T Suvarna Raju, CMF Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has said India is ready to export LCA Tejas in the future. Raju also said that with the ramping up of LCA Tejas from 8 to 16 aircraft per annum and with outsourcing and participation of private players HAL will be able to speed up export process. Exporting is a bit too ambitious at this stage considering there are so many projects that are delayed or have been delayed due to bureaucratic red tape, lack of funds, inability to find skilled labour, frequent changing in designs, etc.
Interestingly HAL has plans to manufacture a 3 ton class Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) with engines at Karnataka. On May 31 this year HAL successfully conducted the maiden flight of the first prototype Basic Trainer Aircraft HTT-40. About 80% of indigenous content has been used. HAL has also taken up indigenous development of various UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Systems). Hal is also jointly developing rotary UAV with IIT Kanpur and MALE UAV RUSTOM II with Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE).
Marred by project delays and issues of Request for Information (RFI), Request for Proposals (RFP) and Transfer of Technology (ToT), licensing issues with Russia, United States, India’s defence sector especially HAL is currently undergoing massive transformation, a natural corollary to Modi’s frequent visits to other countries and subsequent discussions with his counterparts on defence and security.
The revised Defence Procurement Policy is also being projected as the game changer. However financial, political and strategic investments in projects meant to modernise India’s defence industry exhibit a very uneven path. Whether it is the MMRCA, Tejas or AWACS statistics reveal that India is yet to achieve a great breakthrough in defence, compared to China or Pakistan as in the case of AWACS.
The Cabinet Committee on Security has time and again sanctioned several projects, but uneven investments have often defeated the very purpose of rapid military transformations, to tackle new asymmetrical threats. If statistics provided by the defence ministry are to be believed, India has signed five deals of more than Rs 2,500 crore since May 2014.
Projects for Tactical Communication Systems (TCS), Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) (worth $ 7.5 billion) for the Indian Army, construction of seven Shivalik class frigates (Project 17 A) for the Navy, by Mazagon Docs Limited and Garden Reach Steel Industry, amounting to Rs 45201 crores are currently under consideration. HAL is currently in the process of building basic trainer aircraft HTT 40 and Sukhoi MK 1 aircraft in line with the 272 target set for 2018 by the Indian Air Force.
There are several such deals being planned. But deadlock over Rafale continues to make headlines. Meanwhile, reacting to the commercial deadlock over Rafale prices with Dassault, other players such as Lockheed Martin (F 16), Saab (Gripen) are now streamlining their business strategy, to meet the requirements of the Indian industry under Make in India. Saab is willing to partner with Indian companies, giving India complete software control to build the Gripen fighter in India. Saab is also keen on setting up an aeronautic training academy in India.
The Indian Establishment says that the value of the aerospace “self-reliance” initiative was not simply the production of an aircraft, but also the building of a local industry capable of creating state-of-the-art products with commercial spin-offs for a global market. The LCA program was intended in part to further expand and advance India’s indigenous aerospace capabilities.
In the early eighties, it was realized that no organization existed which had the total capability to develop such an aircraft all on its own. The last time an indigenous fighter aircraft, the HF 24 flew was in 1961. Since then, the HF 24 assembly line had been shut down and the design team had been wound up. The only way left was to develop an aircraft from scratch.
To better accomplish these goals, the government of India in 1984 decided to establish the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to manage the LCA program. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, (HAL) was to be the principal partner with participation of various DRDO & CSIR Laboratories, Public & private sector industries and academic institutions.
It is still too early to talk about the confluence of events that will lead to export of Tejas, but right now talking about export is not a wise idea.