Thursday, 12 December 2019

Strategic shift: India asks private companies to firm up defence production

With the defence budget stagnating and the public sector lagging in building weaponry, India needs the private sector to galvanize production

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 19

Since his appointment as defence minister in May, Rajnath Singh and his ministry’s officials have held a flurry of meetings with public and private sector defence companies. In these, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has urged private firms to “Make in India”, so as to meet the indigenous production targets set out in the Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP 2018). This policy explicitly aims to make India one of the world’s top five defence producers, with an annual turnover of US $26 billion (Rs 185,000 crore; Rs 1.85 trillion), by 2025. 

The ambitious targets give India’s aerospace and defence industry just six years to more than double its current annual turnover of Rs 80,000 crore. “For this Indian defence industry needs to grow at the rate of 15 per cent per annum,” Singh told an industry gathering on September 17.

Singh, who expects growth to be driven by the private sector, pointed out that more than half of India’s current annual defence production of Rs 80,000 crore already comes from private manufacturers. Of this, direct orders to private companies account for Rs 16,000 crore. In addition, the public sector outsources about 40 per cent of its production to private firms.

Procurement from Indian vendors

(Rs crore)
Total Procurement
Procurement from Foreign Vendors
Procurement from Indian Vendors
2016-17
69150
27278
41872
2017-18
72732
29035
43696
2018-19
75920
36957
38963
(Source: Parliamentary answer on July 3, 2019)

Theoretically, it should be possible to raise defence production simply by installing more capacity. As the MoD revealed in Parliament on November 27, the order books of the defence ministry’s nine defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) currently add up to Rs 231,981 crores (Rs 2.32 trillion). Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has production orders in hand for the next three years. Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) has orders for four-and-a-half years of production. And Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) has orders that will keep it busy for a full decade. 

Limited defence budget

However, the problem is not just low production. Given the stagnating defence budget, there is also limited capacity to absorb production. Of this year’s defence allocation of Rs 431,011 crore (Rs 4.31 trillion), half will go on salaries and pensions, leaving only about Rs 180,000 crore (Rs 1.8 trillion) for buying defence equipment. This includes the capital allocation of Rs 108,248 crore (Rs 1.08 trillion) and about Rs 70,000 crore from the revenue allocations. And with over half of this going to overseas vendors for imported weaponry, buying more indigenous equipment requires either an increase in defence allocations, or reduced import dependence – or both.

Defence allocations

(Rs crore)
Budget Head
2017-18 (Actual)
2018-19 (RE)
2019-20 (BE)




Revenue allocation
192273
199945
210683




Pension allocation
92000
106775
112080




Capital allocation
95431
98473
108248




Total Defence Budget
379704
405193
431011




Central govt spending
2141973
2457235
2786349




% of govt spending
17.7%
16.5%
15.5%




Total GDP
16784679
18840731
21100607




Percentage of GDP
2.23%
2.15%
2.04%




(Source: Budget documents)

But, given the government’s focus on social sector spending, there is little scope for increasing the defence budget. Inclusive of military pensions, this year’s defence allocations account for 15.5 per cent of the government’s expenditure; or 2.04 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In fact, by these parameters, defence spending has steadily fallen over the last three years.

That leaves the defence industry critically dependent on exports for absorbing any rise in production. Recognising this, DPrP 2018 aims to triple defence exports in the next six years, from the current year’s exports of Rs 10,745 crore to $5 billion (Rs 36,000 crore) by 2025. That would sharply increase Indian industry’s share of global defence and aerospace manufacturing from less than 1 per cent currently.

Furthermore, the MoD appears to have reserved “a major share” of defence production for the DPSUs and Ordnance Factories (OFs), leaving the private sector out in the cold. In June, Sanjay Jaju, the ministry’s interface with industry, bluntly warned private firms that they had to either export, or perish. “The capital budget is currently about rupees one lakh crores (Rs 1 trillion). There are certain committed liabilities. Of what remains, a major share goes to the public sector. A small share of the pie goes to the private sector… Not all of you will get orders. We cannot support so many of you”, he said.

