– By Raflanker
A new storm stirred up yet again on competence of Tejas. Time again,Tejas, a Light Combat aircraft is expected to perform like a medium category fighter. Allegations are made on its payload capacity, range, EW suite, weight and delays. But are these points really tenable? Let’s have a most detailed discussion along with documented evidences to understand what Tejas as an aircraft was supposed to be and what it currently offers and what it will be in future, while having some basic comparisons with other light fighters.
LCA since start was developed as a replacement to Mig 21 and Mig 27 of IAF. It was envisaged as a light interceptor with limited Ground attack capability. The program was sanctioned in 1983 and ADA was setup in 1984 (the development agency itself was created after program sanction). After issuance of Air Staff Requirement in 1985, ADA,DRDO, HAL and GTRE initiated for some super ambitious system developments like Kaveri Engine (1987), Multi-Mode Radar (1991), Radome(1989) , MFDs, FBW, etc.
In 1987, Dassault-Breguet was hired as consultant for designing and system integration. Design was finalized in 1990 and funding for prototype development was sanctioned in 1993. In 1995, first TD rolled out. However, first flight was delayed till 2001 due to technical problems encountered (something quite normal in pilot projects). But even before the 1st flight, IAF changed certain requirements in 1997, these included certain changes in EW suite and change in CCM from R-60 to R-73. Against all odds 1st TD flew in year 2001. Snecma was roped in for kaveri engine in same year.
In 2006, MMR was found deficient and hence ELTA was roped in for co-development and consultancy. In 2006, contract for 20 IOC variant was concluded, around the time when Tejas 2nd and 3rd prototype took 1st flight. IOC demanded capability to carry bombs and CCM. In 2007, Tejas 1st time fired R-73E. But IAF revised ASR in 2009 to integrate CCM with MMR and HMDS as pre-requisite for IOC, instead of same being done after IOC. Also IAF asked for integration of Python 5 as CCM. Further even though IAF has asked for BVR in initial requirements, BVR was only selected in 2009. Hence, ADA placed order for derby in 2011 and delivery in 2014. In 2011, IAF placed order for 20 FOC version with pre-requisite to fire BVR. In 2014-15, IAF further asked for A2A refuelling as pre-requisite for FOC which was earlier planned for MK-1A. Owning to technical problem encountered as well as multiple requirement changes, IOC-1 was released in 2011, IOC-2 in 2013 and FOC in 2019.
But such delays are normal and fighter programs around the world has encountered delays and have similar timelines as Tejas. In many cases, aircraft was inducted with limited or reduced capablities, which were than added after induction. Comparison with some other fighters developed by already established major players around same time –
- EFT – Development was initiated in 1983 with British Aerospace EAP, which was Tech Demonstrator for EFT taking to skies in 1986, while 1st EFT prototype flew in 1994 with introduction in 2003.
- Rafale Tech demonstrator 1st flew in 1986, with 1st Rafale C model flying in 1991 and introduction in 2001.
- Gripen program was initiated in 1979, with 1st flight taking place in 1988 and introduction in 1996 with limited capabilities. Combat capable Gripen was only introduced in 2002.
- J10 program was initiated in 1981, approval was granted in 1984 with 1st flight in 1998 and introduction in 2006.
If we compare the timeline, Tejas was sanctioned in 1983 with development starting in 1993, it 1st flew in 2001 with IOC in 2011 and IOC 2 in 2013 and FOC in 2019. FOC was delayed mainly due to late selection of BVR and making In-flight refuelling a perquisite.
Due to Development Agencies
The project was conceptualised around the time when India barely had industrial base to support such advanced project. India went in with many ambitious projects around the same time which included IGMDP, Dhruv, Arjun, Tejas, Pinaka, Akash etc. This was the time when self reliance was considered necessity, hence much focus was given on all indigenous product. As a result ADA and other agencies went in with complex projects like Kaveri, MMR, MFDs, Radome, FBW, EW suite etc. However, multiple foreign firms were involved from time to time in the process and most of them offered their own products instead of indigenous development, for example PS-05/A was offered by Ericsson, Dassault offered its 3 channel FBW and so on. But DRDO decided to pursue project indigenously using consultancy by these firms. Many of these projects eventually didn’t succeed even though major foreign players were involved as consultants and integrators.
Major examples of such foreign collaboration were Dassault in designing of LCA, Snecma for Kaveri, Ericsson and later Elta for MMR, LM for FBW etc. Failure of many of these resulted in design changes and integration of imported system which lead to multiple delays. Practically failures and delays are to be expected when you are taking complex project but that does not mean you give up. However, Agencies did wasted a lot of time in trying to overcome the deficiencies and failing to achieve the targets and eventually opting for import.
