It is no secret that former defence minister, the late Mr. Manohar Parrikar single handedly resurrected the indigenous ADA/HAL TEJAS fighter from oblivion. It needed his intense intervention to transform the fighter project on track. It was indeed to his credit and his herculean efforts that saw the TEJAS program succeeded in getting inducted into the Air Force. The culprits for this situation were many, who both advertently and inadvertently were responsible to scuttle the program.

Speaking about the chequered journey with Nitin A Gokhale, the former Director of ADA and Project Director of TEJAS program, Commodore CD Balaji (Retd), who is widely regarded as one of the main architects of the TEJAS program said, “Actually in 1983, the government decided to set up ADA with a small team to find out whether India can build and develop an indigenous aircraft or not? Dr Kota Harinarayana was heading that group and that is how it was started. However, the final Cabinet approval for full-scale design and development of TEJAS prototypes was given in 1993 – 10 years down the line. That is the actual start point of the program formally. It was not 1983 but 1993 was the base year for the journey”. The first trigger of the project was when the fighter took to the skies for the first time for a short sortie of 18 minutes on 4 January 2001. It took nearly 22 years before the program could mature into an advanced, modern and contemporary viable platform. Given India's existing industrial infrastructure during the 1990s and its aviation development experience, this was indeed a remarkable achievement. It is worthy to note that Dassault which has 92 years, General Dynamics (Lockheed-Martin) has 69 years, Northrop Grumman which had 69 years and among other global manufactures, typically take around 15 years to develop and field a fighter jet platform to fruition.

While we must celebrate the induction of the indigenous fighter, a major challenge for HAL will be to augment its production capacity, which is currently at only eight Tejas fighters per year. This needs to be doubled for the IAF to get the requisite number of fighters. IAF only has 32 fighter squadrons against an approved strength of 42, and any more slippages will be detrimental to India’s security posture.

The Need of The Hour

One of the key objectives mentioned in the new Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020 is to achieve self-reliance (‘Aatmanirbhar’ campaign) in defence equipment. In this regard, calling for greater private sector participation in the defence production sector, the PM Modi in Feb 2021 said "without the participation of the private sector, the 21st century ecosystem of the defence sector cannot stand on its feet,” this statement was made while addressing a webinar with industry chambers on effective implementation of the Union Budget’s provisions in the defence sector. The PM said the government, the public and private sectors have to work in accordance with a “timebound action plan and roadmap” to ensure India builds a robust defence-industrial base and emerges as a major arms exporter.

He assured industry captains that any defence equipment that can be designed, developed and produced in India will no longer be imported. “Smaller countries are also now looking up to India to meet their needs in defence because India is capable of providing low cost manufacturing and delivering quality products,” he added. Ruing the fact that India was among the biggest arms importers in the world, he said, “ Indians don’t lack talent and capabilities. It had become an easy way out to import weapons earlier.” he said.

The various types of defence hardware includes armoured and combat vehicles, radars, electronic warfare equipment, warships, submarines, avionics, military aircraft, safety and ballistic products, armaments and ammunition.

Efficiency, Accountability, Talent And Rewards

There are several examples of the private sector delivering the products to the armed forces. A prime example being the L&T made K9-Vajra tracked howitzer which has seen deliveries months ahead of schedule, clearly an unprecedented phenomena for the armed forces. Delays and quality issues are the hallmark of defence equipment made by the DPSUs leading to serious issues with regard to defence preparedness. TATA Group, Bharat Forge (Kalyani, Stump Schuele & Somappa (SSS Defence) are the other key players in the sector. A veritable example is SSS Defence has developed in quick time a family of rifles comprising an assault rifle based on the 7.62×39mm cartridge, a carbine, and a designated marksman rifle. It is also developing a light machine gun. Thus, SSS became the first private Indian firm to have developed sniper rifles when it’s Viper and Saber range of rifles were released. Many private sector companies also make equipment for the Indian space and integrated missile development programs. Therefore, it is high time the private sector's competence and potential are given due consideration by the government.

AMCA Key To Force Projection Along The LoC And LAC
Given the protracted skirmishes the army and the air force face and confront along the LoC and LAC, AMCA would play a critical role to ensure security along the border. Besides, it is evident that there is no open information on the detailed specifications and capabilities of Chinese stealth fighters as they are cloaked in a deceitful secrecy, since this is used to amplify their propaganda machinery and belligerence against India and the west. Once, the technologies for the AMCA is developed (which is undergoing under various DRDO affiliated agencies) and matures, India's stealth fighter could be far superior to the Chinese and could very well even match western platforms. India's learning curve in developing the TEJAS could very well hasten the development of the AMCA.

However, to develop the AMCA the govt should involve the private sector along with ADA to develop a comprehensive ecosystem for the development and production of the stealth fighter. Otherwise, the gestation period from development to deployment cycle could face the same fate as the TEJAS.

Our Bureau