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Over 60% of ‘Made In India’ IAF Tejas Grounded

It is due to these grave design, performance, and safety issues that Indian Air Force leadership did not feel confident enough to deploy a single Tejas fighter jet with any of its variants during IAF’s botched Balakot Strike Mission on 26th February 2019.

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Indian Air Force officials are dismayed and demoralised with the announcement at the inauguration of Aero India-2021 Show held at the Yelahanka airbase on the 3rd of February by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, awarding a ₹45,696 crore ($6.25billion) contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-HAL to supply 83 LCA (light combat aircraft) Mk-1A jets to the Indian Air Force, for a varied number of reasons, primarily due to the Tejas aircraft suffering basic design flaws that have not been dealt with by its manufacturer the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-HAL despite working on numerous Tejas prototypes for more than 35 years, consistently suffering the issue of 60% of Tejas aircraft being grounded at all times.

The second reason for resentment among upper echelons of the Indian Air Force is the unusually long delivery time for the ordered aircraft with the first Mk-1A aircraft to be delivered for induction after three years that is not before 2024. With the rest being supplied by 2030, that is again if HAL is able to keep up with the production schedule, which does not reflect the delay stricken bureaucratic ji culture prevalent at the aircraft manufacturer, amply displayed with the 35 year history of the LCA development programme.

40 of the Indian Airforce frontline Tejas fighters that have so far been inducted by the Indian Air Force are facing critical issues, such as shortfalls in meeting the engine thrust and other parameters such as weight of the aircraft, fuel capacity, pilot protection from front against 7.62 mm bullets due to which 60% of Tejas continually stand grounded. The HAL Tejas LCA MK1A, is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed locally by Defence Research And Development Organisation of India. Tailor-made to suit the needs of poor countries like India.

Designed locally by India, the Tejas development has been facing issues upon issues before it is considered 100% fit to fly and stay operational with any air force. There are problems with the fuselage, with cracks being detected in the lower fairing skin; this is an area that is most affected by G or gravity-related pressures. It is due to these grave design, performance and safety issues that Indian Air Force leadership did not feel confident enough to deploy a single Tejas fighter jet with any of its variants during IAF’s botched Balakot Strike Mission on 26th February 2019, and none of the Tejas aircraft at the disposal of IAF were scrambled the next day during Pakistan’s Air Force’s Operation Swift Retort that surprised IAF’s top leadership with the operational professionalism and air combat skill displayed by PAF strike package that bombed Indian Army Brigade Headquarters at Poonch, Indian Army Brigade Headquarters at Rajouri, and Indian Army Narian Forward Support Depots.

Read more: Pakistan approaches China to purchase J-10 fighter jets for deployment against Indian Rafales

Meanwhile, PAF leadership felt confident enough to choose two PAF JF-17 fighter jets carrying 2MK-83 454Kg REK bombs each to lead the PAF strike package and bomb Indian targets in broad daylight. A mission JF-17 tail no. 236 piloted by Wing Commander Adnan and JF-17 tail no. 246 piloted by Squadron Leader Sibtain accomplished with ease and returned safely to base, with none of the much touted IAF Tejas multi role aircraft daring to even fly close to the area of operation of the JF-17s that day.

Currently, India’s frontline fighter Tejas warplanes are being developed to take on Pakistan’s fourth generation JF-17 thunder fighter jets. But originally the aircraft was designed to replace one of India’s principal fighter jets with more than 1200 MiG fighters inducted by the Indian Air Force. However, as of 2019, only 113 MiG-21s are known to be in operation in the IAF and the troubled Tejas fight jet development has miserably failed at replacing the ageing MiG-21s that have also been plagued by safety problems.  Since 1970 more than 170 Indian pilots and 40 civilians have been killed in MiG-21 accidents alone. At least 14 MiG-21s have crashed between 2010 and 2013 and over half of the 840 aircraft built between 1966 and 1984 were lost to crashes.

Along with the over 200 SU-30MKIs operational with the IAF, Tejas multi role platform was supposed to be the mainstay of Indian Air Force combat readiness as it should be, since both aircraft are assembled locally by the heavily controversial Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-HAL, with the help of imported off the shelf systems procured from international suppliers. But with 60 percent of the already inducted Tejas aircraft being grounded for a variety of issues, with no quick fixes for the problems as they relate to design, quality and structural issues, this desired combat readiness plan by the IAF seems increasingly to remain a pipe dream.