The alternative was to have a JV with an established player. But in such cases, the best you get is your stamp on aircraft, not much is achieved in terms of R&D, however your timeline would have been somewhat shorter. Therefore, India took correct but somewhat faulty approach. Agencies should have been more prudent with selection of systems to be developed indigenously instead of trying to build everything in-house. However, even with considerable delays, ADA still delivered a modern fighter comparable to other fighters in its class. And with constant indigenous upgrades rolling in, it will remain competitive in considerable future.
Why to blame only development agencies, when IAF itself was over ambitious with its timeline and shortsighted with its requirement. In ASR 1985, the plan was to have fighter in interceptor role, with MMR and SPJ pod and capable of firing R60 and a BVR (which was not specified at that time) along with Air to ground bombs. It clearly reflects the approach was to match what was available in the world around that time instead of what should be the future.
The timeline for induction of LCA was 1994, but the prototype development was sanctioned only in 1993. If ASR were already going obsolete, IAF should have modified the requirements in 1993 itself, but they decided to do so in 1997 i.e. 2 years after the rollout of TD. Revised requirements demanded CMDS, RWR, integration of CCM with HMDS and MMR, integration of M-62 bombs etc. In 2009, ASR were revised again and Derby was finally selected for BVR roles.
Than around 2014-15, IFR was asked as pre requisite for FOC which was initially requirement for mk1a. In all, requirements were changed on 10 occasions during the development cycle of Tejas, i.e. between 1997-2015, as per MOD reply to PAC. Instead, like JF 17, aircraft could have been inducted while additional requirements could have been added to in-service airframes. The point being, delaying the induction to integrate new technologies only resulted in further delays, making already existing technologies obsolete which again needed replacement. It eventually became a cycle. However one cannot totally blame IAF, Induction happened almost 30 years after the ASR were first released, which necessitated ASR revision, but then revising them in multiple batches in a short period was wrong.
Delays cannot be fully attributed to development agencies when IAF and MOD (which at many times delayed in fund release) are equally responsible. But has the delays made Tejas obsolete? The answer is no, constant upgrades has kept Tejas comparable to similar fighters of the class. Meanwhile the burden of depleting strength of IAF squadron cannot be totally put on Tejas, as IOC and FOC and even signing of mk1a was delayed due to constant requirement changes demanded by IAF or by simply sitting on the file. Not to mention IAF failure to acquire 7 squadrons of MMRCA which were supposed to be inducted by now as well as falling apart of FGFA program are equally responsible that IAF strength has depleted and Mig-21 are still flying.
Tejas being small and overweight resulting in less fuel and reduced payload.
The argument in itself is irony. Tejas from start was conceptualised as light weight interceptor cum ground attack aircraft. But today people want it to have range and capabilities of a medium sized fighter. The allegation is that as per ASR empty weight should not have exceeded 5500 kg. But today Tejas stand at 6950 kg.
The simple question is :
- Were ASR revised overtime?
- Did such revision involved addition of new systems?
- If yes, does the weight penalty for such addition was considered?
Those with agenda won’t answer these, they will just allege that Tejas is overweight. Let’s assume it to be overweight for a moment and ask has this resulted in non compliance of other ASR? The answer is no. The ASR demanded weight to be less than 5500 kg and MOU stipulated it at 5365 kg with 3120 kg of internal fuel. Tejas current weight is 6950 kg and internal fuel capacity is at 2950 kg. Around 170 kg less than stipulated. However, Tejas carry 300-400 kg of ballast(dead) weight to maintain center of gravity. HAL has been working around to re-align LRUs so as to remove this weight, hence making aircraft lighter. Also addition of IFR also means that this 170 kg can be managed. Not to mention at 2950 kg (fuel system was modified in 17-18 to increase fuel capacity), Tejas still carry more fuel than comparable fighters.
The other point raised is Tejas maximum payload has decreased due to weight increase. Well obviously it has, but at the expense of some important systems addition. Also as per ASR, IAF had demanded minimum payload capacity of 3000kg, while Tejas offers around 3600 kg with full fuel and has been tested with external payload of around 4000kg (likely with reduced internal fuel).
Official brochure and website data
A small comparison with fighters in the similar category will further put an end to this argument. JF-17 has empty weight of 7965 kg and internal fuel capacity of 2450 kg, and has payload capacity of only 3400kg with full fuel, high empty weight is mainly due to all metal airframe. Block 3 is supposed to be lighter with more capabilities.
Gripen C empty weight is 6800 kg and carries 2400 kg fuel internally, the payload is on upper side at 4800 kg, thanks to low internal fuel carried as well as higher MTOW because of canard-delta design, but at the same time Gripen C is powered by a lower thrust engine, making TWR comparable. Coming to KAI FA-50, its empty weight stands at 6470 kg, internal fuel capacity at 2690kg and payload at 3140kg with full fuel. FA-50 though weights less, also carries less fuel and payload and is powered by lower thrust engine. Hopefully this should put an end to weight and payload discussion.
