plat­form that would be highly ma­noeu­vrable and will have a num­ber of ad­vanced fea­tures.

The LCA Te­jas is the sec­ond su­per­sonic fighter air­craft pro­duced by the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try, the first be­ing the HF-24 Marut whose de­vel­op­ment was ini­ti­ated in 1956. How­ever, com­pared with the Marut which took just 11 years from de­sign to ser­vice en­try, it took the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try 33 years to hand over the first LCA Te­jas to the IAF. To­day, the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try has the ca­pa­bil­ity to pro­duce eight air­craft per year. At this low rate of pro­duc­tion, HAL is un­likely to con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to­wards mak­ing up for the de­fi­ciency in the com­bat fleet of the IAF in a re­spectable time frame. The rate of pro­duc­tion is planned to be dou­bled; but as to when this new mile­stone will be achieved, is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict with any de­gree of cer­tainty. Also, the LCA Te­jas Mk I is yet to ob­tain Fi­nal Op­er­a­tional Clear­ance and given the way dead­lines have slipped, one can never be sure whether this will be achieved by the end of 2018 as sched­uled.

The LCA project was con­ceived with the pri­mary aim of de­vel­op­ing an indige­nous com­bat plat­form and build­ing it in large num­bers to re­place the size­able fleet of the dif­fer­ent vari­ants of the ob­so­les­cent fam­ily of MiG-21 air­craft with the IAF, the last of which would be phased out in a few years. The com­bat fleet of the IAF is al­ready badly de­fi­cient with the strength of fighter squadrons down to 31 as against the au­tho­rised level of 42. With the cur­rent rate of pro­duc­tion, the LCA Te­jas may not be able to play any sig­nif­i­cant role in re­liev­ing the dis­tress sit­u­a­tion con­fronting the IAF which was pin­ning its hope on this indige­nous plat­form. Other than 36 Rafale jets con­tracted for, no in­duc­tions are likely in the fore­see­able fu­ture. Per­haps be­cause the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try has failed to de­liver, the govern­ment is now con­sid­er­ing the op­tion of hand­ing over the man­age­ment of the LCA project to the IAF.

The IAF has been as­so­ci­ated with the LCA project, but only since 2004, the year in which a Project Man­age­ment Team (PMT) of the IAF headed a se­nior of­fi­cer of the fly­ing branch, was con­sti­tuted and at­tached to ADA. The re­spon­si­bil­ity of the PMT is to mon­i­tor the progress of se­ries pro­duc­tion of the Te­jas. Cur­rently, the team is headed by an of­fi­cer of the rank of Air Mar­shal. Of its own choice, the IAF had re­mained aloof from man­age­ment role and re­spon­si­bil­ity with the LCA Te­jas project since its launch. The LCA Te­jas pro­gramme is now at an ad­vanced stage and is af­flicted by the ills that pub­lic sec­tor un­der­tak­ings in In­dia suf­fer from. The ADA-HAL com­bi­na­tion is an im­mensely com­plex or­gan­i­sa­tion and the im­ped­i­ments to the progress of the LCA Te­jas project are also in­fin­itely com­plex. It would be un­rea­son­able ex­pect an Air Mar­shal of the IAF, a rank out­sider, to be able to set ev­ery­thing right in the ADA-HAL com­plex and get the LCA Te­jas project mov­ing at a faster pace to ful­fil the re­quire­ment of the IAF. The In­dian aero­space in­dus­try, be­ing a civil­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion, is ac­cus­tomed to func­tion­ing un­der civil­ian labour laws, strongly in­flu­enced by the cul­ture of union­ism and lack of ac­count­abil­ity. A new lead­er­ship from a mil­i­tary back­ground used to non-unionised and highly dis­ci­plined func­tion­ing, is un­likely to be ac­cepted easily by the rank and file of the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try and hence in all prob­a­bil­ity, is un­likely to get the level of sup­port nec­es­sary to re­move the malaise the or­gan­i­sa­tion suf­fers from and ac­tu­ally be able to pro­duce the de­sired re­sults. Any sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the LCA Te­jas project un­der the pro­posed lead­er­ship is there­fore, highly un­likely. The only thing that may hap­pen is that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for non-per­for­mance will shift to the IAF.

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