The state-owned Hindustan aeronautics limited is the lead integrator of LCA Tejas. The company has an order of 40 LCA Tejas of MK 1 variant (including executed orders). This includes 16 Tejas MK1 IOC Standards, 16 Tejas MK1 FOC Standards, and 8 Tejas MK1 based trainers. The latest claim is “HAL Fumbles LCA – Tejas FOC Deliveries”.
Production of LCA Tejas
LCA Tejas completed its advance weapon trials on 28th May 2014. The aircrafts which were used for these testing were LSP 3, LSP 5, and LSP 7. These LSP variants later became the baseline for the first serial production unit. The first serial production unit was rolled out of the assembly line on 17th January 2015 i.e. in just about seven months.
This first serial production unit was taken up to the trials where the aircraft breached 8G limit in December 2015. Upon successful completion of the postproduction trials and changes, the first two serial production units were inducted into the services of the Indian Airforce on 1st July 2016. The full swing production of the fighter jet started later next year. The production rate at that time was not even eight aircraft per year, the organization was not just building the fighter jets but was also establishing the infrastructure simultaneously.
The erstwhile Kiran hanger was modified to roll out at least four aircraft per year in addition to eight aircraft per year capacity of LCA division. This created the total production capacity of 12 aircraft per year. However, by the time the production facility reached the desired production rate the aircraft on order were already delivered and next variant (FOC) was not yet clear. The ramped-up production reached eight aircraft (May be beyond) on March 22, 2019 with the first flight of SP-15 (SP 16 was delivered before SP 15 on March 11, 2019).
Delivery schedule of LCA MK1 IOC 2 standard jets
Light combat aircraft received final operation clearance on 20 February 2019 during Aero India. Usually, when a new design hits production the first unit takes the entire production lead time and subsequent units are faster as they are manufactured at parallel production lines. The first FOC standard Tejas was rolled out from the assembly line in a record time of 12 months, post-release of the documents.
The first FOC Tejas SP21 took skies on 17th March 2020, followed by the first flight of SP 22 on 24th September 2020. The Indian Airforce based on the user experience recommended some software patches and these were to be incorporated in the subsequent units. As per the production schedule, HAL was to deliver eight FOC Tejas by March 2021 and remaining by end of the financial year 2021 (i.e. March 2022). This will be followed by the delivery of the trainer jets, Indian Airforce will get eight trainer jets of FOC standards.
These deliveries could have been expedited if the order for Tejas MK1A was placed and a dedicated assembly line for the trainers would have been created. The first Tejas MK1A will be rolled out in 18-month time from the date of order and now the anticipated dates are February 2021 (likely during aero India). Since the order of MK1A hasn’t come in, the delivery of MK1A will not start before September 2022 and thus HAL really does not need to ramp up the production facility to execute the current orders.
The current production facility is enough to execute the current orders within the timeline specified. The delay of the Tejas Mk1A order isn’t linked to the HAL production rate. Instead, it is the other way around.
Effect of Pandemic on delivery of LCA Tejas
Like most businesses, the production of HAL Tejas was also hit by pandemics. After the delivery of SP22, the subsequent units could not hit the skies as some components associated with the production could not reach the production plant.
Current Status of FOC Units
- SP21 is delivered and SP22 is ready
- SP23 and SP24 – Jets are ready and only a few components are to be added which were delayed due to COVID delays.
- SP25 and SP26 nearing completion – The coupling stage is almost complete.
This makes one delivered, one ready for delivery and four aircraft in advance stages. Also, a larger bunch is already loaded on the jigs. Despite hurdles created by Covid-19, HAL is well poised to achieve its target of eight aircraft by end of March 2021. In the worst-case scenario, HAL will for sure deliver six jets make up numbers in coming months.
It is important to understand, assembly lines are not just infrastructure. These lines are operational because of the workforce and to sustain a larger workforce enormous capital is required. The workforce must be trained, paid, and facilitated, thus if the company does not have enough orders to efficiently use the infrastructure and workforce, then it is a waste of money.
Creating an overproduction facility without orders will be an economic disaster. HAL currently has enough or infact more capacity than required. Therefore creating another production line before the order of Tejas MK1A isn’t economically viable.
As far as the order of Tejas MK1A is concerned, it does not have any link with the delivery of the current order. More about the MK1A deal in the coming article…