Jaju explained that the government was actively promoting defence exports by obtaining entry into three of the four international export control regimes: the Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. India was also lobbying actively for entry into the fourth: the Nuclear Suppliers Group. He said this global recognition of India as a responsible arms exporter would reduce barriers into foreign markets. Jaju also pointed out that exports create economy of scale, bringing down prices of defence products and making them competitive in the global market.

Indian weapons for the world?

If Indian weapons platforms have not found global acceptance, at least part of the blame rests on the military’s reluctance to induct indigenous weaponry into its arsenal. The long-delayed induction of the Tejas light fighter into the Indian Air Force (IAF) has triggered international interest in the fighter – Malaysia and at least one other country are evaluating the Tejas. However, the small numbers the IAF has ordered and the piecemeal placement of orders has ensured the Tejas’ price remains high. In contrast, the Pakistan Air Force’s ready acceptance of the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter and its placement of large production orders have driving down costs, making it attractive to foreign buyers.

Similarly, the Indian military’s delay in ordering the Akash air defence missile and the small numbers ordered, limit its chances in the export market. 

The same is true for helicopters, the HTT-40 trainer aircraft and the Pinaka rocket launcher. The navy has failed to order even a single warship from L&T’s state-of-the-art Katupalli Shipyard, into which the company has sunk over Rs 5,000 crore. There are proposals for the foreign ministry to provide lines of credit for buying Indian warships to smaller maritime neighbours, such as Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. But slow decision-making and slothful execution make India’s defence industry unattractive.

Private sector trajectory

India’s private sector was formally allowed into defence production only in 2001, subject to licensing and a foreign direct investment (FDI) cap of 26 per cent. Over the years, the MoD has eased the process of granting licences and also pared and rationalised the list of products that require defence licences. Yet, defence firms continue to navigate a complex industrial licensing regime, governed by the Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951, the Arms Act, 1959 and Arms Rules, 2016. Licensing applications undergo security vetting by the defence and home ministries before the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) clears them.

Given the private sector’s recent entry, DRDO has been practically alone in developing full-fledged weapons platforms – that is multi-system, multi-technology systems such as aircraft, helicopters submarines, tanks, etc. DRDO systems worth, Rs 275,000 crore (Rs 2.75 trillion)have been inducted into service, or are on order. This expertise has taken decades to accumulate, at significant government expense. Figures tabled in Parliament on November 27 indicate the DRDO was allocated Rs 13,501 crore in 2016-17, Rs 15,399 crore in 2017-18, Rs 17,122 crore in 2018-19 and Rs 19,021 crore in the current year. The private sector must develop its capabilities on its own dime.

With the DRDO developing weapons platforms, the private sector has been confined to an ancillary role, supplying systems, sub-systems and components. The DPSU and OF vendor bases count more than 8,000 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). 

Only now are big private sector firms entering the fray in developing complex weapons platforms. The successful development of the Pinaka multi-barrelled rocket launcher, in which the private sector played the leading role, even if under the DRDO umbrella, is being followed by the development of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), led by the Kalyani and Tata groups. In manufacture, L&T is partnering a Korean group to manufacture the K-9 Vajra self-propelled howitzer in India. 

 For years, private sector entry into defence production was regulated by “Industrial Licensing” norms. After 2001, numerous private firms, naively anticipating lucrative opportunities in defence production, applied for multiple licenses, even in technology domains where they had no expertise. Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd claims to have 35 defence licences “for manufacture of various platforms and products, highest for any Indian company.”

By March this year, the government issued 439 defence licences, covering 264 companies, the MoD told Parliament. But those initial licences have resulted in little production. On February 5, 2018, the MoD told Parliament that only 69 licensed companies had reported commencement of production.

Now, however, licensing norms have been eased. “The Defence Products List… has been revised and most of the components, parts, sub-systems, testing equipment and production equipment have been removed from the list, so as to reduce the entry barriers for the [private] industry, particularly small and medium segment. The initial validity of the industrial licence granted under the IDR Act has been increased from three years to 15 years with a provision to further extend it by three years on a case-to-case basis,” the MoD told Parliament on July 3.

