TEJAS: India’s Continued Embarassment



A lot can be achieved in two and a half decades. For an individual, its roughly one-third of the average lifespan. For a nation, its enough time for an entire generation to come through. A nation can be transformed from a marshy swamp into one of the largest economies of the world – as in the case of Singapore.

What did Indian Air Force (IAF) achieve in twenty six years while consuming over $2 billion? the answer to that is Zilch; Zero; Nada; Nothing – except a failed project and a continued embarrassment in the shape ‘Tejas’. Tejas LCA (Light Combat Aircraft, also known as Last Chance Aircraft) has gone many trials and tests and there’s no sign of induction as yet. It has now been announced to enter IAF in 2010.

Pakistan’s own ambitious JF-17 project was launched in partnership with China in 1995. In just eleven years and with just $500 million spent, the JF-17 was flying in Pakistani Airspace on March 23rd 2007 – with the maiden flight having taken place much earlier in 2003.


The Indian Air Force on the other hand has with significant assistance from France, Israel, and the United States worked on the Tejas (meaning Radiant) LCA project for over two decades and the aircraft is no closer to induction. Infact it gets worse; the unit cost of one JF-17 is $15 million dollars, while a Tejas will cost up to $31 million – which is closer to the far advanced Russian Su-30’s starting cost ($33 million). India would be well advised to buy more of the Russian aircraft instead of wasting billions of dollars in trying to produce its own ‘indigenous’ fighter plane.

In 1983, IAF launched a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program to replace its flying coffins, the MiG-21’s. Earlier in 1981, a study was conducted by IAF, the ‘Long Term Re-Equipment Plan’, to make plans for a future aircraft that would not only replace MiG-21’s but also be cheaper option to foreign imported planes. The Indian government created an entire agency to manage the LCA Tejas program. Tejas was to be developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), but Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was the managing agency of the program.

To develop Tejas, India sought help from Israel and France. The IAF’s Air Staff Requirement for the LCA would not be finalized until October 1985. So, for the first four years, Indian authorities failed to even come up with personnel list who would work on the project. Initially Indian authorities believed they would be able to do a test flight in 1990, and have Tejas induction ceremony in 1995. You would think that 12 years would be enough to produce a fighter plane – however thanks to India’s utter incompetence, Tejas is still waiting to be inducted into IAF as of October 2009.

In 1990 HAL started work on the technology demonstrators but because of the financial crunch in India, full-scale funding was not authorized until April 1993. First technology demonstrator, TD-1, was rolled out in Nov 1995 and was followed by demonstrator 2 in 1998, but they were kept grounded for several years due to structural concerns and trouble with the development of the flight control system. (http://www.aerospaceweb.org/aircraft/fighter/lca/).

The Indian engineers wanted to develop a fly-by-wire system of its own. This is no easy task and requires extensive knowledge of flight control laws and the expensive writing of a considerable amount of software code for the flight control computers, as well as its integration with the avionics and other electronic systems. India tried but failed. With no other option left, India sought help from British Aerospace and Lock Heed Martin for its ‘indigenous’ project, who in turn obliged in 1993.

Until 1998 when India, in an attempt to flex its muscles conducted meaningless nuclear tests which have recently been revealed to have been complete failures, Lockheed Martin was helping India’s failing Tejas project by providing a series of in-flight simulation tests of the integrated flight control software which were conducted on F-16 VISTA until July 1998.

For the Multi-Mode Radar (MMR) of Tejas, India turned to Ericsson, and Ferranti Defense Systems, who make such radars. The Indian engineers disgracefully decided to copy those radars and call it indigenous production. As of 2002, the development of MMR was experiencing major delays and costs escalation. It took India four years just to figure out the problem with the radar. Test results in May 2006 proved that the there was a compatibility issue between radar and the advanced signal processor module. The Indians would be well advised to learn from China – the undisputed champions of reverse engineering – before its own botched and expensive attempts.

