Thursday, February 21, 2013

LCA Tejas Flight Test Chief's Candid Review Of Aircraft

This piece by the project director (flight test) on the LCA Tejas programme was presented earlier this month at the Aero India seminar. An enlightening read.

By Air Commodore K.A. Muthana, VSM

1. The Indian Light Combat aircraft (LCA) was conceived in the early eighties and is now on the threshold of entering squadron service. The legacy of this aircrafts’ development has resulted in true challenges to deployment being faced at a very late stage. There are even insinuations that this aircraft has been more of a success to the scientists in lab coats than to the war fighter in flight suits. True; this fine aircraft has been hostage to a series of systemic shortcomings. There are significant lessons here for the Indian aviation industry. It is vitally important that these lessons are imbibed in order to move forward coherently in building a strong aeronautics industry in this country.


2. Aim of this paper is to critically examine the challenges faced in transitioning the LCA from design to deployment and thus learn lessons for the future.


3. Higher Defense Management. A fundamental challenge has been the structure of the Indian higher defense management. Broadly speaking, there are three verticals within the Indian Ministry of Defense that steer this program. One such vertical is headed by a war fighter, another by a bureaucrat and the third by a technocrat. In this totally State funded and State managed program, interdepartmental oversight has been lacking. It is necessary that a single political entity take charge of such projects to attribute responsibility and demand accountability. Even if private players become significant, interdepartmental co-ordination would be possible only by an informed and responsible political entity.

4. Clarity on Standards. The base document for development of LCA is a beautifully crafted Air Staff Requirement that was clearly ahead of its time and is relevant even today, nearly three decades later. This document primarily restricted itself to stating performance requirements. It is very interesting to note that the country in which aviation is widely accepted to have been born, the USA, (I say widely accepted because I have heard Russians say otherwise), through a document generally referred to as the Perry Document adopted a similar procedure in 1994! The ASR document however, mandated the use of US military specifications and standards of the day as the guiding document for design. The relevant standards and specifications were to have been culled out by D Aero at DRDO HQ. Any concessions were to be sought from IAF HQ. There is no evidence to show that a comprehensive process was followed. This apparent lapse has lead to a number of challenges in design that we face today; so close to deployment.

5. Clarity on Path to Certification. In many ways this is the first fighter aircraft design and development program in India, after a gap of about four decades. Design expertise from the old program of HF-24 was not available, and moreover, the LCA envisaged a quantum leap in technology. To the Indian certification agency also therefore, this was ‘learning in progress’. The path to certification is evolving along with the aircraft. The extent of analyses and testing required tended to be a little open ended. Comprehensive documentation of the path to certification in this program will hugely benefit future programs.

6. Agencies for Design, Development and Support. If the process of design itself is to be accomplished by two design houses working under two different verticals mentioned in Para 2 above, there would be a price to pay. While ADA had a single point focus, clearly HAL ARDC had multiple foci. HALs indigenous programs clearly have priority within that organization and therefore so do resource allocation. The aircraft would continue to develop during its lifetime and all round support would be necessary. The responsibility for, post deployment maintenance of documentation, software and their periodic up gradation remains open ended. Unless resolved, this story of an inconvenient marriage would be continuing saga and have adverse effects on the product during its entire lifetime.

7. Customer Involvement. During the design and development process itself, it is vital that comprehensive knowledge of aviation in general and military aviation in particular is made available to the program. Scientists and design engineers do not have that knowledge. The Indian Air Force is the only repository of comprehensive military aviation knowledge in this country. Either its expertise was not sought or it was denied. Also we probably have the only aviation companies in the world that do not have aviators embedded into design teams. As a result, while the designers concentrated on getting the technology airborne, the design necessities of turning the aircraft into a maintainable, deployable and employable weapon platform were missed to a large extent. Originally a reluctant customer, the Indian Air Force involved itself sufficiently only after contracting for supply of the aircraft in 2006. It was late in the program and hundreds of ‘Requests for Action’ had to be raised in order to retrieve the situation to some extent, but this lead to time and cost overruns.

8. Evaluation of Prototypes. In the process of transitioning from design and development to series production, limited or otherwise, an essential step is to undertake a formal comprehensive evaluation of the prototype vehicles. It is in this process that the platforms testability and therefore maintainability, and its suitability for deployment can be assessed and recommendations made for the required standard of preparation (SOP) for series production (SP) aircraft. Having neglected to undertake this step, limited series production aircraft are worthy of remaining test aircraft only and SOP of series production aircraft continues to evolve!

9. Development of Avionics Package. No customer would be willing to accept obsolescent equipment at induction. Slow progress of the program coupled with rapid development in the field of electronics played its part in inefficient development of the avionics package on the aircraft. The initial focus on airframe and basic platform issues led to a delay in requirement generation and creation of mission specific software modules. Staggered integration of various mission systems also precluded comprehensive global software development, and allowed development effort to be frittered away in development of patches and modules catering only for immediate needs of the hour. Lack of operational requirements expertise in design teams led to replicating Mirage cockpit logic on the aircraft without exploiting the significantly advanced hardware architecture of this aircraft.