Indian aviation systems manufacturing industry has been known around the world for it’s failures and low standards in production quality, which is the primary reason for repeated delays in the development of the Light Combat Aircraft-LCA, first conceived more than 35 years ago in 1985. Tejas aircraft development gained global disdain from aviation experts for being the first Indian-designed fighter jet to have been only declared fit to fly after 26 years of design and development in 2011, with countless delays and design flaws.

Read more: 2 IAF Officers Faces Court-Martial for Shooting Down India’s Own Chopper

A lesser known fact is that Tejas is not the first failed fighter jet development project by HAL of India. The first doomed project to develop a locally assembled fighter jet aircraft for the Indian Air Force was the HF-24 Marut project, which was initiated in 1955 to design a multi-role aircraft by HAL based on a very similar philosophy as the current LCA Tejas project, several prototypes were produced and similarly after 25 years of disastrous development and continued efforts to fix design flaws, canopy issues and fuselage weaknesses, the Indian Air Force refused to order the fault ridden fighter jet from HAL. The HF-Marut aircraft development project had to be shelved in the 1980s, despite production of improved HF-Mk1, HF-Mk1A, HF-Mk1R and HF-Mk1T prototypes, that also continued to suffer from the same faults found in the first prototype.

It was thus in the mid 1980s that Tejas Light Combat Aircraft-LCA project was launched in order to design a new multi role fighter aircraft from scratch to replace the ageing Mig-21s flying for the Indian Air Force, with remarkably similar design and performance requirements as the HF-Marut aircraft.

In October 1985 Indian Air Force formulated the Air Staff Requirement-ASR paper which serves as the base document for development requirements of flight performance, systems performance, reliability and maintainability criteria for the LCA. Ever since, HAL has been unable to meet all of the listed ASR requirements of the IAF for the Tejas LCA to be accepted as a dependable multi role platform to be inducted by the air and naval arms of the Indian armed forces.

The LCA remains a high-risk project. All too often glitches occur in development of the fly-by-wire FCS. DRDO designed Tejas’ canopy electrical system is malfunctioning. This is also the case in the Tejas-Mk1A & the dual seater Tejas. This is a potential danger as it makes ejection by the pilot in case of it being required, either making difficult or almost impossible. In a few instances, critical errors made the co-pilots eject on their own, endangering the pilot’s life. HAL and DRDO have in turn blamed Indian Airforce and its poor training standards for the issues as per some sources.

Read more: Why IAF Shouldn’t Underestimate The PAF JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet

This poor training was seen by the world when Indian Airforce lost two advance fighter jets; a Mig-21 Bison and an SU30MKI in a major aerial skirmish with Pakistan Air Force on the 27th February, 2019. It not only resulted in the loss of the two fighter aircraft and the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Kashmiri villagers in Azad Kashmir. but also caused panic among Indian Air Defence personnel who ended up shooting their own Mi-17 V5 transport helicopter in an unfortunate incident of fratricide. Subsequently, IAF had to face the public embarrassment of having to take action against two career officers for negligence and misplaced threat assessment.

Tejas’ failed Canopy Severance System

Tejas aircraft also suffers from serious safety issues, and these issues have reached such a serious level of concern for the manufacturers of the aircraft that in the latter half of 2012, the Tejas was grounded for over three months by HAL itself, due to a serious safety issue which arose with the introduction of a new pilots’ helmet, which protruded above the ejection seat. The concern was that during an ejection, the helmet would strike the canopy before the canopy was released.

HAL Tejas features a Canopy Severance System developed by ARDE and DRDO to rescue the pilot in a shortest possible time during an emergency using “controlled propagation of detonation wave” either by In Flight or Ground Egress systems. These locally produced systems are increasingly proving to be functional failures, pushing the Indian Armed Force’s leadership towards demanding foreign produced defence systems.

In 2019 after multiple failures of canopy tests, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) began working on redesigning the Tejas’ canopy after the Indian Air Force desperately requested a thicker 24 mm canopy in place of existing 16 mm one. A senior member privy to Tejas LCA production process said, “The IAF has said that they now want the canopy to be able to negotiate a 40gm bird-hit as opposed to the 20gm that Tejas offered earlier. We will have to achieve (this) as part of the FOC.”

A team of ADA and HAL has already started work on redesigning of the canopy and is putting it on the test bed, the report cited sources working on the project as saying. The team has also reworked the frame to accommodate the new canopy and has tired to find solutions to the repeated failures of the canopy system of Tejas LCA aircraft.

