February 11, 2013
Credit: Credit: Aeronautical Development Agency
Home-grown military aircraft is a breed that is rarely seen here, except at air shows where they are displayed to convince the public of India's technological prowess. But the fact remains that the country still relies on imported military aircraft for its defense. This makes it vulnerable to international arms embargoes and the whims of foreign powers.
For years, the government has pumped billions of dollars into state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics' Ltd.'s (HAL) indigenous aircraft programs with little to show for it, and politicians are growing increasingly impatient with the manufacturer.
At Aero India last week, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said: “We [India's defense industry] . . . have to reduce the delays and increase the quality. The main aim of the new defense production policy is to increase indigenous content and avoid imports.”
One of the greatest white elephants is the Tejas light combat aircraft that has been in development for around 30 years and has yet to receive full operational clearance (FOC). The Tejas Mk 1 uses the General Electric F404, the same engine that powers Korean Aerospace Industries T-50 jet trainer. The Indian air force, however, wants it to have a more powerful engine, so HAL is developing a MK 2 Tejas that will feature GE F414s, the same engine that is on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Even though the Mk 1 has completed 2,000 test flights, it has only achieved initial operational clearance. That means it has yet to be approved to carry weapons.
“I am impatient for the FOC,” says Antony, who adds that he has asked India's Defense Research and Development Organization to expedite the program. India's air force chief, N.A.K. Browne, estimates the Tejas will not achieve FOC until 2015.
The Tejas airframe requires major changes to accommodate the larger, heavier F414 engine. The technology director at India's National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Shyman Chetty, tells Aviation Week that the rear fuselage will need a 1-in.-dia. increase and the inlet will be altered to accommodate the engine switch-out. The heavier powerplant will affect the aircraft's center of gravity. Chetty says some equipment may be moved inside the aircraft to account for this. NAL is responsible for manufacturing the aircraft's composite parts, including the empennage.