COVID-19 a thrust to strengthen Indigenous Defence Production.

The ongoing ceasefire violations and standoff on India’s borders with two of its major hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China, sparked off fresh threats amidst of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. A week ago, the encroachment in the Indian airspace by Chinese PLA’s helicopters at Himachal Pradesh’s border with Tibet and other along the LOC in Kashmir by the Pakistan Air Force, again stroke of a wave of tension regarding the security situation of the Northern Frontier of India. Taking into consideration with the wake of this situation, India’s defence establishments have once again pitched towards re-strengthening the capability of the defence forces.

The Chief of Staff of Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduria on 18th May, 2020, Monday in a press conference at New Delhi emphasized on the need of acquiring 450 new fighter aircrafts that will be deployed at the Northern and Western Frontiers of India. He further elaborated at an interview with the Asian International News (ANI), that “in the next 15 years around 83 LCA (Light Combat Aircrafts) are its mark of primary focus and after that the Mark 2 will come into looking close to 100 of those fighters making it to a mark of 200 fighters”. Also, on the same day another press conference was held by the Bloomberg news agency with India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat where he stressed his emphasis towards planning to switch over to the induction and use of the Indigenously built LCA Tejas aircraft rather than procuring new 114 fighter jets from abroad.

The Indian Air Force at this point of time, taking into consideration of the COVID 19 Pandemic has decided to take into increasing the development of the LCA Tejas as of prime importance along with looking towards the procurement of the Dassault Rafale fighter, a Rs 58,000 crores deal that was signed in 2016 as part of an Intergovernmental agreement between India and France, on the basis of the bilateral security alignment. As, the Indian Air Force overhauled its plan to induct new 114 fighters, that was planned since 2018 onwards. The LCA Tejas has been viewed as a good and viable option under the ‘Make in India’ Project of the Government of India, that will help to reduce India’s dependence on Foreign firms and will help in refurbishing India’s fighter fleet by retiring the ageing Soviet era MiG-21 and Mirage 2000 fleets. Also, keeping in view of the cost of foreign equipments, the plaguing bureaucratic delays and the funding crunch; Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated on an urgent need to buy nationally made products and equipments that will help to boost the Indian economy at a better rate during the COVID 19. The Tejas can become a game changer and an easy procurement tool to enhance the fighter fleet, due to low price of its equipments which can also draw the attention of more countries in the future. Also, another statement being made by Air Marshal Daljit Singh (retd.), “India must now work out for quickly recreating the capabilities and increase manufacturing of hi-tech defence systems”.

Even the main advantage of making an aircraft in India has been viewed as a very positive step by many of the defence officials as the fact that the customers at the national scale could easily select and buy the Sensors, Electronic Warfare Equipments, Avionics and weapons as per the prevailing operational requirements. The customers who will select these products will be assured of full logistical and upgraded support without any restrictions, with the fact that these designs can provide and ensure a low observation and systems capability. As per a reply of Air Chief Marshal Bhaduria, “Focusing more into the Make in India Initiative will help towards leading an increase in the FDI and private sector and will sought to develop the aviation industry of the country”.

Also, this situation of COVID 19 pandemics can be viewed as the best opportunity to stress and lay emphasis on increasing the indigenous production base which can help in giving thrust upon the national defense industries to enhance their capability to respond with some upcoming solutions for addressing the lacunae created before meeting the delivery of the foreign orders.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s Indigenous LCA Tejas Fighter jet a perfect case for Make in India’s target?

The LCA Tejas which has been in the views of various military enthusiasts and the future of India’s Air Arm, has been through maiden flights under the FOC Standard (Final Operational Clearance), the first being numbered SP-21, piloted by Air Commodore K.A. Muthana (Retd.), the Chief of Test Flying Fixed Wing Branch of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Tracing back to history of this LCA programme, as it is known that since a long time India has brought and earned license built permission of fighter jets from Russia, France and U.K., but since 1980s the HAL has started to make its inception to a new programme to manufacture its own new aircraft. Previously, HAL had worked on various successful Fighter jet projects nationally such as the Hindustan HF-24 Marut jet (1961-1990), which led sorties in the Battle of Longewala in 1971 and the HJT-16 Kiran (1964-1968), presently whose role is limited only for training purposes. But, the LCA Tejas can be seen as having a much better cross cutting edge over these two, which has been aimed to be an alternate against the Soviet built MiG-21, which is supposed to be retired by 2023. The Tejas is an agile aircraft by nature, powerful and has a strong value for money with respect to Rafale, but its fire power is considered as to be unmatched with that of the Rafale. Thus, in terms of its production, it can be produced and brought in large numbers which can be precisely 113 against that of the currently deployed MiG 21s, if things go. Also, the Delta wing capability of the LCA Tejas makes it quite strong in terms of its speed, movement and the climbing rate.

