Why There is no Swadeshi MMRCA : Truth about Tejas

(Problems with RFI for MMRCA 2.0 PART -III)

⏩ Cost of the Horses :

If wishes were horses beggars would ride ! The cost of the MMRCA buy without Transfer of Technology is currently at $18000/kg x 8000 kgs (weight of aircraft) /aircraft x Rs. 66/$ (Rupee conversion rate at the time of writing this piece) x 110 (no. of aircrafts) which works out to Rs. 104,540 crore upfront. Then at least another Rs. 312,632 crore would be needed to keep them in service for just the next twelve years at 225 hrs per airframe per year. This does not include the flight refuellers (see ten hrs sorties as above) and AWACS as will be required to make the Beyond Visual Range missiles work optimally. Given that sanctioning a paltry Rs. 6600 crores to modify pensions to OROP took a mere 42 years, it is clear that we are not going anywhere in a hurry as regards the MMRCA.

Those prices are if we buy the entire lot from abroad. If we make it in the Government factories, it will be another forty nine percent or so more ! In the case of Sukhois that HAL built, even if we accept that HAL costs should only equal and not less than Russian costs, we have spent an additional Rs. 18,700 crore. Any wonder why we don’t have enough money for the Armed Forces!
Of course the farce that we are “saving foreign exchange” by building aircrafts at HAL holds no water today.

⏩ Never Ending Saga of LCA Tejas :

Digressing for a moment to the LCA TEJAS : its delays have actually got us to where we currently are. As a face saving solution an LCA replacement/supplement programme has been labelled MMRCA. The LCA has been blessed with more than one Initial Operational Clearance (IOC), while the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is ‘just around the corner’ God knows since when we are listening. Such is the efficiency of our indigenous attempts at building an aircraft.

A production line has been set up and augmented to cater to produce some eleven aircrafts per year. Can we expect to have two fully equipped squadrons (never mind if it is FOC-1 standard) by September 2019 and four squadrons by September 2021? This should be possible but again this would be a triumph of hope over experience ! Optimistic prediction is that we will perhaps get another six aircraft by the end of this financial year. If there is a seventh, it will be delivered on 29 March 2019 at 2300 hrs so that it can be said that seven were delivered in 2018-19. One speaks from experience.

LCA situation continues to be dismal and there are reasons for being gloomy about improvements in this regard.

1. The aircraft will not meet its speed and energy related performance parameters. The aircraft is claimed to be supersonic at sea level but there have been reports that the aircraft is not meeting its Mach 1.6 maximum speed which is one of the reasons for holding up the Final Operational Clearance. An aircraft that does Mach 1.1 – 1.2 at Sea Level will do Mach 1.6 at the tropopause (height of 12-18km). I have always been sceptical of the drag of the airframe. Mind you, I would value transonic acceleration rather than the maximum straight line speed.

2. During the Second World War the Russians found that they could improve speed of Ilyushin II-M3 Shturmovik by about 32kmph on a top speed of 400kmph by improving the fit and finish of hatches, covers, gaps between control surfaces etc. I was reminded of this when I was examining the picture of Vayu V/2017 of an LCA. My interest was caught by the pattern of light reflecting on the upper mid fuselage/wing root area. The light pattern indicates the presence of an irregular kidney shaped ‘depression’, indicating poor finish in that area. This is fatal to performance. I cannot think of any excuse for that. And this on a LSP aircraft, not from early TD/PV series. I wonder if the LCA programme has any engineer in any responsible position, or else one would not get to see such shoddy work.

3. There has been some mild cheering about the move of nine LCAs to Sulur, being hailed as proof that the programme is finally out of the woods and the aircraft is ‘operational’. I too would like to believe that but it does not square up with common sense. Here we have the MiG-21s requiring to be carefully looked at for signs of popped rivets and cracks and no doubt spares are no longer as plentiful as they were half a century ago but here we are sending its ‘red hot’ replacement to the deep South, out of harm’s way. There have been surely no reports of swarms of people invading the Coromandel Coast. Perhaps the Indian Air Force does not want its forward bases and hardened shelters cluttered with an operationally suspect Tejas. Sulur is a good place where the aircraft can be parked without harming themselves or the Air Force. Let’s base the aircraft at Halwara, Hasimara or Nal before the party gets started !