Policy incentives

The MoD faces numerous Parliamentary questions about encouraging indigenous defence manufacture and it has a boilerplate answer. It lists out policy initiatives that include: Giving top-priority in procurement to equipment categorised as “Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured”; increasing to 49 per cent the foreign direct investment (FDI) cap in defence; simplifying the “Make” procedure, which lets industry propose and develop products for the military; launch of a “Technology Development Fund”, and an innovation ecosystem titled Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) that was launched in April 2018. 

iDEX aims to engage MSMEs, start-ups, individuals and academia and provide R&D funding for futuristic technologies that could serve Indian defence needs. “Under iDEX, innovative solutions have been successfully identified for 14 problem areas pertaining to national defence requirements. More than 600 start-ups have been engaged in the process and 44 different solutions have been identified,” the MoD told Parliament on July 3, 2019.

The MoD has recognised the need to synergise this plethora of initiatives. On September 5, defence procurement chief Apurva Chandra informed an industry gathering in Delhi that anempowered committee was integrating into a unified, common procedure the disparate acquisition processes such as Make-1, Make-2, iDEX and procurements from the Technology Development Fund.

Private industry also hopes to benefit from simplification of the current Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP 2016), which governs capital procurement; and the current Defence Procurement Manual (DPM 2009), which governs revenue procurement. Chandra revealed that revised versions of both documents would be released by March 2020.

The MoD has also pushed the establishment of two defence industrial corridors, where it will set up defence manufacturing and testing infrastructure and provide incentives to defence industry that sets up production there. One corridor in Tamil Nadu covers the “nodes” of Chennai, Hosur, Coimbatore, Salem and Tiruchirappalli. Another spans Aligarh, Agra, Jhansi, Kanpur, Chitrakoot and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh.

Finally, there are expectations from the long-delayed Strategic Partner (SP) procurement model that is intended to build manufacturing capabilities in the private sector. In this model, SP companies enter into technology partnerships with overseas vendors to build complex weapons platforms in India. Two SP model procurements – to build naval helicopters and submarines – are making progress. The private sector is watching to see how these play out.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Britain pitches strongly for role in building India’s next aircraft carrier; navy says it's "a dilemma"

Navy chief says choosing between US and UK is currently “a dilemma” (Above: HMS Queen Elizabeth)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Dec 19

Battles are raging around the Indian Navy’s proposed third aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, even though it is still on the drawing board. There is a bitter inter-services debate over whether India can afford another carrier. And the navy is also weighing competing claims from the US and the UK over who should provide design expertise.

Since 2015, the US Navy has guided the design of INS Vishal. But now, UK’s Royal Navy is offering its partnership on the grounds that INS Vishal is more similar to a British aircraft carrier than an American one.

In January 2015, the Indian and US navies established a joint working group (JWG) on aircraft carrier cooperation, with New Delhi reasoning that the US Navy has long been the world’s pre-eminent builder and operator of aircraft carriers. America operates 11 of the world’s 21 carriers and, by far, the most potent ones.

However, on November 28, in an India-UK meeting in New Delhi chaired by the two defence secretaries, London proposed British design consultancy for INS Vishal, given the recent induction of two new state-of-the-art aircraft carriers – Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – into the Royal Navy.

Encouraged by the US, the Indian Navy has designed INS Vishal as a large, 65,000 tonne carrier, featuring a state-of-the-art American “electromagnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS), and the ability to launch not just fighter aircraft, but also the game-changing E2D Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. 

The US Navy’s continuing influencing could lead India to buy Northrop Grumman’s E2D Hawkeyes, but also Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in an ongoing purchase of 57 naval fighters.

However, the UK has pointed out that the Indian decision to have full-electric propulsion, rather than nuclear propulsion for INS Vishal, makes it similar to the two Royal Navy carriers, which feature electric propulsion. All US aircraft carriers are nuclear powered.

Furthermore, the British have pointed out that INS Vishal will be exactly the same size – 65,000 tonnes – as the two Royal Navy carriers. US Navy carriers are far larger, at about 100,000 tonnes.

However, a standard US feature that is designed into INS Vishal will differentiate it from British carriers. Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales incorporate “short take off but arrested landing” (STOBAR) systems to operate their aircraft. Their on-board F-35C fighters take off from a ski-jump and land back by snagging their tail hooks on arrester wires laid across the deck, which then unspool, dragging the fighter to a halt on the 200-metre-long deck.

