Indian Airforce:- How ‘indigenous’ is the Indian Tejas LCA?
Light Combat Aircraft Tejas or simply as we know LCA Tejas is the second in line indigenously produced fighter aircraft by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited after the HAL Marut.
How Indigenous is LCA-Tejas has been the focus of discussion in India since the time it took its first flight in 2001. Over the years slowly but steadily efforts have been made to diversify the local supply chain and also replace foreign imported subsystems and components with locally manufactured ones and according to the Defence ministry at present indigenous content of the LCA-Tejas presently stands at 75.5% by numbers and 59.7% by Value of the aircraft.
Now when ever we mark any aircraft about its component and its value, we term it by two;
By Line Replaceable Units/LRUs
Lower Line Replaceable Units/LLRU
So LCA Tejas is
59.7% indigenous by Value
And 75.5% bu LRU and LLRUs
Now what is Line Replaceable Units. These are the essential support item which is removed and replaced at the field level to restore the end item to an operational ready condition. For better understanding let us take the example of the AC-130 Gunship.
Now as I said Line Replaceable Units and Lower Line Replaceable Units are the second things which needs to be accounted. So in LCA Tejas there are in total 344 LRUs/LLRUs involved.
Out of which 210 LRUs/LLRUs are manufactured by our own country in the different PSUs, institutes and factories.
And the rest 134 LRU/LLRUs are manufactured by foreign suppliers and are being imported. Out of which 42 units will be soon produced by India itself.
The fly-by-wire system in Tejas is developed by Bharat Electronics Ltd. But there are critics who point out that engine is from US and radar at the moment is from Israel. However, the airforce in a way believes that nobody makes all the technology as these are open-source technology which includes radar, Egyptian pilot seats which can be purchased from anywhere.
Reinventing the wheel and getting every component and sub component of a combat aircraft indigenously produced is not feasible. The reason is that these are low cost items and to set up a production line for a limited demand is not practical. Also, the requirement for multimode radar is in progress. Tejas uses Elta radar but, there are plans of replacing them in FOC aircraft or MK1A.
In terms of weapons in aircraft at the moment is fine except the BVR missile and the MK1A is being fitted with the AESA radar which is top of the shack multimode radar in the airborne mode.
- Airframe and composites
- Landing gear
- Electronic warfare suite
- Flight control system (Fly by wire system)
- crash resistant self sealing fuel tanks.
- valves, wires and plumbing.
Joint development or custom imported components: These are components that are developed by sub-contracting to overseas development but are specific to LCA.
- Radar : This is in joint development with Elta but a custom Radar for LCA as per Indian requirements
- Targeting pods
- LRUs : These are the brains of the aircraft and are quasi Indian. They use imported silicon Chips (we dont have semicondur capability). However the actual circuit board, system design, standards for interface and the software are 100% Indian.
- Missiles: Some are licence produced and others are fully Indian. Its a mix.
- Radar covering cone i.e the front cone section of the aircraft which is a quartz based structure imported from UK.
- Engine from USA
- Ejection seats
- silicon semiconductor ICs
Initially the propulsion system or the engine chosen was GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri developed by GTRE under DRDO.
A little bit history about the kaveri engine:
- The GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri is a turbofan project developed by the (GTRE), a lab under the DRDO
- T the Kaveri was originally intended to power production models of the Tejas LCA fighter.
- This was approx 202 mn $ project.
- Later on the project was divided into two category: K9 and K 10
- K9: Will be completely indigenous with only foreign consultation and certification.
- K10: Will be a joint venture with a foreign partner.
- Problems that occured:
- Kaveri engine in its present form uses directionally solidified blade technology which is rather an old tech and it couldn’t tolerate the high temperature in its combustion chamber called “Kabini”. The solution was “single crystal blades”
- The thrust generated was nearly 65 to 70% of what was needed.
- Performance decay at high altitude.
- A peculiar noise when in after burning mode..
If this had worked the ratio or percentage of indigenous products with Tejas would have been much more.