The Tejas MMR Disaster

It's with a sigh that we're all forced to accept that now, even the radar of the Light Combat Aircraft, will be a joint-venture product. So let's see now. The engine will be a foreign engine until the Kaveri lands on us (hopefully) in 2014 with Snecma's help, and the primary sensor of the Light Combat Aircraft will be co-developed by HAL's Hyderabad-based Avionics Division with Israel's ELTA. Note that the radar will be developed for both limited series and series production aircraft that should see squadron service by 2012.

ELTA's successful EL/M-2032 multimode pulse doppler airborne intercept and fire control radar will be the template for development over what HAL has already produced with a little help from DRDO's Electronics Research & Development Establishment (LRDE). The unmodified 2032 will in fact be integrated onto some of the limited series production fighters. In fact, some of the PVs may fly with 2032 radars as early as February 2008 for integration evaluations. The 2032, incidentally, is already being bought off the shelf by the Navy to replace the outdated Ferranti Blue Fox radar on its remaining fleet of Sea Harriers (this is a package deal coupled with Rafael Python BVR missiles signed in early 2005). For its part, the 2032 is a tried and tested sensor, having proven itself on the F-16, MiG-21 and F-4s. Incidentally, there was a recent report in the Israeli press that the Israeli air force is not too happy with the Northrop AN/APG-68(V)9 AESA radar and is pushing for a replacement that builds on the tried and tested 2032.

Even though frustrations over the delays in the MMR project (and therefore, delays in weaponisation of the LCA) were first expressed last year, it was decided only in May this year by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) that foreign help (read Israeli) would be sought (this piece in The Hindu says it all). Without the MMR, the Tejas has undergone hilarious weapons trials using a targeting pod, which anyone will tell you can't replace a primary airborne sensor for nuts. Therefore, critical weapons tests still languish. The problems that HAL has had with the MMR (photo on left) came to a head in 2002. But it took five years to decide that it couldn't surmount those problems. But here's the really rich part -- when HAL/DRDO bite the bullet and seek foreign help, they say it's in the interest of efficiency and timely delivery. I almost fell off my chair when I read the note that ADA had sent to the Defence Ministry last year admitting that foreign help would have to be looked at as an option in the interests of "prudent meeting of project deadlines".

To be sure, it would obviously have been infinitely more satisfying if HAL and LRDE had in fact been able to build a radar without any help from outside. Notwithstanding the cushioning that Defence Minister AK Antony gave HAL in Parliament by alluding to the painfully obvious ("The technology of airborne radars is very complex" -- duh! yes, that's why it's been entrusted to our scientific establishment!), this should come as a wake-up call to an establishment that counts radars and sensors as one of its core strengths.

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