INS Vishal, however, like all US carriers, incorporates a “catapult take off but arrested landing” (CATOBAR) system. In its latest EMALS version, the aircraft is accelerated to take-off speed with the help of an electromagnetic catapult (older US carriers use a steam catapult), while it lands the same way as on STOBAR vessels, using arrestor wires.

INS Vishal, which the navy terms “Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – 2” (IAC-2), will therefore be a hybrid vessel, combining American and British features. 

“The broad contours of IAC-2, to be constructed in India, will be a 65,000-tonne CATOBAR carrier with electric propulsion,” stated navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, on Tuesday.

Queried by Business Standard about whether the US or the UK would provide design consultancy for INS Vishal, Singh admitted it was “a dilemma.”

“The issue about nuclear propulsion versus full electric propulsion [is one factor]. There are also other issues like EMALS and AAG (aircraft arrester gear), which only the Americans have. So this is going to be one of our dilemmas on how to handle this consultancy – who all to approach. So we will have to work on this more carefully,” said Singh.

Asked whether consultancy was possible with both UK, and US, Singh admitted: “I’m not sure of the answer; how you go about it? But we will have to think through this.”

For London, this is a mouth-watering opportunity not just to enter a lucrative, multi-billion dollar construction programme, but also to restore flagging defence relations. The Royal Navy shaped the Indian Navy in its formative years, with British admirals heading the Indian Navy until 1958. India’s first two aircraft carriers – INS Vikrant and INS Viraat – were both purchased from the Royal Navy.

Last week, in the India-UK Defence Consultative Group, UK officials pressed for reviving the strategic relationship. They promised deeper technology transfer, unlike the straight-up US defence sales that have provided India with little high technology.

“Partnering the UK in no way jeopardises the Indo-US relationship, or damages interoperability in the Indo-Pacific. Britain is America’s closest ally,” said a senior UK official, contrasting this with buying weaponry from Russia.

The British side is also learned to have pitched strongly to participate in building India’s next six submarines under Project 75-I. “We have not bid in that project, because the Royal Navy only operates nuclear subs. However, we can offer systems and niche technologies that greatly enhance a submarine’s capabilities. And we will be willing to transfer real technology,” said the official.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

With navy budget declining from 18% to 13%, navy will field 175 warships, instead of planned 200


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Dec 19

The chief of naval staff (CNS), Admiral Karambir Singh, has admitted that the navy’s declining budget has forced him to re-evaluate his long-term plan to field 200 warships by 2027. This target is institutionalised in the navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) for the period 2012-2027.

To media queries about how many ships could realistically be expected to be in service by 2027, the navy’s vice chief, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar replied “about 175”. The CNS, however, termed that figure “optimistic”.

Singh was addressing the media on Tuesday on the eve of Navy Day.

The navy currently has about 130 warships, he said, and another 50 are under construction in shipyards in and outside the country.

“The navy’s share of the defence budget has declined from 18 per cent in 2012 to approximately 13 per cent in the current financial year (2019-20)”, stated Singh.

The navy was allocated Rs 56,388 crore in 2019-20, of which Rs 25,656 crore was for capital expenditure, or the payment for new ships. An estimated 90 per cent of this was already earmarked for paying instalments for warships and equipment purchased in earlier years.

“We have projected [our additional requirement] and our hope is that we’ll get some more money. Based on that, we will prioritize our requirements so that the maritime interests of the country are not compromised”, said the CNS.

“Acceptance of Necessity” (the first step in procurement of military equipment) has also been accorded for 41 ships, 31 Helicopters, 24 Multi Role Helicopters and six additional P 8I maritime aircraft”, said Singh.

Singh explained that the expected shortage of warships would have to be compensated for by introducing high technology and building more capable warships. “Our aim will be to make sure that we get the maximum bang for the buck and by prioritisation, [improving] networking, and thinking deeper about how to improve the effects [of our weapons systems] rather than just bean counting”, he said.

Elaborating on this, Singh went on: “But more important is what you pack into your ships. If they’re modern and lethal then you have that much more in terms of effects.”

Asked how the navy compared with China’s navy, Singh replied: “They are doing what they have to do and moving at the pace they are capable of. We will move at the pace that we are capable of.”

