Are 110 MMRCA Enough? Should We Solely Fund Tejas MK-II in Future ?

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(Problems with the RFI for MMRCA 2.0 Part -IV)

Are 110 aircrafts, information for which is sought through RFI issued by Vayu Bhawan -enough ? Especially when 45-50 combat squadron Air Force was visualised in 1963.

To drive home the point, let us begin with a scenario. Suppose we have fought our 2-front, three week war with Pakistan and China. Our losses will be around 200 aircraft gone and another 100 or so dragged to the Base Repair Depots for repair. They will be there for next six to twelve months before starting to trickle back. The enemy, as he licks his wounds, realises that thanks to our numbers (in case we have 50 squadron Air Force), we have been able to sustain our squadrons, absorbed the losses, and re-trained our crews. He is aware that inspite of this battering and loss of some of the cream of our crews, our critical close support and strike strength remains effective. Moreover he may well think that discretion is the better part of valour, and he may not have started the war in the first place. As they say so wisely in Hindustani “An elephant has two sets of teeth – one to show, and another to eat !”

The timing of the Gaganshakti alongside PM’s visit to China may have been a mere coincidence (IAF said) though the reason was not lost on anybody. But every ‘show’ helps ! And if you have reserve aircrafts to show after the war is over, that also helps !

But as far as our air strength is concerned, we are now caught between a rock and a hard place. We need a 45-50 combat squadron Air Force, not because that number was crystallised in 1963, but because of the above scenario. The loss of 200 machines is given because of the single factor of increased effectiveness of Surface to Air Missiles and MANPADS, ever since the December 1971 war. We lost 75 aircrafts in ten days then against a hamstrung Pakistan. We need those numbers now.

Unfortunately if we go by the RFI we will never have that large force because no country maintains forces of this size using imported aircrafts. ‘Making in India’ will not help, as thanks to our penchant for ‘socialism’, we never allowed any private military-industry complex to start and mature in the country that could have provided us quality indigenous fighter jets now.

⏩ Even Meagre Resources Can Achieve Splendid Results :

North Korea is a Business School Case Study of how totally involved political guidance can maximise slender resources to achieve incredible results. It is a given that the North Korean missiles are below Par and their nuclear weapons equally doubtful, but the North Koreans have succeeded in being like an ant in the (US) elephant’s ear. The magnitude of North Korea’s achievement can be gauged from if we remember that North Korea is in terms of population and resources about the size of the Indian state of Chhattisgrah. (It is little difficult to imagine the Chief Minister of this state keeping the US President awake at night).

NK is a totalitarian state is irrelevant. China, under Mao was totalitarian but Mao’s obsessive preoccupation of staying on in power meant that the vast Chinese Armed Forces soon became obsolete. It was only under Deng Xiao Ping’s monitoring of the weapons programme that China made rapid strides. Nevertheless Mao never blinked when dealing with the USA. The clear lesson is that one must have large forces, with home grown equipment even if they are slightly below par. With all these widely varied perspectives to the problem, we can visualise that the only way out is with having astute political leadership.

⏩ The Way Forward :

Political maldroitness has got us to where we are and it is now for India’s political leadership to show the way. Pakistan has always applied the doctrine of “compelling circumstances” to their political life. They do not have a political life. If we apply the doctrine of compelling circumstances to our weapons procurements, we will then neither have a weapons industry nor consequently large armed forces. Our political leadership must reject the doctrine of ‘compelling necessity’. This spectre will continue to haunt us unless firmly dismissed. Given the nuclear deterrence and our present strike capability, no one will overrun Assam or Ladakh. However, given resolute political will, we will need five to ten years to turn the tide as regards our weaponry.

The RFI for MMRCA could well reflect the malaise in the organisation of our overall defence planning. The approach is narrow, linear, compartmented, reactive and vulnerable. A small import lobby can disrupt and manipulate the process at will. A careful review of the threat to India may show that the S-400 and bullet proof jackets and night vision equipment along with automatic rifles is just short period compensation for the present weakness in air strike strength, as they only buy us time.

Faster Development of the LCA MK1A is certainly a key to the stability of the Air Force acquisition process. The present situation cannot just have happened, but perhaps degenerated because politicians of the day were too preoccupied to show that they are doing a lot without actually doing anything. If we do not get another six LCAs by December 2018, the Government must institute an internal White Paper on the entire LCA programme. If, after Rs 70000 crores (PDV) and 35 years, all we have are nine partly operational aircraft, then it definitely requires political intervention.

The cost of the manpower is the single largest cost in aircraft design and manufacture. The LCA cost should be close to that of JF-17, but in fact is nearly double !! The quotation by HAL of a price of Rs. 486 crore is so out of this world, that this is either a cover up for the failure of the LCA programme or an excuse to import aircraft, both intolerable ! The cost of Public Sector Unit production does not match with common sense. It is not enough that our R & D costs are ‘lower’ than those internationally, which can and should be about one third to one fifth.

⏩ Should We Only Invest in Tejas MK-II in future ?

MiG-27

It would be willful neglect on part of the Government if it makes the LCA MK-II the sole contender for future funding. One can easily fantasize about a Honeywell F-124N powered development of HF-24 and the GE F 414 powered adaptation of a MiG-27 which is not only day dreaming but these aircraft with proven airframes and new power plants are far closer to the Air Staff Requirements for an MK-II than the MK-I. Their airframes have the room for all the avionics that the IAF want. The bonus will be of time scales and the ability to ‘tweak’ the design to perfection. No. 11 BRD Nasik/Air HQ can do the initial project studies for the MiG-27/ F414. It would be an act of commendable foresight if the private sector be invited, even as observers for such studies.

If, for other reasons, we are forced to acquire the MMRCA from international OEMs, as a substitute for the LCA then go for the lowest cost and size equivalent to the LCA. Amen !

As a parting, one can reiterate that every time we have come to the edge of the woods, we have turned around to go back deep into the forest. Only strong political will and clear direction can change this fate.

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

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