On 20 January 2013, PTI reported that India has finalised Rs. 3,000 crores deal for jet engines with the GE of USA for supplying 99 jet engines to be used in the indigenous LAC ‘Tejas’ under development by the DRDO. As per the contract, the order could be for 99 engines initially with technology transfer facility with the option also for ordering another 100 engines in the future.
Defence preparedness remains ‘Holy Cow’ for it best suits the ‘arms’ lobby both inside the government and outside. Otherwise, there is no way to explain the woeful absence of informed debate in public domain. In particular, woeful technological capability claiming to be emerging super power.
Media caught up in sensationalizing internal and South Asian political mudslinging, has dismally failed to review the deal with the diligence that it deserves on two counts: extravagant sunken costs; and defence preparedness. None is concerned with the sunken costs.
No accountability other than the usual blame game between the DRDO and the Indian Air Force with the Ministry of Defence acting as the broker. Such is the phenomenal ineptness of the system failure to deliver on promises and targets.
Look at the time and cost over runs of the Kaveri Engine of the LCA program (Gas Turbine Research Establishment -GTRE). The time over-run is over three decades.
Cost-over run is incredibly ludicrous – revised seven times from its inception. In 1996, Rs.3.83 billion was allocated for the Kaveri Engine, which was revised to Rs.28.39 billion ($560 million) as per AK Antony written reply to a question in parliament. It reportedly suffers from both weight and performance issues, failing to provide the 21,000-22,500lb (93-100kN) thrust needed to power the Tejas. This caused it to be de-linked from the Tejas programme.
Meanwhile, cost over runs of the Tejas Mk II - nearly doubled to Rs57.77 billion from an expected Rs33.02 billion, while costs involving the naval Tejas have risen to Rs17.5 billion from Rs9.48 billion.
Let me review the LCA story in broad outline as part of defence preparedness and technological self reliance. Proposed in 1969, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) completed the design studies in 1975. The obvious goal was to replace ageing MIG-21 fighters (Gen 1 or 2 fighters) – flying beyond their service lives (over 40 years) known by familiar cliché “flying coffins”.
Ipso facto, the project failed to take off due to inability to develop indigenous ‘Kaveri Engine” or procure a "proven engine" from a foreign manufacturer to meet IAF's requirement for an air superiority fighter.
The LCA program was intended to expand and advance India's indigenous aerospace capabilities to achieve self reliance. In 1984, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) - a national consortium of over 100 defence laboratories, industrial organisations, and academic institutions with HAL being the principal contractor - was established to manage the LCA programme.
As of date, the Tejas Mk I uses the GEc F404 power plant, while the planned Tejas Mk II will use the G E F414 power plant. This means the LCA Mark-2 will be powered only by U.S. company GE-414 engine, which was short-listed earlier over Germany’s Euro jet to power the LCA Mark-2. The aircraft, under development at Bangalore’s Aeronautical Development Agency, is expected to be ready around 2017.
In retrospect, the talk of aero-space technology self-reliance is a bogey with the “Heart” of the system, that is, the Kaveri engine remaining a ‘dud’. Of course, out of five critical technologies, two have been two have been entirely successful: the development and manufacture of advanced carbon-fibre composite (CFC) structures and skins and a modern "glass cockpit."
The remaining three are most sophisticated — and hence most challenging — systems: the fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system (FCS), multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar, and afterburning turbofan engine.
India is way behind in high-tech metallurgy. Unless our scientists make a technology leap, India should not boast of technology self-reliance in aero-space industry. Scientists must be held accountable for time and cost over-runs.
None can deny that there had been a profitable commercial spin-off in its Auto lay integrated automated software system for the design and development of 3-D laminated composite elements (which has been licensed to both Airbus and Infosys). As a result, presently about 70% of the components in LCA are manufactured in India. Those scientists who made it possible should be suitably rewarded.
Even the IAF role needs review. In October 1985, the IAF finalized the LCA finalised the ‘Air Staff Requirement”.
Project definition commenced in October 1987 and was completed in September 1988. Why the delay of over a decade. This delay rendered moot the original schedule which called for first flight in April 1990 and service entry in 1995.
Next, as a consequence of the embargo imposed on India after its nuclear weapon tests in May 1998, many items originally planned to be imported were instead developed indigenously, which further delayed the development of technologies that were already many years behind schedule.