On whether the budget crunch threatened to kill the project to build a third aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, which is planned to be built in Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), Admiral Singh stated: “As naval chief, I’m convinced that the country requires three aircraft carriers.”

“There have been press reports against the aircraft carrier, but we are preparing our case and finalising our requirements, after which we will go up to the government for Acceptance of Necessity (AoN). Once the AoN is given, we will get into design consultancy on the exact contours of this aircraft carrier,” said the CNS.

Asked when the long-delayed indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, would be completed by CSL, Singh revealed: “All ship building issues are over… We are almost certain that we will take delivery (of the carrier) by February-March 2021. After that… aviation trials will take about a year, since we will have to go to sea. We should have a fully operational carrier by 2022, equipped with the MiG-29K fighter.”

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Indian Navy Scorpene submarines to get DRDO’s “air-independent propulsion” from 2024

But six new subs being built under Project 75-I will have imported AIP

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Dec 19

The state-of-the-art “air independent propulsion” (AIP) system that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is indigenously developing will be ready to drive the Indian Navy’s submarines from 2024 onwards.

Consequently, this AIP will not power the six new submarines that the navy is tendering in a Rs 45,000 crore programme called Project 75-I. Instead, those six boats (as the navy traditionally refers to submarines) will have AIP systems that the foreign vendor must offer.

A Request for Information (RFI), which the navy sent out to global vendors under Project 75-I, kept alive both options – an indigenous AIP, as well as a foreign one. Now, top navy sources confirm, a decision has been taken for an imported AIP.

Meanwhile, the DRDO’s AIP system will, from 2024-25 onward, be “retrofitted” into six Scorpene submarines that are currently being built in India under Project 75, say the sources.

The first Scorpene submarine, INS Kalvari, which was commissioned two years ago, is scheduled to undergo its first “mid-life refit” in 2024-25. In this expensive and time-consuming process, the submarine is cut open and each part inspected and, if needed, replaced. During this process, a DRDO-designed AIP will replace Kalvari’s current diesel-electric propulsion system. 

The second Project 75 boat, INS Khanderi, was commissioned in September and another four are still to be delivered by Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL). All these will be retrofitted with DRDO AIP systems as they follow the Kalvari into mid-life refit at two-year intervals.

Ideally, a submarine should undergo a mid-life refit only after sailing for 12-15 years. But with MDL running six years late in Project 75, the Scorpene boats will go in for mid-life refit after sailing for just about eight years.

The bright side of that, say navy sources, is that the Scorpenes will provide a ready platform for the indigenous AIP.

AIP System

An AIP system powers a submarine without using air from the atmosphere, which is essentially for conventional diesel-electric submarines. In the latter, large banks of electric batteries power electic motors that turn the submarine’s propellers. But the batteries quickly get discharged and the boat must surface every day or two to run onboard diesel generators (which require atmospheric air) to recharge their batteries. During this process, the surfaced submarine is vulnerable to detection since enemy radars quickly detect submarine masts or snorkels protruding above the surface.

To avoid detection, the ideal solution is nuclear propulsion. Nuclear reactors require no oxygen, which allows these submarines almost indefinite underwater endurance. However, nuclear propulsion has technology challenges and India is struggling to build a reactor small enough for an attack submarine.

AIP provides the next best solution, allowing submarines to remain underwater for up to two weeks, which provides the enemy with less opportunity to detect a surfaced boat.

The most common AIP systems use “fuel cell technology”, which generates power through the reverse electrolysis of oxygen and hydrogen, with the two elements chemically combining to generate electricity to charge the submarine’s batteries. However it is dangerous to store highly inflammable hydrogen on board.

The DRDO’s AIP system relies on the innovative Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cell (PAFC) technology. This is more rugged, tolerant of fuel impurities, and offers longer life and efficiency, which makes it cost-effective. 

A month ago, navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, visited the Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL) at Ambernath, Maharashtra – the DRDO laboratory that is developing the indigenous AIP – to witness progress. Navy officers say he was demonstrated a land-based prototype (LBP) of the AIP, which has demonstrated the ability to generate power, independent of air, for up to two weeks.