India also signed a deal with Rafael of Israel to supply Laser pods, and Sextant of France and Elbit of Israel to supply multi-function displays. Despite all these failures, the Indian authorities still believed they produce the engine on their own. Initially it was decided to equip Tejas with the General Electric F404-GE-F2J3 engine. In 1986, a parallel program was developed to produce an indigenous engine. It was named, Kaveri, but India overconfidence while trying to reverse engineer only managed to ensure the production was slowed because of technical difficulties – followed by the 2004 test of the engine that was a complete failure.

In the end India had to turn to French aircraft company Snecma for technical assistance. The height of India’s false ego and attempts at saving face is evident from them naming the French engine that will be used in Tejas, as Kaveri. On the other hand, the GE engine is still being procured for use in Tejas planes that are going to be produced for induction into IAF. The engine trouble didn’t end there, in 2008 it was announced that Kaveri, is not ready for Tejas, and India announced, in May 2009, a tender for $750 million for more powerful GE engine or Eurojet EJ200 engine. (http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1802/18020420.htm)

As a result of all this rambling the unit cost of Tejas has jumped from $21 million to $30 million. The first batch of Tejas is scheduled to be inducted in IAF in 2010, and will be combat ready in 2012 – or so they say. By 2012, PAF will have at least 60 JF-17’s combat ready fully equipped and prepped up.

The JF-17 Thunder – a joint project between Pakistan and China – was riginally designed to be a small and capable lightweight fighter powered by a single engine to reduce costs – the JF-17 was supposed to be a simple and inexpensive solution for replacing large fleets of obsolete types in the air forces of developing countries. The JF-17 evolved into a more advanced fighter during the later stages of development with revised terms of reference by the Pakistan Air Force and the incorporation of more modern features and technologies.

Being simultaneously manufactured in Pakistan and China, ten JF-17’s have already been inducted in PAF. The Pakistan Air Force plans to make the first JF-17 squadron officially operational by the end of 2009.

Apart from smaller Air Forces, Egyptian and Iranian Air forces have confirmed interest in purchasing these aircraft from Pakistan.
The JF-17 Thunder project has been completed in a record period of four years. China National Aviation Corp officially signed the development contract for the FC-1 airplane in 1999. The project initially suffered a setback due to imposition of sanctions in 1999, which hindered acquisition of avionics and weaponry for the aircraft. The avionics had to be delinked from airframe development in 2001. China National Aviation Corp completes the detailed preliminary design in 2001 and in 2002 the company completed the detailed design structure and the system charts.

On 25 August 2003 the “owlet dragon” FC-1 airplane carried on the initial flight. It flew 17 minutes before it returned to the airport.
The aircraft was intended to be a match for the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which is (despite all setbacks) still expected to form the backbone of the Indian Air Force in future. There are, however, some features like advanced and futuristic avionics and cost effectiveness that give the JF-17 an edge over the LC – apart from the fact that it is actually ready and being inducted in the Pakistan Air Force, compared to its Indian counterpart which may take many years, if it is ever finished. There are rumors within official circles in India that a proposal to purchase the 60 JF-17 aircrafts from Pakistan was actually drafted before being vetoed by Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik after the attacks in Mumbai.



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JF-17 – Specifications

Role: Multi-role combat aircraft.
Manufacturer: Pakistan Aeronautical Complex.
First flight: 25 August 2003.
Introduced: 12 March 2007.
Status: Under serial production and in active service.
Primary user: Pakistan Air Force.
Produced: In Pakistan: January 2008.
Unit cost: US$20 million (estimated).

