Antony frowns on Tejas delay

Our special correspondent

Bangalore, Feb. 5: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said he was "impatient" over the delay in the delivery of the country's ambitious Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) that has been in the making for more than two decades.

Speaking at an international seminar on "Challenges in Design to Deployment of Aerospace Products" on the eve of Aero India 2013, Antony virtually pulled up the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the incomplete LCA project.

"I'm happy with your achievements, but delay in delivery is a problem," Antony told the country's premier military research organisation in a rare censure.

The LCA, christened Tejas, was originally scheduled for delivery in 2008.

Last week, Antony had taken a swipe at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a public sector company, for delays in delivery.

Tejas is a joint project of HAL and DRDO.

The minister said Tejas was undergoing flight tests and ground tests to meet user requirements. The long gestation period introduces additional challenges for all the agencies concerned, he said, as the avionics and software-centric aerospace systems change at "mind-boggling pace".

To overcome this, Antony said: "It is imperative to ensure that the user-requirements are met and the design of these requirements finalised as early as possible."

"Try to speed up your process and reduce time for research, development and production," the minister advised.

Antony said he was "impatient" to see the LCA deployed. The Mark I variant is now awaiting the second clearance and is expected to be operational next year.

Much of the delay was caused by the wait for an indigenous engine, Kaveri, which has not been successful and has now been dropped in favour of a GE engine. The Mark II variant of the LCA, which could be a few years away, is also expected to use a GE engine, DRDO sources said.

The minister called on the private sector to enter research and development and production of military equipment in a big way. "Industries have several opportunities to participate in major defence acquisition programmes by making use of our offset policies. If our private industries also invest in RandD, I'm confident that the requirements of our users would be met much earlier than is the case now."

The air force chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, who was with the minister at the seminar, called for penalties to prevent delays in delivery which, he said, restrict the modernisation plans of the armed forces.

Delays or inadequate performance at the centre of development could be punished with stoppage of payments or recovery of payments already executed, Browne suggested.

The air force has projected purchase of nearly 400 aircraft in the 12th Plan period ending 2017. "We want to reinvent the IAF as a multi-spectrum strategic force," he said.

In the 11th Plan period, the IAF had signed 325 contracts worth $28.5 billion (Rs 1.5 lakh crore). Of this, some $15.5 billion went to Indian companies through their collaborations with overseas majors.

"To propel the IAF forward, we have to stop importing and do more indigenous development and production of equipment and aircraft and we need the support of the Indian industry for this," Browne said.

But a basic issue with the Indian defence manufacturing sector has been that it is not manufacturing the most modern equipment or equipment that will last, he said, with most companies in tier 2 or tier 3 stage of production capability. "At least some of them have to graduate to the tier 1 stage to take up manufacture of high-end defence products," Browne said.