Friday, November 1, 2013

Canard by Bharat Karnad?

Rafale at Aero India 2013

The Op-Ed - Stop wasteful military deals - The New Indian Express - by the venerable Bharat Karnad, painting the IAF in bad light, is riddled with so many grievous errors that I am compelled to respond. 

The following are some examples of statements by Karnad that need to be corrected.

"[IAF] bought PC-7s for $1.5 billion, an amount the Chinese Air Force spent to secure the entire production line from Russia of the latest, most advanced, Tu-22M3M strategic bomber!"

China has an industrial base to support production of Tu-22M3M. India doesn't. China perceives a need for a supersonic bomber to counter the US. India doesn't.

"This Pilatus purchase, moreover, was approved by defence minister A K Antony at a time when Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore, had its new HJT-44 turboprop trainer up and ready. Brazening out such mindless splurges, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne advised closure of the HJT-44 line to enable purchase of more PC-7s!"

The HJT-44 exists as a mock-up only - It is not "up and ready." The IAF was compelled to acquire the Pilatus because HAL couldn't make the HPT-32 safe to fly even decades after the IAF accepted it. As a Flying Instructor at the Air Force Academy, I have had the misfortune of attending funerals of Army and Air Force officers and IAF cadets killed as a result of HPT-32 accidents. (I saw as many wailing wives and mothers at funerals during my short stay at the Academy, than I did during my entire career as a fighter pilot.)

HAL is struggling with the development of the HJT-36, Sitara, which the IAF is in desperate need of. My guess is that the IAF would eventually be forced to buy an intermediate trainer from abroad because HAL will fail to deliver. With all due respect to Bharat Karnad, I think his attack on the IAF Chief is quixotic and very unfortunate. (He got paid for the article in which he took a wild potshot at the IAF Chief.)

"IAF has at most tolerated licence-manufactured foreign fighter planes but sought stubbornly to kill off indigenous combat aircraft projects. In the past, it buried the Marut Mk-II, the low-level strike variant designed in the 1970s by the highly talented Dr Raj Mahindra, who won his spurs under Kurt Tank, designer of the Focke-Wulfe fighter-bombers for the Nazi Luftwaffe and of the original HF-24 at HAL, buying the Jaguar from the UK instead. History repeats itself."

The Marut Mk-II was a dream, not a project. The HF-24 Marut powered by two Orpheus 703 engines, which I flew extensively, was an underpowered fighter incapable of holding its own in a dogfight against any Pakistani fighter. The IAF inducted the fighter into service in the belief that a more suitable engine for the aircraft would be eventually procured. When India failed in its attempts to get a better engine, the IAF heartily supported an HAL project to develop a reheated version of the Orpheus 703. Alas! The reheated version of the 703 fell way short of the ASR thrust goals. The project ended when a senior IAF test pilot on deputation to HAL was killed in an accident while testing the reheated engine.

"French and Israeli pilots who have unofficially flown the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) have gone gaga over its flying attributes."

IAF test pilots have heartily endorsed the flying characteristics of the Tejas. Why talk about French and Israeli pilots, unless the intent is to falsely project the IAF as being against Tejas? The truth is that the IAF, through the MOD, has been pressurizing ADA and HAL to deliver on the promise of the Tejas. The IAF desperately needs the aircraft as MiG-21 replacement. No one in the IAF doubts the fine capabilities of Tejas. What the IAF cannot do is retire its MiG-21 fleet, put its frontline pilots currently flying the MiG-21s on deskjobs, and wait for HAL to deliver the Tejas on its own sweet schedule. How difficult is that to understand?

"The larger, heavier, longer range Mark-II variant of the near all-composite Tejas, in fact, fills the bill of “MMRCA”. An LCA version of Tejas has already been flown weighted down with ballast to mimic the Mk-II plan-form. The fact that the Mk-II variant was coming along well, besides, was known to the IAF-MoD (ministry of defense) combo. So, how come the tender for MMRCA was not terminated midway?"

The LCA Mk-2 is a light weight fighter that does not meet MMRCA ASRs. Mk-2 is the light weight fighter that the IAF wanted to begin with when it backed the LCA project, not the Tejas. The IAF is inducting the Tejas after granting many critical concessions on the ASRs to encourage indigenous design and development of fighter aircraft.

"But the LCA has been prevented from entering squadron service after it obtained the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC)-1 last year, because of their insistence that IOC-2 and subsequent clearances be done by HAL rather than permitting the clearances to be obtained by the designated Tejas squadron, flying the aircraft, at the Sulur base in Tamil Nadu. The latter procedure will allow our fighter pilots to test the plane’s flight envelope and performance, and to provide feedback to designers — normal practice of advanced air forces inducting a new locally-produced aircraft."

The Tejas is in service with the IAF. It's being extensively flown by the ASTE, an IAF establishment. IAF squadron pilots are not trained to conduct IOC; they are trained for war fighting. ASTE is the IAF organization earmarked to assist HAL with IOC and FOC on an aircraft.

Finally, MMRCA is  Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft not "multi-role, medium range combat aircraft" as Karnad states in his op-ed.

While Mr Bharat Karnad is entitled to his opinion, it would be nice if the opinion is based on facts.