Tejas has less range and combat radius
The Tejas is claimed to be lacking in range and combat radius. Tejas will never see fight going into foreign territories or Tejas is only good for intercept roles or for defensive roles or it can’t do balakot type bombing or Tejas has less than 1 hour of on-station time and so on. These points are mostly quoted as such, however no heed is given to documented evidences available in public domain. In respect of Tejas, these are mostly hearsay, as no document is available to confirm or deny combat radius. However we will base our estimation on data available in public domain. As per HAL brochure in Aero India 2019, Tejas ferry range is quoted at 2000km+.
Also what we know of publicly available information is that, Tejas flew from Sulur to Changi, Singapore with a halt at Port Blair. Google Earth distance calculation tool put distance between Sulur and Port Blair at 1700km+ and between Port Blair and Changi at around 1700km. However we all know that’s not how flight path works, In reality it involve multiple waypoints as well as altitude restrictions because of civil aviation traffic. Now while flying to Port Blair which is across the sea, a considerable amount of fuel reserve must have been kept in mind to cater for any adverse situation. Similarly, Tejas fly from Bengaluru to Jaisalmer which is again around 1700 km straight line at 28k feet and with ATC routing, as mentioned by Indranil Roy in his article for DDR. So it can be said with considerable surety that Tejas range is in excess of 2000km. Now this is in 3 drop tank configuration, however with 2 drop tank configuration, this range don’t drop down much for 2 reasons.
- Centerline fuel tank is small at 800ltr. Even with basic distance/fuel calculations range reduction will be less than 250km
- With removal of centerline drop tank, drag and overall weight of the aircraft gets reduced, which allows better ranges.
So with 2 drop tank configuration range can be assumed at 1800km+. Therefore, it is absurd to claim that aircraft which can fly 1800km with 2 drop tanks have short legs. Not to mention, the removal of 300-400kg of ballast weight, will further help in range improvement, be it in form of internal fuel increase or empty weight reduction, reducing overall drag. Now if for basic calculation, I consider combat radius as 1/3rd of above range, so as to cater for weapons drag, after burner time and lo-lo flying, combat radius comes at 600km in 2 drop tanks,2 bvr,2wvr and SPJ pod configuration. With 1 centerline drop tank, 4bvr, 2 wvr and SPJ it should come at 450 km. Not to forget Tejas is capable of in-flight refueling, so this radius can be increased with IFR, if needed.
Further, current drops tanks design creates more drag, therefore new composite tanks are in development which will be optimized for drag so as to further improve the range. Even in current situation consider a 550km radius in configuration of 2 Drop tanks, 3 LGBs or 5 hammer or 2 rampage, Lightening pod and 2 CCMs(See google earth Image).Tejas not just only defend well, it will go for offense too, specially after integration of Stand-off systems like Hammer and Rampage. Also I will end it with this quotation from HAL reply to Technical Evaluation Committee dated 22/01/2019–“the ferry range of the aircraft is in compliance with RFP requirements.”
Electronic Warfare suite
Another argument being propagated against Tejas is that it lacks EW suite. At 1st we need to understand what EW suite means, it is a combination of multiple sensors so as to keep pilot situationally aware against incoming threat and helps him fight back. Typically EW suite consist of CMDS, RWR, MAWS, SPJ, ESM and ECM measure.LCA currently come equipped with CMDS, RWR, SDR, conformal VHF/UHF antenna and data link. As of today It lacks MAWS as well as Self Protection Jammer. MAWS was neither an requirement in ASR, nor you generally see them in Light fighters. For SPJ, HAL and DRDO has to take criticism for failing to develop an indigenous one or integrating a foreign one till now, even when they have plenty of experience of integrating jamming pods with multiple Indian fighters.
There has been news of EL/M 8222WB being integrated with Tejas, but same cannot be confirmed from any reliable source. However, lately good progress is being made in terms of integration of indigenously developed DRDO ASPJ pod. There are already multiple tenders as well as contract awards for various subsystem integration of DRDO ASPJ with Tejas. And this last requirement with respect to EW suite will also be complied with pretty soon. Further claiming SPJ was supposed to be internal is wrong, IAF requirements from 1997 was for SPJ preferably internal or podded.
Means option was with developer to keep it internally or in pod configuration. Anyways DRDO ASPJ which is being integrated with mk1a, will be retrofitted with mk1 too. Also none of the light fighter currently carries SPJ internally, be it Gripen C, JF17 or FA-50. Infact no IAF fighter aircraft carry SPJ internally except Rafale.