Development snags with the Kaveri resulted in the 2003 decision to procure the up rated F404-GE-IN20 engine for the eight pre-production LSP aircraft and two naval prototypes. GE was awarded a US$105 million contract in 2004 for development engineering and production of 17 -IN20 engines, delivery of which began in 2006.
The F404-GE-IN20 was trial-installed on the Tejas and the engine generated more than 19,000 pounds (85 kN) uninstalled thrust and completed 330 hours of Accelerated Mission testing, equivalent of 1,000 hours of flight operation.
In 2007, an additional 24 F404-IN20 afterburning engines were ordered to power the first operational squadron of Tejas fighters.In mid-2004, the Kaveri failed its high-altitude tests in Russia, ending the last hopes of introducing it with the first production Tejas aircraft.
In February 2006, the ADA awarded a contract to the French aircraft engine company Snecma for technical assistance in working out the Kaveri's problems.
The Kaveri engine based on Snecma’s new core, an uprated derivative of the M88-2 engine that powers the French Rafael fighter, providing 83–85 kilonewtons (kN) of maximum thrust was being considered a third option by DRDO. This led the IAF to object that since Snecma had already developed the core of the engine, the DRDO will not be participating in any joint development but merely providing Snecma with an indigenous stamp.
In 2008, it was announced that the Kaveri would not be ready in time for the Tejas, and that an in-production power plant would have to be selected in the 95 to 100 kilonewton (kN) (21,000–23,000 lbf) range to allow the aircraft to perform combat manoeuvres with optimal weapons load.
The contenders were the Euro jet EJ200 and the General Electric F414. Furthermore, IAF sources said that the airframe will have to be redesigned to accommodate the heavier engine, which is to take up to three-four years.
And, the fraud on the nation continued with political leadership, technocrats and air force professionals involved in turf wars, and, yet combining to demonstrate the impressive progress and breakthroughs made from time to time with media providing sensational coverage to the nations.
The IAF placed an order for 20 aircraft, with a similar purchase of another 20 aircraft to follow in 2005 with the F404-GE-IN20 engine; the first production variant of the Tejas (LSP-1) flew on June 2008; completed flying with weapons and integration of radars by 2009; achieved a speed of over 1,350 kilometres per hour (840 mph) during its sea level flight trials; trainer variant prototype took to the skies in November 2009; in December 2009, Rs.8,000 crores was allotted to meet the requirement of 50 Tejas for the Navy and 20 additional fighters for the IAF; and the third production aircraft (LSP-3), a hybrid version flew and fourth production aircraft also took flight. By June 2010, the Tejas had also completed the second phase of hot weather trials.
In November 2010, it was reported that the Tejas Mk1 reportedly fell short of the relaxed Air Staff Requirements stipulated for limited series production (LSP) aircraft. The areas that did not meet requirements were power to weight ratio, sustained turning rate, maximum speeds at low altitudes, AoA range, and weapon delivery profiles. The extent of the deficiencies was classified.
Yet, initial Operating Clearance (IOC) for the Tejas was awarded on 10 January 2011 by Defence Minister a K Antony to Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal P V Naik. IOC allows IAF pilots to use the aircraft. The IAF officially accepted its first Tejas fighter on 21 March 2011. The Tejas is planned to be cleared for operational service by late 2012.
The IAF plans to raise the first squadron in Bengaluru to iron out issues with ADA and HAL, and eventually base these fighters at a new airbase in Sulur, Coimbatore in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The first squadron is expected to be established by 2013. RAFAEL’s Derby fire-and-forget missile will serve as the Tejas’ initial medium range air-air armament.
However, Tejas' Final Operational Clearance (FOC) has reportedly been delayed until mid-2013 or later. Some defence sources indicate that it will not reach final operational clearance (FOC) and become fully combat capable until 2015.
As on date, the LCA Mark-1 is readying for induction by 2014, nearly 30 years behind schedule. It will be powered by the General Electric-404 engine. As per current plans, the IAF will induct two squadrons of the LCA Mk I which would be followed by delivery of LCA Mk II aircraft. Why induct a fighter with unacceptability capability – to become expensive “flying coffins”.
The present order of 99 GE-414 engines is meant for the LCA Mark-2 program. Its enhanced power-thrust ratios are an advantage. It can carry more payload than the LCA Mk I. Additional demand for engines, if any, will be manufactured in India under technology transfer arrangements.