General characteristics

Crew: 1
Length: 14.0 m
Wingspan: 9.45 m (including 2 wingtip missiles)
Height: 4.77 m
Wing area: 24.4 m²
Empty weight: 6,411 kg
Loaded weight: 9,100 kg (including 2× wing-tip mounted air-to-air missiles)
Max takeoff weight: 12,700 kg
Power plant: 1× Klimov RD-93 turbofan
Dry thrust: 49.4 kN
Thrust with afterburner: 84.4 kN
G-limit: +8.5 g
Internal Fuel Capacity: 2300 kg


Maximum speed: Mach 1.8
Combat radius: 1,352 km
Ferry range: 3,000 km
Service ceiling: 16,700 m
Thrust/weight: 0.99


Guns: 1× 23mm internal GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon.
Hard points: 7 in total (4× under-wing, 2× wing-tip, 1× under-fuselage) with a capacity of 3,629 kg (8,000 lb) external fuel and ordnance.

Rockets: 57mm/90mm unguided rocket pods.
Missiles: Air-to-air missiles: PL-5E, PL-9C, PL-12 / SD-10.
Air-to-surface missiles: anti-radiation missiles; anti-ship missiles (AM-39 Exocet); cruise missiles (Ra’ad ALCM).

Bombs: Gravity/Unguided bombs: general purpose (Mk-82, Mk-84); anti-runway (Matra Durandal), Precision guided munitions: laser-guided (GBU-10, GBU-12, LT-2); satellite-guided, Cluster bombs: anti-armour (CBU-100/Mk-20 Rockeye).

Others: Up to 3 external fuel drop-tanks (1× under-fuselage 800 liters, 2× under-wing 800/1100 liters each) for extended range/loitering time, Externally mounted avionics pods for EW, ECM, ELINT, FLIR and targeting, BM/KG300G self-protection jamming (ECM) pod, KZ900 electronic reconnaissance (SIGINT) pod, Blue Sky navigation/attack pod, FILAT (Forward-looking Infra-red Laser Attack Targeting) pod.

Avionics: NRIET KLJ-7 multi-mode fire-control radar.

Production: 10 aircraft already inducted. First full batch manufactured in Pakistan to be inducted by end of the year.  30 planes will be manufactured at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex every year.

JF-17 Planned upgrades: all PAF JF-17 jets will be modified to aerial refueling capable; Subsequent upgrades will be made on PAF JF-17 jets approximately every five years.

PAF JF-17 Order: Pakistan Air force will produce total 350 JF-17 jets excluding export.


The Indian Air Force Tejas LCA

Tejas – Specifications

Role: Multi-role fighter.
Manufacturer: Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
First flight: 4 January 2001.
Introduction: 2011.
Status: Under development / pre-production.
Primary user: Indian Air force.
Unit cost: US$20 million (estimated).

General characteristics

Crew: 1
Length: 13.20 m
Wingspan: 8.20 m
Height: 4.40 m
Wing area: 38.4 m²
Empty weight: 6,500 kg
Loaded weight: 9,500 kg
Max takeoff weight: 14,500 kg
Power plant: 1× General Electric F404-GE-IN20 turbofan
Dry thrust: 53.9 kN
Thrust with afterburner: 85 kN
G limits: +8.5 g
Internal fuel capacity: 3000 liters


Maximum speed: Mach 2.0
Range: 3000 km
Service ceiling: 15,950+ m
Thrust/weight: 1.02

Guns: 1× mounted 23 mm twin-barrel GSh-23 cannon.
Hard points: 8 total: 1× beneath the port-side intake trunk, 6× under-wing, and 1× under-fuselage with a capacity of >4000 kg external fuel and ordnance.

Missiles: air-to-air missiles: Astra BVRAAM, Vympel R-77, Vympel R-73.
Air-to-surface missiles: Kh-59ME TV guided standoff Missile; Kh-59MK Laser guided standoff Missile, Anti-ship missile, Kh-35, Kh-31.
Bombs: KAB-1500L laser guided bombs, FAB-500T dumb bombs, OFAB-250-270 dumb bombs, OFAB-100-120 dumb bombs, RBK-500 cluster bombs.
Others: External fuel capacity: 5×800 liter tanks or 3×1,200 liter tanks, totaling 4,000/3,600 liters.

Avionics: EL/M-2052 AESA radar.

Production: Still in pre-production.

IAF orders: Indian Air force will get total 220 Tejas jets (Expected)


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