Rs 1,500 cr more for combat aircraft Tejas as HAL fails to meet targets

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 08, 2012 18:56 hrs

pThe Ministry of Defence MoD has allocated an additional Rs 1500 crore to the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft LCA programme boosting its projected Rs 14047 crore budget The additional amount will be spent on a production line for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd HAL to build 20 fighters that Indian Air Force IAF has ordered for its first Tejas squadron The IAF has also promised another order for 20 more Tejas for its second squadron Once the improved Mark II Tejas is developed the IAF will field 6-7 Tejas squadrons 120-140 fightersppThis need for additional money arises from the inability of HAL a public sector aerospace monopoly to establish a production line that can build at least eight Tejas fighters a year The production line that HAL set up two years ago on the priceless real estate that it holds in the heart of Bangalore has not yet produced a single Tejas fighterppBriefing Business Standard the Director of the Aeronautical Development Agency ADA P Subramanyam who runs the LCA programme explains that nobody realised that setting up a production line was a technology by itself So far ADA and HAL have built only prototypes and limited-series Tejas aircraft producing individual parts one-by-one like a tailor making a suit When HAL graduated to a standardised production line it encountered serious difficultiespp&ldquoADA and HAL have realised that creating a production line needs major effort&hellip That realisation has come&rdquo says SubramanyamppSo serious are the difficulties that ADA and HAL approached foreign aircraft manufacturers last year &mdash including Eurofighter GmbH which builds the Typhoon The proposal to appoint a foreign consultant for the Tejas production line remains alive in the MoDppSenior IAF officers express frustration that HAL has failed to set up a Tejas assembly line though its primary activity for the preceding decades has been to build foreign aircraft on an assembly line under licenceppAir Marshal Pranab K Barbora who retired as the IAF vice-chief two years ago summarises the Air Force&rsquos viewpoint &ldquoHAL&rsquos assembly line expertise is outdated by at least three decades They have done nothing to upgrade their technology Setting up a modern assembly line for the Tejas is far beyond HAL&rsquos capabilities&rdquoppBarbora says this is why the IAF lobbied hard to post a serving air marshal as HAL chief Instead the MoD appointed RK Tyagi who has no experience in aeronautical development or manufactureppContacted repeatedly for comments Tyagi did not respond to the callsppADA is defending HAL with Subramanyam insisting that HAL would build the first 20 Tejas within two-and-a-half to three years By then the fighter would have obtained final operational clearance FOC in its flight-testing programme and production can begin of the next 20 Tejas which must be built to FOC standardsppThis says Subramanyam will take another two-and-a-half years ie be completed in 2018 By then the Tejas Mark II will be tested and ready and can enter series productionppWhat the ADA chief does not explain is How will HAL which cannot yet build even two Tejas fighters per year build 20 fighters over the next three yearsppThe annual general meeting on Friday of ADA which is a registered society under the MoD was also clouded by delays in flight-testing which Business Standard has reported will delay the initial operational clearance IOC of the Tejas until mid-2013 at the earliestppFor the IAF which contemplates dangerously depleted squadron numbers the big question is When will the first two Tejas squadrons become operationalppGoing by the lack of energy in HAL &mdash which is struggling to build the last two limited series fighters and the first two series production Tejas &mdash the IAF might have a longer wait than it is comfortable withp

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