The indigenously developed Tejas was brought in an order of 20 aircrafts with its 1st Squadron named as 45 Flying ‘Daggers’ in 2016 and an order of 83 single seat LCA Tejas mk1A fighter jets has been made along with 40 Mk1s and around 32 single seat fighters and 8 twin seat trainers.

The FOC standard Tejas aircraft is considered to be as more advance compared to the IOC (Initial Operation Clearance) Standard. The major criterias that makes it a best option compared to other fighters are in terms of its-

  • Range- At the beginning of its service, the limited range and fuel carrying capacity was of prime concern on the IOC standard aircraft, which the current FOC version consists of 2 fixed tanks of around 1,200 and 800 litres capacity, along with fuel of 725 litres, fit at centre of the fuselage.
  • Mid-Air refueling- Aiming at its range and speed of movement the FOC standard of the aircraft will get a mid-air refueling probe which will give it the capacity to carry out mid air-to-air refueling ability to carry out flight sorties for long hours.
  • Auto-cannon- The aircraft is equipped with as Gsh-23 auto cannon and a twin barrel 23 mm gun that can be enabled through software testing grounds and can be effective in terms of air-to-air combat mode.
  • Missiles- The aircraft will be able to carry a payload of BVR (Beyond Visual Range) Missiles, along with other missiles such as the indigenously developed DRDO Astra, NGARM (New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile), Brahmos and other foreign missiles such as Derby or Python-5 from Israel or Kh 59mk or Kh 35 from Russia.
  • Agility- The Tejas will have a better agility and maneuverability which will help it to touch a low level speed at 8G force and its flaps could also help the aircraft to avoid from getting engaged by missiles without stalling in air.

As per views of defence officials, whether serving or retired, many of them welcomed this aircraft and viewed it as the best alternative under the evolving Make in India Initiative. As per (Retd.) Colonel Shivdan Singh, in a discussion panel at the Rajya Sabha Television, “The LCA Tejas’ production will help in increasing the morale of the troops of Indian Army and will be a ‘Force Multiplier’ during battles”.

Taking into such consideration with the latest report of the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institution for the fiscal year 2020-21 India has earmarked a 66.9$ Billion Deal, but the budget cuts being imminent due to the ongoing pandemic. India is the 3rd largest Defence spender in 2019 after U.S. and China. Also, there is a need to consider Rafale with a great importance, because of its capabilities and equipment rates. In this year May’s 1st week the first of 4 out of 36 Rafale jets were scheduled to arrive in India, which got delayed due to the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic and is scheduled to arrive finally in July’s last week.

The Indian Air Force is about to welcome the Rafale jets after taking preparations by building special hangars, shelters, maintenance capacity and infrastructural facilities costing  400 crores. Thus, 2 different squadrons will be each stationed at Ambala AFS in Punjab and Hashimara AFS in West Bengal. In this case out of the 36 jets, 30 jets will be ready for combat use as fighters and 6 jets will be trainers, but will also be prepared in a way to take up combat roles.

Thus, to sum up, the Air Force’s upgrading must be based in an integration scale and all developments must be done with a policy of sharing technological capabilities on the basis of integration in terms of security considerations as a part of Defence Diplomacy. Also, this must be an aid to ease extreme dependency on international purchase of equipments, avoid lag of time in delivery and bullying by importing nations, under the observation of an established independent national authority on aviation, which the Government needs to ensure in order to make through its goals for the future.


This Post has been written by Barshan Karmakar, exclusively for our website

Image Credits:- Kuntal Biswas

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