Oct 18, 2015
While Boeing Co Chairman, President and CEO James McNerney announced to an awe-struck audience in Delhi on Oct 16 that the company would be willing to make its twin-engine F-18 fighters in India, when India releases another MMRCA tender in two years, one wonders what is actually happening to thinking in higher echelons of power? I am not even going into issues related to CISMOA, which a few say will be solved ultimately.
While it goes to the credit of the OEMs that they are more than willing to include Indian companies in their global supply base, one wonders why homework has not been done to calculate costs that will be incurred should the country add to its already over two dozen different aircraft models? The Indian Air Force, as far as I can remember, has been crying hoarse over this issue. So while, one has no affiliations to the Rafale for instance, why not just set up co-production for another 90 more? We have to start some time. As a novice, one can only guess the ultimate cost of training, jigs and fixtures, maintenance, spares, will bring in economies of scale. Perhaps the Make In India concept needs to be examined more in detail. There are too many conflicting opinions on what it really entails.
So, where exactly are we today? Declining force levels are adding to IAF woes with three squadrons of Mig-27s and Mig-21s to be retired this year. A large AOG fleet, has created uncertainty on whether to order more Rafales or rely on the indigenous delayed products of the slow-moving bureaucratic Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) Light Combat Aircraft, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) or the joint Indo-Russian Fifth Gen Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), facing technical and work share issues.
Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Arup Raha indicated since the “initial proposal of MMRCA could not go through in terms of compliance of the RFP,” and though the govt-to-govt contract for Rafale with France would be signed soon, it would take two-three years to get the first squadron of Rafales. “The IAF has a long term integrated plan….and we look forward to build 42 squadrons by the end of 2027.” He added six more squadrons of the MMRCA were required. “The demand is there and the wish (for Rafales) is there, (but) it depends on the contract with Dassault….” Having learnt a bitter lesson on serviceability of legacy Russian aircraft, Raha told AerospaceDiary: “Inventory management is important…..(given) overall costs to the country, it is better to have one type of aircraft.” Is anybody listening....or care?
As far as the LCA goes, let us face it, tomorrow never comes. IAF has received only one LCA for weapon integration and testing and that too has been grounded following landing gear issues. Another delayed three are to be delivered by mid-2016 in phases. HAL had said it would be willing to ramp up production from four to around 6-8 a year. However to do this, it will have to set up tools, jigs and fixtures. In addition, HAL, has its limitations while dealing with bureaucracy, delaying its schedules further.
“The LCA alone may not be able to meet (our) requirements in terms of numbers and roles the IAF has to play….if the FGFA does not come and it will take 15 years of work on (AMCA)….……it is desirable to have more of similar aircraft (Rafale),” said Raha. The IAF had initially placed an order for 40 LCAs with GE F-404 engines and 99 GE F-414 engines were ordered for the LCA Mk2 version, the fate of which is not known.
For the moment, HAL will work on a LCA version (no designation). “We want the LCA aircraft HAL is working on now with an improved radar, Electronic Warfare, Flight Refueling and better missiles,” said Raha, not willing to give it a designation. "Its just the LCA." The LCA Mk2 that will need a weight reduction of one ton is expected to take longer, as HAL concentrates on ramping up production of the present LCA- of which only 6-8 will be delivered by end 2016, we learn.
There are related issues too that need to be addressed. An urgent need for a depleting force requires flight refueling aircraft that are extremely important for increasing strategic reach of fighters with 400-500 km limitation, and (also to) enhance the capability of the future fleet, Raha told AD. “We have six IL-78s and require more. As a result the (A-330 Multi Role Tanker Transport ) MRTT has come up for bidding… as of now the process is on and a lot of observations have been made….” And, the story goes on.....
Delays in the intermediate jet trainer "facing issues with stalling characteristics" has made the IAF resort to a 3-stage 2-aircraft ab-initio training using the PC-7 and Hawk AJT. “This is a common practice with many international forces.” India has ordered 75 plus 38 PC-7s for stage and 1 and 2 training.
On issues related to serviceability of present legacy fleet-many up to 40 years old- “a special effort is being made on stocking of spares and care needs to be taken by HAL as it manufactures most of these platforms on quality control,” said Raha. A polite statement but a strong message.