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DRDO Must Find A Way Of Building A Suitable Fighter Engine In Partnership For Future Aircraft: Indian Air Force Chief RKS Bhadauria

Again, amid the clashes and burning threat at LAC in Ladhak, IAF’s front line fighter jet Su 30 MKI scrambled & reverberated as it did during the Balakot air strike. But it is time to address capability gap too. While the first LCA Tejas Mk-1 in Final Operational Clearance standard got inducted into No. 18 ‘Flying Bullets’, 83 MK-1A version will be a force majeure. But greater challenges remain for 450 jets, Gen 5+ AMCA & capability for jet engine at the heart of indigenization. In an exclusive interaction, Chief of Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, speaks with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha on the critical steps and the thrust on R&D in aerospace.

Photo Credit : IAF


Chief of Air Staff, IAF

Is there any plan for budget cut for the IAF due to economic fallout? What platforms are being prioritized to be inducted or ordered? How will IAF base its demand between security and budget?

Pending the receipt of revised budget estimates, we are targeting a 20-25% savings in the revenue expenditure, as a first step. On capital expenditure, our highest priority lies with the contract for 83 LCA MK1A. Additionally, we are in the process of prioritizing our critical requirements, weapons and technologies like the air to air missiles, air to ground precision weapons, networking, data linking etc. We are working towards industry critical capabilities and minimizing the impact of budget constraints on modernisation.

Our quest for Atma Nirbhar Bharat in defence will not materialize if we just put ~ 6% of the defence budget to our sole DRDO while China puts about 15 to 20 % into their R&D. As a chief of IAF, how do you look at such fundamental flaws? What do you suggest as time has come to address such gaps?

Funding for DRDO R&D has been increasing yearly and is based on projections by DRDO itself. The DRDO plans its future R&D based on a Technology Development Roadmap worked out in consultation with the services and its own assessments.  I have no doubt that there is a strong case to enhance indigenous R&D by DRDO in niche technologies. DPSUs and the private sector need to increase their emphasis on R&D. R&D is fundamental to successful indigenization, suitable product development and import substitution. First step should be to focus the available budget on high prioritization of niche technological areas.

The MMRCA 2.0 is all about building the complex aerospace ecosystem, leveraging on the full scale ToTs with leading FOEMs and that build up ADA (DRDO) and future AMCA as well. Why do we intend to delay the project of national importance- for security & defense economy?

All major platform procurements where the numbers required are high will be Make in India be it Tejas Mk IA, Tejas Mk II, MRFA or AMCA. The MRFA programme will be fully Make in India and will significantly benefit future Indian projects by infusing cutting edge technologies into the domestic industry. After receiving initial responses to the RFI and having detailed discussions with all vendors the SOC is under finalization. In order to suitably energise and support the development of a complex aerospace ecosystem, I strongly feel all the projects have a big role to play. Therefore our major focus on 83 LCA followed by LCA Mk II &  AMCA is parallel to MMRCA 2.0 as you put it.

You recently outlined the 450 fighter jets in a decade. India has own fighter jets- LCATejasMK1a while 4+ Gen concept-Tejas Mk 2 and 5+ Gen- AMCA are on drawing board. And, keeping HAL’s sporadically delivery, first squadron of MK IA is expected in 2025. How will we achieve the strength of 42 squadron?

Involvement of the DPSUs, private sector and MSMEs effectively by putting in place modern production facilities would be essential to ramp up delivery of fighter aircraft and other platforms and systems. The key to increase in numbers lies in successful and rapid establishment of a comprehensive aviation ecosystem.  

Estimated a more than thousand engine for the fighter jets for ambitious projects-Tejas variants & futuristic AMCA -- IAF has spoken of indigenously built engine which has not taken off. Why don’t we leverage our partnership with friendly countries & make it happen in India?

Design and manufacture of a modern fighter jet engine is a highly complex, expensive and niche capability. Kaveri project has not succeeded in delivering an engine for fighter aircraft and IAF is not insisting on this indigenous engine. DRDO must find a way of building a suitable fighter engine in partnership and this is the initial path to success of future aircraft programmes. 

Directed Energy/Lasers are the weapon of future for fighter aircraft –manned and unmanned. How are we leading in R&D in this area?

Directed Energy or Lasers are important technologies for IAF’s future platforms and weapon systems. We are looking at this capability and are supporting measures to develop such key enabling technologies. 

The critical role of IAF is always up and visible in immediate response against the concurring attacks. But equally is the concern for China building stealth jets like J20 & J31 with large numbers and developing jet engines and helping Pakistan build up air strength. Will the gap be much wider with China in terms of Aerospace superiority in times ahead?

Technological asymmetry does not remain constant and varies in different spheres with the advantage shifting depending on development and procurements. Increasing Chinese technological capability is an outcome of their sustained efforts in R&D. The IAF is working closely with DRDO and others to close the gap on these technological asymmetries.  A progressive increase and improvement in our combat aircraft force enablers, sensors, weapons and network centric operations capability should help us address our assessed threats in the future. Indigenization of R&D and production is the key for our future capacity building.