India’s aerial defensive system has always played a significant role in every war India has fought. Therefore it’s significant for India to develop and modify its aerial defensive system to attain aerial supremacy. This is one of the reasons due to which India like many other countries desires to develop its own aircraft industry to become strong and efficient in its aerial defensive system. To get a whole idea about Indian military combat aircraft development we have to first look into India’s current position in the aircraft development industry.
The success or failure in a war depends largely on its aerial combat efficiency and this is where the significance of Fighter aircrafts comes into the picture as they are crucial for gaining aerial supremacy in the battle field. The newly invented airplane entered World War I as an observer of enemy activity and gathered importance by making it clear that its use is inevitable to all the belligerents in the opening days of the conflict. After this every conflict has shown its share of aerial defensive system Therefore countries are trying to modify and develop their defense fighter aircrafts with the latest advancement in technology .even India is not lagging behind and is working on its indigenous production of fighter aircrafts and other aerial defense weapons and technology .In the subsequent years With the Steady Improvements in Computers, aerial Defensive Systems Have Become Increasingly Efficient ,More and more countries are trying to achieve aerial defensive system superiority. Even India did its part to improve it aerial defensive system in which India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru played a crucial role in the development of India’s aeronautical industry. He was adamant that India should develop its own aircraft’s to attain aerial supremacy .this is where the Hindustan aeronautics ltd. (HAL) came into picture as Hindustan aeronautics ltd. (HAL), the only aircraft industry in the country has began as a private company in 1940 as Hindustan Aircraft Ltd. After post independence the British downsized HAL by retrenching 80% of its experiencedThen in 1958 The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) was formed for the technological development of Indian military under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defense. DRDO has also assisted Hindustan Aeronautics with its programmes. Since its formation in 1958, the DRDO has achieved some spectacular successes like the missile development programme, but also has many failures to its name. Programmes like the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun have suffered inordinate delays and time and cost overruns. However, to its credit, the DRDO worked under extremely restrictive technology denial regimes and with a rather low indigenous technology base.
India’ has been attempting from a long time and even have encountered many faults in design of development and manufacture of the aircraft.
The first was the HF-24 programme, which was initiated in the 1950s and was prematurely closed after just a decade and a half of operations; while the second is the LCA programmed, which is, even after three decades of development, yet to fructify.
The entire infrastructure had to be built up from grassroots. In this scenario, HAL did the wisest act. It inducted Dr Kurt Tank, the German designer, to head the design team for the HF-24, while addressing the infrastructure development on a high priority. While the prototypes flew, the project was scrapped in 1953 due to shortage of funds. Kurt Tank and his close design team moved to India. He became the director of MIT (Madras Institute of Technology) where he taught aeronautics. President Abdul Kalam was his student. He moved to Bangalore with his team when the HF-24 design task was entrusted to him.
By all standards the HF-24 was a state of the art design, and was equal to the best in its contemporary era. It was hampered by the non-availability of the right power plant. As a result, the IAF and HAL chose to power it with two Gnat engines – Orpheus 703. Though underpowered, the HF-24 could touch 600 knots at low level, a quality that was its strength in the 1971 war -as the HF-24 veterans would vouch for. Its normal ferry speed was the fastest in IAF history, 0.9 Mach at 40,000 ft.The development programme of HF-24 was first established on a full-scale glider model. 83 developmental sorties were flown on this model. This perhaps, was the last aircraft on which a glider model was used in the world. The actual prototype flew in 1961, just four years from 1957 when the design work commenced. This was surely a great achievement when compared with the challenges that existed in India’s technological environment and testing tools that were available in that era. The first two pre-production models were handed over to the IAF in 1964 to the AATU for operational evaluation. The first squadron was formed in 1967 (No 10 Sqn – Daggers), just 10 years after the commencement of the design. While the HF-24 acquitted itself well in the 1971 war (in ground attack role), its envisaged air defense role was non-existent due to its underpowered power plants. Despite huge efforts the Indian government could not get the right engines. The government made a huge blunder when it rejected the offer of Bristol for a joint development of the engine that required less than Rs 5 Crore investment at that time. The finance wizards in the government rejected it on grounds of huge expense. This was a hugely lost opportunity. Rs 5 crores even in those times was not a big sum considering the fact that such a joint venture would have catapulted India to come in ranks of Engine designers and manufacturers. Four decades later India is still struggling to make an aero engine, the Kaveri engine programme has consumed thousands of crores and is nowhere near airworthiness.Dr Kurt Tank left India in 1967. But the HF-24 experience had strengthened HAL immensely. In 1967 this was certainly a very strong position. Logically the country, the user and the industry should have persisted with this successful design to bring about necessary improvements through successive derivatives of the same aircraft.
