In a scathing blow to the ‘Make in India’ scheme, the Indian Navy has spurned the home-grown Light Combat Aircraft or the LCA program, Tejas. The Navy has stated that the fighter aircraft as ‘too heavy’ and has chosen not to acquire them for its regular use. The dependence on externally acquired or imported fighter aircraft will have to be fast-tracked in order for the deficit to be combated. Incidentally, the Tejas has been in the making for a long and arduous 33 years. The rejection also raises serious questions over the quality of locally sourced defence equipment.
In a report by the Economic Times, the Indian Navy had last month invited local as well as foreign manufacturers to provide quotations and specifications for acquiring 57 planes for its aircraft carriers. The entire process is a multi-billion dollar order. It had been assumed that the LCA Tejas, a single-seat, single-jet engine, multi-role light fighter designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would qualify. Apparently, the indigenous planes have not met the standards expected by the Navy.
Experts have stated that the rearmament drive is very ambitious but very low on success.The jet thus apparently remains a work in progress; only three Tejas aircraft are currently serving the Indian Air Force. It must be mentioned that Asian countries like India, South Korea, Taiwan and other emerging superpowers are trying to source locally even as the traditional arms suppliers like the United States are deemed unreliable. The US arms exports may dip this year as Presiden Trump’s election has given rise to global uncertainties.
The LCA Tejas was cleared by the Indian government in 1983 and the original idea was to induct the planes into all three services by the year 1994. The insufferable delay has dashed the hopes of having a robust domestic defence industry and is being perceived as a glancing blow to the ‘Make in India‘ as well. The engine and the control systems of the HAL-manufactured Tejas fighters are not up to the mark, experts say.
The Road Ahead
The Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, had said in December that the naval version of the Tejas was “not up to the mark”. Due to the extra weight, the LCA could not take off the carriers once the weapon pods were loaded. Sources suggest that the plane tested for the Navy has failed tests for years when taking off from a 200-metre carrier deck. This is the reason why foreign fighters have been ordered. Such an acquisition is time-consuming and expensive to boot. Besides, the Indian defence acquirements have also been conventionally tinged with improprieties.
In response, Boeing Co has decided to pitch its F-A/18 Hornet, which is used by its home country, the United States for carrier usage.The ‘Make in India’ dream may yet come true as Boeing has agreed to manufacture some of the planes locally. This will involve the process of technology transfer. Sweden’s Saab AB has also stated that it will offer its Naval version of its versatile Gripen fighter for Indian consideration.