Tejas currently lacks Stand-off weapons capability in air to ground and air to sea role. Gripen and JF-17 both are capable of these capabilities. But it is interesting to note that, IAF which changed weapons requirement as much as 10 times in its development cycle did not put requirement of Stand-off weapons for Tejas FOC. That’s why focus of development team mostly remain with testing and proving of FOC requirements of IAF.
This is also because design philosophy behind Tejas was to be a replacement for Mig-21, Jaguar and Mig-27. Tejas currently can carry different types of dumb bombs, HSLD bombs, Laser guided Bombs, rocket pods and cluster bombs for ground attack role. While in Air to Air role, it is as capable as any modern fighter, armed with R-73E, Python 5 and Derby coupled with HMDS and EL/M 2032, Tejas is a deadly enemy. However, that’s not where Tejas is going to stop, it is now being converted into light weight multi-role fighter.
Tejas is currently being integrated with Astra mk 1 of which carriage trials are already going on, it will get integrated with Hammer, JDAM, Rampage etc. Not just that, ADA and HAL has quite elaborate plan for Tejas which involve it being integrated with latest indigenous weapons like astra mk 2, SFDR, NGARM, Brahmos NG, STAR, NASM-MR, TARA, Gautham, SAAW and so on. Further plan is to convert Tejas into mothership for CATS (Combat Air Teaming System) called Tejas MAX. In all, even though Tejas is late, it won’t remain stagnant in terms of capabilities. Tejas will keep getting staggered upgrades to keep it potent for a considerable future.
Things which no one talks about
Infographic by Amit R. Kashyap (Defence Decode)
Whenever articles on Tejas are published, they at large only talk about the departments in which it has encountered some problems or failures, so let’s today talk about stuff which are overlooked in the negative publicity. It is no lie to say that it is because of Tejas that a massive aviation sector industrial base has been created within India, which not just had allowed Tejas to mature as a platform, but also has allowed multiple spin off and advancements in terms of new fighter development. Today India is pursuing multiple projects at same time, these involve Tejas mk1a, Tejas SMART/LIFT, Tejas MAX, NLCA, Tejas mk-2, TEDBF, and AMCA. Had India been not ambitious with its approach of being self reliant in fighter development, it might still have been dependent on foreign partners for collaboration like MKI, JF-17,KF-X and so on. The ecosystem which Tejas helped India develop is going to benefit India in a very long run. I mean how many countries are there which have actually made indigenous fighter land on a carrier? With Tejas, not just came spin offs, it was also instrumental in creation of many advanced technologies, development & certification agencies, test centers and development of multiple systems. Infact, Tejas itself is now 60% indigenous with more systems being indigenized. The Indigenous system in tejas are-
- SDR, conformal VHF/UHF antennas, Tactical Navigation antennas, radio altimeter, air data probe, IFF, data link
- Canopy, Avionic sensors which include Digital audio control system (DACS), Unified video cum digital recorder, Smart MFDs, HUD, HOTAS
- Advanced composite material, Radar absorbing structure for bulkhead and antenna mounting brackets, RAM coatings for cockpit and body, different type of aluminum and titanium alloys, drop tanks.
- on board oxygen generating system, quadruplex FBW, Environmental control system, Automatic Takeoff & Landing (ATOL)
- Gear box, Landing gear, Jet fuel Starter, air brakes, multiple actuators, power take-off shaft
- Mission computer, radar computer, RWR, CMDS.
The major systems which are in process of Indigenization are Uttam AESA radar, ASPJ, Quartz radome, HMDS etc.
In all 210 out of 344 LRUs are indigenous, while another 40+ are in process of being indigenized. Now Majority of these will see some or other application in future fighter programs either in form of spin offs or in form of next generation versions. Not just this, we have above talked in detail about indigenous weapons package being developed to be integrated with Tejas.
It is amply clear that time and again, Tejas is only blamed for what it has not yet achieved but will always be ignored for all of its achievement. Tejas can be flown in multiple configuration and currently fulfils the role which IAF mandated it to do i.e.
A deadly interceptor and Air defense fighter particularly with AOA of 26°,mach 1.6 speed, HMDS, EL/M-2032 radar, RWR, data link and different A2A weapons configurations like
- 1*800 ltr center line drop tank, 4*derby/Astra and 2*python 5/R-73E.
- 2*1200/800 ltr DT, 2*Derby/Astra and 2*Python 5
A capable ground attack aircraft with
- 2*800ltrs DT, 4*Tandem 1000lbs bombs, 2*Python 5/R73E and lightening pod
- 2*1200 ltrs DT, 3*griffin LGB, 2*python 5/R73E and lightening pod
Many other combinations can be made which shows Tejas is indeed a versatile fighter.
In future with integration of EL/M 2052/Uttam AESA radar, DRDO ASPJ and most planned weapon systems as discussed earlier, it will truly become a light multirole fighter.