Progress in major programmes of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) such as the Light Combat Aircraft Mark 1 A and Mark 2 as well as the Advance Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) in the past few years has raised the question of whether the HAL and IAF go the LCA/AMCA way abandoning the much touted MMRCA 2.0 which has yet to take off from the Request or Information (RFI) Stage.
Here is a review-
HAL believes that the first flight of LCA Mark 1 can be held by March next year while delivery of the first aircraft to the IAF a year later and the remainder in batches by 2029.
Importantly in the first positive list which bans imports of platforms and systems issued by the Ministry of Defence in August 2020, Enhanced Indigenised Content of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) MK I A has been included, details of which are however not available.
LCA Mark 2 and AMCA programmes have also made fair progress with visible test flight dates.
Last May , the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in an interview to Bloomberg had indicated that the IAF may be switching the 110 MMRCA orders to the LCA. “The Indian Air Force is switching that [order for foreign fighters] to the LCA. The IAF is saying, I would rather take the indigenous fighter, it is good,” said Rawat.
There is an intent in the Indian Air Force to commit to buying 201 Tejas MK2 fighters as per a report in the Week if it met performance requirements. This would take the overall fleet of LCA or Tejas in the IAF to 324 as per the Week.
The parallel development is for the MMRCA 2.0 competition in which firms are competing to include Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen and Russian United Aircraft Corporation’s MiG-35. Boeing has recently added F 15 EX to the list.
The fighter under contention are well proven in the global aerospace domain except perhaps the MiG 35 while the production facilities that are inherent in the firms which are amongst the foremost names in this sphere.
India desires transfer of technology and setting up of a manufacturing line for these aircraft in the country.
There are two concerns – time taken in the selection process as well as transfer of technology.
As the process for selection has not even commenced, the same is likely to be long drawn and the first fighter if to be completely indigenously manufactured and not a Buy and Make India category may take well over 10 years. Buy and Make India may reduce the time frame.
On the other hand while promising much on the transfer of technology front, foreign firms are reluctant to part with the same due to proprietary issues and approvals required from the parent government.
Liability has also been one of the concerns that emerged in the negotiations for MMRCA 1.0 with Dassault Aviation which is now providing 36 fighters to the IAF.
On following the LCA/AMCA route much will depend on whether the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and the HAL are able to deliver as per a pre set time schedule and the manufacturing capability of the latter.
On the time schedule HAL has been blamed by the IAF for delays in the original LCA Tejas.
On manufacturing capability and capacity, LCA PG was upgraded as a full fledged Division of HAL and christened as LCA Tejas Division, under Bangalore Complex in April 2014 for manufacture of Series Production aircraft.
HAL claims that production system at LCA Tejas Division are geared up to handle the state of the art technologies of the Fly by wire Tejas multirole combat aircraft as per the HAL web site.
Major investments will be required by the government in the HAL to create an additional manufacturing facility cum facilities to taken on the load for LCA Mark 1 and 2 as well as the AMCA. Is the government of India willing or able to do so remains to be seen?