4. The aircraft has flown 1000 sorties with No. 45 Squadron. The usage rate works out to roughly 85 hours/aircraft/year. The neighbour’s JF-17 compares at 126 hours/aircraft/year while the RFI in question for MMRCA expects an average utilisation rate of 225 hours/aircraft/year.

5. Reports of pilots being ‘delighted’ with LCA’s handling and cockpit interface etc are no consolation to the IAF. Even if we get 100 out of 100 in these areas, the aircraft is still a lemon. The Morane Saulnier MS 406 was a very pleasant and nice-to-handle aircraft but it simply did not match up to the Me-109.

At this point several questions nag one’s mind. First is why is this periodic ‘blooming’ of the MMRCA requirement e.g. 2002, 2007, 2016, 2018 etc and how can something so ‘urgent’ continue to be deferred for so long ? My construct is that the MMRCA is the dog that is being wagged by the LCA tail ! We are in a crisis because of continued failure of the LCA programme to stick to any schedule. If we had ten squadrons of LCA in service and more in the pipeline, the MMRCA deal would not have verged on the “compelling circumstances” situation. To break this circle we need to tackle the LCA problem first.

The LCA is unlikely to ever be a top ranking aircraft but it can be made serviceable if we break with the past methods. A compromise has to be hammered out between the user’s expectations and the designer’s capabilities, within the restrictions imposed by the LCA’s unfortunate tail-less delta configuration. At the same time the design has to be tweaked. Having got that compromise, the production has to be ramped up to about forty aircraft per annum.

⏩ A Swadeshi (Indigenous) MMRCA ?

While the second question still remains standing as to why we have specifications in RFI which seem to be for an expeditionary air force, the third and the most demanding question is as to why, for such a most crucial requirement, there has not been even one Indian OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) bidding ? There is good money to be made and we are nothing if not enterprising. For this we have to go into the politics, so tighten your seat belts and I will be more concise.

Some historians hold that half way through the First World War, it became clear to the financiers of the British Empire that India’s independence was inevitable and the new nation’s industry could become a considerable threat to their world-wide investments. To safeguard their interests, they started several processes aimed at reducing the efficiency of the yet-to-emerge Indian economy. These included fracturing of the market and long established supply chains with plans for ‘Partition’ and encouragement of secession. India’s excellent education system, once rightly vaunted to be second only to Oxford and Cambridge, was politicised and reduced to its present mediocrity. The increased funding for education sadly found its way to political parties and private pockets. Human resources, the feedstock Industrialisation such as by the Japanese, has been so degraded that a new word ‘Unemployability’ had to be coined.

Later the espousal of Indian variant of a ‘socialist pattern of society” in the garb of welfare for the masses, allowed a relatively small number of people in power to stifle the inherent enterprise of the Indian people. The Government created big “no fly zones” where illogically in an era of shortage of capital and management skills, private capital was shut out. In license permit Raj production rate was always unfailingly far below than what was needed to make the product globally competitive.

You can have an idea of just how crippling this policy was by examining the decline of Air India. Under JRD TATA it was a prizes airline. Today it is unsaleable. And talking of Tatas, this industrial house was set to produce fighters, fighter-bombers and transport aircraft at its facility in Poona when World War II began, but they were not allowed to proceed, and HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) then became (and remains) the sole such entity in India.

The opposite example is that of India’s automotive industry which pre-liberalisation, produced a very limited variety of models of unfailing bad quality. Volume wise it was nowhere. India is today the fifth largest producer in the world, exporting globally with fairly good design capabilities and in some segments, remains the largest producer in the world. We note with some pride that India was the only country where the home grown products were able to fend off the challenge of Japanese competition.

(Based on a report by Prodyut Das in Vayu Aerospace and Defence Review)

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