New Delhi (AFP) Jan 20, 2011
India's homegrown fighter jet, the Tejas, has finally been cleared for operations but analysts say any celebration of India's entry into an elite club of military hardware producers is premature.
Initial operational approval for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has taken 26 years -- the result of endless developmental delays, technological hiccups and massive cost overruns.
First conceived as a direct replacement for the Indian Air Force's (IAF) ageing fleet of Russian-made MiG-21s -- tagged "flying coffins" for their abysmal safety record -- the LCA was hyped as a milestone in India's bid to reduce its dependency on military imports.
Although conceived, designed and assembled in India, its "indigenous" label is somewhat misleading as 40 percent of its components are foreign-made, including the radar and US-built engine.
Formal induction of the Tejas is still two or three years away, and questions remain over its eventual suitability.
"Only after the aircraft is put in use by the pilots will its strength and limitations become clear," said Ajey Lele, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.
"India's peculiar security requirements demand a very capable air force with state-of-the-art platform and weapon systems. Naturally, the Tejas will have to fulfil major expectations," he added.
"Its too early to pop the bubbly," warned military aviation specialist Kapil Kak, saying procuring engines for a second generation of Tejas could become a headache for India.
Accepting the LCA's operational clearance certificate last week, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik seemed less than enthused, noting that the aircraft was really a "Mig-21, plus, plus" and not the fourth generation fighter it was conceived as.
"There are some areas where work still needs to be done. There are aspects that need to be improved," Naik said. "We've waited a long time for the Tejas. We don't want a partial platform."
The LCA is a single-seater, single-engine, supersonic tactical jet equipped with the latest avionics, weaponry and advanced multi-mode radar. It can be armed with an array of weapons including freefall and laser guided bombs, air-to-air, air-to-ground and anti-ship missiles.
Developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in conjunction with a host of public and private sector firms, the first prototype took to the skies in 2001 and since then 1,500 test flights have been conducted.
From an initial budget of 5.6 billion rupees ($123 million), the cost of developing the fighter has snowballed over the years to around 180 billion rupees.
While acknowledging the LCA's troubled history, Arun Sharma, a former chief of naval staff and chairman of the National Maritime Foundation think-tank, said the project should still be applauded for overcoming major challenges.
Among them was the imposition of US-led sanctions in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests, which put crucial technologies out of reach and contributed to the delays.
"Only a handful of countries can claim the ability and competence to successfully bring a project of such complexity to fruition," Sharma said.
"So it would be churlish not to acknowledge the achievement of our aircraft designers and scientists for having delivered -- albeit belatedly -- a state-of-the-art combat aircraft."
And John Siddharth, a South Asia defence analyst with consultancy Frost & Sullivan, said India would have learned useful lessons from the sometimes painful experience of the LCA project.
"Indigenous production will help companies to be self-dependent on weaponry systems and the successful development of Tejas programme has certainly boosted the perspective of Indian aerospace companies," Siddharth said.
In 2009, India launched its own nuclear submarine, the Arihant, to similar plaudits and talk of the country's growing military self-sufficiency.
But like the LCA, the Arihant is still years and many arduous trials away from full induction into the armed forces.
In the meantime, India's dependency on foreign hardware is set to continue.
New Delhi is likely to finalise a $12 billion deal in July for 126 fighter jets for which six global aeronautical giants including companies from the United States, France, Europe and Russia are competing.
And last month it signed an agreement with long-time supplier Russia for the joint production of up to 250 advanced stealth fighter jets which experts say could be worth $25 billion.
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Supreme Court hears 'state secrets' case
Washington (AFP) Jan 18, 2011
The US Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a dispute over the Pentagon's claim of "state secrets" to thwart billion-dollar claims over the cancellation of a navy stealth bomber two decades ago. Contractors McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics brought suit for 1.2 billion dollars in payments after the Pentagon terminated their contract to develop and build the A-12 Avenger, a carrier-b ... read more
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