Read more: New JF-17 Thunder fighter jets enhance PAF’s strike capabilities

Unfortunately, one of the reasons given in an official inquiry due to which Indian Air Force never ordered HAL Marut multirole fighter jets was also canopy faults found in Marut jets, attributed specifically to the malfunction of the canopy locking system. The Marut Mk1R prototypes were fitted with a hinged clamshell-type canopy in place of the earlier sliding canopy, and the failure of the locks and the sudden opening of the canopy, resulting in rapid decay of speed at critical stage, proving to be a fatal design flaw. The programme suffered a severe setback when, on 10 January 1970, the first of two Mk1R prototypes (HF-032) being flown by Gp. Cpt. Suranjan Das crashed just after take-off. India’s foremost test pilot was the unfortunate victim of this crash.

There are also problems with the Tejas fighter jet fuselage, with cracks being detected in the lower fairing skin. There have been cracks in the strake areas, which could be in the fuselage or wings. A strake is a strengthening device and again, this could be because of stress during flying. The anchor breakages of all Tejas jet variants including Mk1, Mk1A, Naval Prototype NP-1, NP-2 and the two seat variants are also facing similar issues due to low quality made and designed in India.

Indian aviation experts have attributed these flaws in the ‘Made In India’ production of Tejas Light Combat Aircraft to inefficient and corrupt bureaucrats in India. In May 2015, Tejas aircraft was even publicly criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for major faults such as a lack of a capable tandem-seated trainer aircraft, lack of electronic warfare capabilities, performance shortcomings of radar warning receiver or missile approach warning system, weight and cost increases, limited internal fuel capacity, non-compliance of fuel system protection, inadequate forward-facing pilot protection, performance shortfalls due to under-powered engine and overweight devices used with the radar.

Read more: Pakistan approaches China to purchase J-10 fighter jets for deployment against Indian Rafales

It was due to such basic design flaws in the development of Tejas fighter jets that the Indian Navy refused to succumb to the pressure by India’s right wing government to reject Tejas as a potential multi role aircraft flying with the Indian Navy. This rejection proved heavily embarrassing for the propaganda focused Modi regime, that had hoped to use the induction of Tejas fighter jets into the Indian Navy as a way to project India’s military industrial capability to the world. The Indian Navy insisted on rejecting the naval variant of Tejas jets despite the Indian government having spent more than 8000 crore ($1.1billion) on the development and testing of multiple Tejas naval prototypes and its affiliated systems. Accepting the reality of low quality Indian production of military systems, Indian Navy chose instead to look for 57 of any foreign naval carrier-based multi-role fighter aircraft to escape from having to induct those made in India.

Fighter jets made in Pakistan

While Pakistan’s indigenously designed and manufactured JF-17 fighter jet Block 1, Block 2 and two seater JF-17B variants are not only operational with Pakistan Air Force, but have also been inducted by the Myanmar’s Air Force, and soon to be inducted by the Nigerian Air Force, with Azerbaijan Air Force, Argentinian Air Force, and Malaysian Air Force, going through the evaluation process usually conducted before placing formal orders, and the fourth generation JF-17 Block 3 soon to be inducted by the PAF. Not a single air or naval force in the entire world has placed an order for any of the Tejas aircraft variants, other than the orders reluctantly placed by the Indian Air Force.

 

Though Indian aviation industry companies such as HAL and other DRDO affiliated subsidiaries at Aero India-2021 Show, displayed dazzling designs of twin engine variants: the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft-AMCA being the Indian Air Force Omni Role Fighter with several indigenous sensors and avionics and Naval MK2 Twin Engine Deck Based fighter, with flashy cardboard mock-ups & polymer made scale models, but the ground reality at HAL production capabilities is that these designs are mere plans on paper, with expected prototypes of these next generation fighter jets not expected to even be test worthy before the year 2028 to 2030.

Hence, the general perception among the high command of Indian Air Force is that with 60 percent of Tejas fighter jets being grounded at HAL development and repair facilities, in addition to having a negative impact on any potential export prospects, which are negligible to begin with, repeated system failures, design flaws, bureaucratic delays and chronic corruption in the Indian defence production chain, the politically influenced IAF procurement of 83 Tejas fighters from HAL in a $6.25 billion deal and the expected delays in delivery extending all the way to the 2030s in the best case scenario, would prove to be a huge disaster in terms of the operational preparedness of the Indian Air Force, that would continue to fall short of IAF’s desired 42 operational squadrons requirement for decades to come.

Read more: Is Argentina going to purchase JF-17 Thunder aircraft from Pakistan?

The author is a tech-entrepreneur based in Sweden, with a background in history, geopolitics, economy, counter-terrorism, and media. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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