The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has underlined the need for more efficient management, planning and execution of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) development programmes.
According to the performance audit of LCAs done by the national auditor, in the case of the Tejas LCA project, which has been in the works for over three decades, there is a need for closer interaction and coordinated efforts among all the stakeholders. This, it said, would ensure effective indigenisation efforts and the creation of adequate local manufacturing facilities in a timely manner.
LCA Mark-I, which achieved initial operational clearance (IOC) in December 2013 has significant shortfalls (53 permanent waivers/concessions) in meeting the air staff requirement (ASR), as a result of which, it will have reduced operational capabilities and reduced survivability, thereby limiting its operational employability when inducted into Indian Air Force squadrons.
The problems are expected to be overcome by developing the LCA Mark-II, an aircraft with lower weight and a higher-thrust engine that is likely to meet the ASR, which has been taken up by the Aeronautics Development Agency (ADA) in November 2009 and is scheduled for completion by December 2018.
The ADA’s decision to advance build two prototypes from full-scale engineering development (FSED) Phase-II to FSED Phase-I on the ground of accelerating the development process of the LCA, failed to yield the desired results as the FSED Phase I was closed in March 2004, involving a delay of six years and without the completion of all the activities that were carried forward to FSED Phase-II.
More importantly, according to the the CAG, this decision of ADA rendered the prototypes deficient of critical onboard systems (multi-mode radar, self-protection jammer, radar warning receiver) and led to ADA using the Limited Series Production aircraft (meant for IAF use) towards flight testing/evaluation of these critical onboard systems, in contravention to the commitment given to the GoI while obtaining sanction (November 2001) for the building of these aircraft.
The addition of new weapons by IAF for operational edge of the LCA in March 1997 and December 2009, necessitating design changes on the aircraft, coupled with delayed specifying the requirement of integrating R-73E missile with multi-mode radar/helmet-mounted display and sight and delayed identification of beyond-visual range missiles, also contributed to the delays in achieving IOC/FOC by the LCA, the auditor noted.
The LCA Mark-I is deficient in electronic warfare capabilities as specified by IAF, as the self-protection jammer could not be fitted on the aircraft due to space constraints and the radar warning receiver/counter-measure dispensing system fitted on the aircraft are having performance issues, which are yet to be overcome.
In June 1993, the government had emphasised on increasing the indigenous content of the LCA while sanctioning FSED in a phased manner, but ADA did not make any roadmap for indigenisation during LCA development. As a result, indigenous content of the LCA estimated by ADA as 70 % actually worked out to about 35%.
LCA systems such as Kaveri engine, multi-mode radar, radome, multi-functional display system and flight control system actuators taken up for indigenous development could not be developed successfully, resulting in the LCA’s continued dependency on the import of these systems. Development of a jet fuel starter, though achieved indigenously, had performance issues that are yet to be resolved.