The DRDO’s current challenge is to develop this LBP into a “marinised” AIP system, which can fit into an actual submarine and operate underwater in live conditions. Navy and DRDO sources are confident that can be achieved in three-to-four years.

The navy had the option to fit French AIP systems into the Scorpene submarines that were contracted in 2005 under Project 75. However, the French offered a relatively untried system called “Module d'Energie Sous-Marine Autonome (MESMA). The navy decided not to take the risk and ordered a conventional diesel-electric system instead, with the DRDO charged with developing an indigenous AIP.

Pakistan’s navy ordered the MESMA AIP system for its Agusta 90B submarines. There have reportedly been problems with its reliability and effectiveness.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

LCA Navy gets airborne with weapons, ready to operate from aircraft carrier by March

Four missiles are visible on the Naval LCA as it takes off from the land-based test facility in Goa on Friday


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Nov 19

In Goa on Friday, the naval version of the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) set a landmark by taking off with the added weight of weapons on board – two long range and two close combat air-to-air missiles.

The LCA Navy prototype took off from the navy’s Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF), but exactly as it would have from an aircraft carrier. Restraining gear locked the fighter’s wheels as the engine revved up to maximum power. Then, as the restraining gear disengaged, the unleashed fighter rocketed forward. Exactly 204 metres later – the length of an aircraft carrier deck – the fighter sped over a ski-jump and was airborne.

Girish Deodhare, chief of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) agency in charge of the LCA programme, told Business Standard the LCA Navy has now completed over 50 take-offs from the SBTF, with increasing weight and decreasing take-off distance. In addition, the naval fighter has carried out 28 arrested landings.

“We are now confident the LCA Navy is ready for an actual carrier deck landing. In the first quarter of 2020, we will land the prototype on INS Vikramaditya and take off from the aircraft carrier as well,” Deodhare told Business Standard.

This requires the navy’s only aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, to be freed from operational duties and made available for testing. Before the first landing, the LCA Navy will first make a few approaches for the test pilots to see how the fighter reacts to the warships “wake” – the wind turbulence created by structures on the warship, which buffets the approaching fighter. Once the pilots are comfortable with that, they will actually land the fighter on the carrier’s deck.

A carrier deck landing is best described as a “controlled crash”. The fighter’s tail hook must engage with wires laid across the landing deck, which unspool, dragging the fighter to a halt quickly. To achieve the extreme precision this requires, the fighter must descend much more sharply than in a regular landing, with the impact absorbed by the heavy landing gear that characterises naval fighters.

If the first landing and take-off goes off uneventfully, it will be followed by more, as the test pilots generate inputs to fine-tune the software that controls carrier landings and take-offs, which are largely controlled by flight computers.

At the same time, ADA and the navy would fine-tune the drills for operating a fighter from a carrier. This includes maintaining an aircraft on board, preparing it for flight, taking it on a lift from the hangers below decks to the flight deck and the drills for getting airborne and landing.

ADA sources say about 200 technicians have already lived on aircraft carriers, to fine tune maintenance and operating drills on board.

The navy, however, does not intend to induct the single-engine Naval Tejas Mark I into service – it is merely a test-bed for the aviation systems that will equip the twin-engine LCA Navy Mark 2. The navy wants the safety back up of a second engine, the power to get airborne with more fuel and weapons, and a longer operating range.

“Using navy-specified technologies matured with the current Mark I, we are developing a twin-engine Mark 2 version, which we are calling the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TED-BF),” said Deodhare.

With the current Tejas’ single General Electric (GE) F-404 engine replaced by two, more powerful, GE F-414 engines, the TED-BF will be a far bigger and heavily armed fighter.

The current Tejas Mark 1 gets airborne with a total “all-up weight” (AUW) of 14 tonnes. The air force version of the Tejas Mark 2, which will have a single GE F-414 engine, will have an AUW of 17 tonnes. And the LCA Navy Mark 2 (or the TED-BF), powered by two GE F-414 engines, will have a beefy AUW of 24 tonnes, says Deodhare.

ADA is targeting 2025-26 for the first flight of the TED-BF. The navy wants the fighter to be inducted into service by 2031, to replace the MiG-29K/KUB that currently flies off INS Vikramaditya and will also serve on board the first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, when it is commissioned in 2021.