But what happened subsequently was a huge national tragedy. The Air Force lost interest due to the aircraft’s persistent problems of underpowered engines and phased out the fleet by 1984, a mere 17 years after the first induction. What was even more alarming was the fact that HAL design department lost interest and its experienced work force began to move away to better prospects. In a nutshell the HF-24 became a massively wasted opportunity for the country. The final nail in its coffin was delivered when the IAF inducted the Jaguar as its premier strike fleet, and HAL was happy to produce it under licence. The decade of the 1970s could be called as the lost decade. By the time the LCA project came up in 1985, the country began from scratch all over again.
The LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) requirement emerged in the late Seventies when the IAF, concerned with the high accident rate of the Gnat/Ajeet aircraft, asked HAL to develop a light, inexpensive aircraft as a quick replacement. Later, the replacement requirement included early series MiG-21s as well. A feasibility study was carried out by an integrated team headed by the then Director of NAL, Dr Valluri, under the auspices of HAL.
For nearly three decades since the early 1950s, integration of weapons and upgrade of systems have been handled largely by AATU, and later ASTE of the Air Force. The first major large upgrade programmed was done on the Jaguar fleet. This was the development of the digital nav attack system for the Jaguar fleet. The system called DARIN (Digital Attack, Ranging, and Inertial Navigation) was developed in the early 1980s and went on to be fitted in the entire fleet. The system was developed with SAGEM, France as the technology partner. An umbrella organization called IIO (Inertial Integration Organization) was created with active participation of HAL and ASTE. The entire programmed was controlled by the IAF. The programmed was approved in 1981and the DARIN system was operational by 1986. It brought an order of magnitude change in the weapon accuracies of the IAF. This experience proved very useful when the IAF entrusted HAL with the task of developing the next version of DARIN II based on ring laser gyro system.
Ever since its induction in 1979, the Jaguar aircraft has continued to be the preferred vehicle for series of major modifications. The first upgrade began with over wing missile modification. Magic I air-to-air missile was integrated as an over wing missile in 1982. The entire upgrade programmed was done by ASTE and HAL with the assistance of British Aerospace industries. An Electronic Warfare adaptation was done in 1985. This was followed by the development of the maritime attack aircraft version with the Agave radar and Sea-eagle missile. The Agave was subsequently replaced with Israeli radar. A series of upgrades have followed; LGB and Designator pod, autopilot, refueling probe on the trainer, avionics and glass cockpit, and finally the re-engining project.
Concerned at the delay in the LCA programmed, the IAF embarked on upgrading an optimal number of 125 MiG-21 Bis aircraft in late 1990s. The upgraded aircraft, called Bison, was fitted with a new Russian multi-mode radar, a HUD (head-up display), and a digital inertial nave attack system. The development phase was a huge challenge as it involved integrating equipment and systems from Russia, France and Israel. Co-coordinating with three countries was a nightmare. Once development was completed series production was entrusted to HAL. The IAF accomplished this programmed successfully and the new Bisons acquitted themselves well by jolting the overconfident USAF in the joint exercise in 2005.
Based on the Bison experience HAL was now confident of upgrading the MiG-27 aircraft, which it had produced earlier under license. DRDO’s experience and expertise from LCA and Su-30 projects ensured that the entire upgrade programmed, unlike the Bison, was done in India. HAL, DARE (Defense Avionics Research Laboratory – a DRDO lab) and ASTE managed the entire upgrade process, including the mission computer development. This was a good indigenous upgrade programmed. The upgraded MiG-27 was equipped with a HUD, modern nav attack system, self-protection suite, Multi Function Displays, and advanced electro optical targeting system.
Life extension and upgrade of these two fleets are being done by the OEMs in their facilities.HAL’s gain will be limited to series modification at its facilities using mod kits provided by the OEMs.
Development of aircraft upgradation and procurement has become a critical need for all major air forces in the world for gaining defense supremacy .comparatively up gradation of aircraft is comparatively cost efficient then development of new aircraft .so from economical point of view countries prefer to update their aircrafts then develop a new one. Upgrade strategy provides a very cost-effective solution due to exponential improvements in sensors, systems and weapons. Besides, upgrade strategy provides a good opportunity for industries to hone their design skills and also contribute to developing a large pool of highly skilled technical manpower in the country.
Nevertheless, major powers will continue to develop new systems and aircraft in order to address their strategic autonomy and security. India’s fighter aircraft and engine development programmes have been hampered by discontinuity and compartmentalized approach. Even though India has succeeded in many of its projects for the development and upgradation of its aerial combat industry. Even India has diversified its upgradation options for its aerial defense which has helped India in cost efficiency and increased success rate in its upgradation of its projects. This is the prime factor for India being lacking behind in its defensive system development and upgradation which is now slowly being resolved .The next main problem which India now has to resolve for attaining self reliance in its defensive system is by policies reorientation for indigenization of defense weapons and technology.