However, even in its advanced configuration, the LCA Mark-II will be only Generation 4 aircraft. It implies that its survivability against Generation 4 plus or Generation 5 aircraft are very poor.
Two critical issues should concern defence analysts and the CAG: Is the choice of allocating Rs.3000 crores judicious considering that the LCA program has failed to deliver its product in time. The continuance of the Kaveri engine program is the biggest fraud committed on the tax-payers. As per technical reports, besides the engine failing to meet the desired thrust level, it also has technical problems with its compressor, turbine and engine control system.
Yet, the Kaveri programme still exists. Antony told the parliament that the Kaveri could be used to propel an Indian unmanned strike air vehicle (USAV), although he provided no details about this programme.
As per official reports, a single Kaveri engine would be used to power UAVs and two Kaveri engines will be used on board India's conceptual medium combat aircraft (MCA), a Generation 5 aircraft. It is yet another cruel joke. Yet another report making rounds is that the engine also will be a technology demonstration project.
Meanwhile, after evaluation and acceptance of the technical offer provided by both Euro jet and GE Aviation, the commercial quotes were compared in detail and GE Aviation was declared as the lowest bidder.
The deal will cover purchase of 99 GE F414 engines, which are tested and proven engines - Over 1,000 F414 engines have been delivered and the engine family has totalled over 1 million flight hours by 2010. The initial batch will be supplied by GE and the remainder will be manufactured in India under a transfer of technology arrangement. As per reports, India has selected the F414-GE-INS6 engine to power the Mk II version of LCA.
The engine is to produce more thrust than previous F414 versions. It features a Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC) system. The F414-GE-INS6 is to have six stages. The engines are to be delivered by 2013.
Finally, where does the LCA fit in the IAF modernization plans? What are the current force levels? Are they adequate to address localized war scenarios? What are the modernization plans?
As of 2011, nearly 630 fighters of all types are in service - just about adequate for 35 squadrons including reserves: in attack class 139 Jaguars, 100 MiG-27, Harpy; in fighter class 146 Su-30 MKI in service (out of 272 contracted), 69 MiG-29s, 50 Mirage 2000 H; and 125 upgraded MIG 21s to serve up to 2016.
Next, there are three important concurrent modernization initiatives through induction: 42 SU-30MKI “Super 30s” ordered in 2011, 126 Dassault Rafael’s - a $10.4 billion contract – commencing with 18 aircraft to be delivered by 2016 and 48 HAL Tejas by 2013 (with the aim of replacing all MiG-21s), besides Harpy’s (UACV) are part of the acquisition programs till date. Tejas-! falls under Gen 4 category whilst the other two fall under Gen 4.5 category.
Add to it, the upgrade programs of Gen 4 fighters to Gen 4.5 status include: 69 MiG-29s at a cost of $964 million by 2016; 139 Jaguars at a cost of $700 million by 2017; 40 Su-30MKIs at a cost of over Rs 20,000 crores with the first delivery to commence in 2014 and the last by 2018; and 50 Mirage-2000 at a cost of US $ 4 bn to be completed by 2022.
Finally, India is also on the threshold of joining the Gen 5 fighter’s league in collaboration with Russia. The first prototype of T 50 PAK FA was showcased in Moscow air show in 2011 and its test flight successfully demonstrated. The plan is to induct 250-300 PAK-FA fighters at a cost of around $35 billion dollars by 2022.
Under design and development is also the indigenous Advanced Multirole Medium Range Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) stealth fighter with GTX Kaveri engine giving super cruise capabilities and fitted with all the advanced systems of Gen 5 package to replace the aging Jaguar and MiG-27. The final design is to be shown to the air force by 2012 with first flight scheduled for 2015 and induction in 2018.
In the above overall framework, the question that needs to be squarely addressed by professionals is the need for pursuing the Tejas-I production and also the attempts to sink more costs in developing the GTX Kaveri Engine.
The choice even for a layman should be quite obvious. Abandon the Tejas-I version which yet to be handed over to the IAF; go slow on Tejas-II; undertake development of MMCA based on indigenously manufactured upgraded F414-GE-INS6 engine. Perhaps, the CAG may carry out a detailed appraisal of the entire mismanagement. (The writer is a high-profited retired army officer and can be contact firstname.lastname@example.org)