A major course correction had to be effected when the IAF finally got into the program. Lack of realistic evaluation and simulation tools meant that evaluation in most cases was carried out in the air for the first time leading to delays due to the requirement of even small fixes having to go through the complete clearance cycle.

10. Process of Transitioning from Design to Manufacture. There are many challenges that we face in transitioning from design to manufacture. One is the necessity to convert frozen design drawings into production drawings. Purportedly an elaborate process that has to be undertaken by dedicated integration teams. These have then to be cleared by the certification agency and followed diligently by the manufacturing and quality control agencies. Other shortcomings are; inability to meet manufacturing tolerances; non availability of correct jigs, fixtures and tooling to meet DAL requirements; non availability of suitable calibrating equipment; and, lack of trained manpower. These challenges directly affect the quality of manufacture.

11. Concurrent Development of Support Systems. The necessity to concurrently design and develop support equipment like tools, testers and ground equipment (TTGE) must not be underestimated. Designers have to understand that the testers that they develop to enable the design process would be unsuitable for use by the war fighter. What is required are simple testers ruggedized to be deployable and employable in the field, by young air warriors with limited education, in order to establish serviceability of a platform to undertake a mission. Similarly, ground support equipment has to be suited well, be light and durable for easy employability and transportability. Such support is vital to deploy the aircraft quickly and repeatedly and thus exploit the inherent advantages of airpower. Development of mission support systems like planning & debrief systems, simulators etc have been lagging and will affect ease of deployment.

12. Flight & Maintenance Manuals. Before the LCA can be deployed, it is obviously necessary that the users are adequately trained to maintain and operate this aircraft. For training to be effective, prior generation of deliverable documentation is essential. These documents will have to be upgraded and supported through the life time of the aircraft. Generation and sustenance of flight and maintenance publications is a major activity and deserves the creation of a separate technical documentation group. Designer’s documents have to be culled down and adapted to the requirements of maintenance manuals which are suited to the not so highly qualified maintenance crew. Information further culled and adapted from these manuals, when enhanced by the addition of flight handling information, translate into a set of flight manuals which are used by the aircrew. Generation of documentation deliverable to the customer has been hampered by the absence of a cohesive and sustainable structure.

13. Simulators. It is important that maintenance and flight simulators are available to train the customer ground crew and aircrew. Based on the contract between the IAF and HAL, ADA did develop maintenance simulators. With the flight simulators, however, it was a strange story. While the ASR did envisage the requirement of a simulator before deployment, no such development was undertaken. Along with the contract for supply of aircraft, funds were allocated by the Government of India for a simulator to be built by HAL on ‘Build, Operate and Maintain’ (BOM) basis. This was a new concept and years were lost in deciding whether funding would be on the capital route or on the revenue route. As a result there would be no representative flight simulator available for use by the customer aircrew. The situation will be aggravated by the non availability of a trainer variant of the aircraft in the required time frame.

14. Operating Infrastructure. Infrastructure necessary for operating the aircraft has to be created at the intended base of operation, well in time for deployment. Although the requirement was projected well in time procedural delays have ensured that the work on ground is yet to start.

15. Professional Program Management. It is inconceivable that a program of this complexity can be run efficiently without the assistance of professional program managers who constantly advice the technocrat leadership. This would avoid a large number of issues cropping up at random, the thread being lost and the same issues cropping up again months later with little progress having been made! Critical path has to be continually identified and attended to. Cost and time overruns have to be tracked by professional program managers using powerful software. Only then can the customer be given a viable timeframe for deployment to enable his planning process. If he has to repeatedly throttle back, he will lose interest and look for alternatives. And that would be a tragedy for aeronautics in this country!


16. Tejas is a wonderful flying machine. It deserved to be in squadron service years ago. Remedial action on many of the shortcomings commented upon, if implemented even now, will favorably impact timelines for IOC and FOC of the Tejas Mk 1 aircraft. Favorable impact on Tejas Mk 2 and other future programs will be enormous.

Air Cmde KA Muthana, VSM, was commissioned in the fighter stream of Indian Air Force on 11 June 1981. He is a graduate of the Indian Air Force Test Pilots School. His on job experience as a test pilot include that of being the Jaguar Projects Pilot at Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment in Bangalore, Chief Test Pilot at HAL's Nasik facility, Project Pilot with Sukhoi-30 MKI Project Team at Moscow, Russia and Director of Aircraft Upgrade at IAF HQ, New Delhi. He has been heading the National Flight Test Centre as Project Director (Flight Test) at ADA, Bangalore since 01 July 2011. This paper was presented at [PDF[ the 2013 Aero India Seminar earlier this month and is re-posted here.


Anonymous said...

Issues... since we missed... the industrial revolution... completely... think through... and through... address this... aspect... once addressed... India moves forward... not... all fields... gets affected... leads to... zero governance...

Anonymous said...

Great Analysis, however I disagree that such Military strategic programs be under the purview of "Political entity". Instead it should be lead by a General level Military entity. Indian politicians are not from scientific, industrial or management backgrounds, hence their poor oversight is what cause problems in implementation of such state projects.

sorry said...

"There are even insinuations that this aircraft has been more of a success to the scientists in lab coats than to the war fighter in flight suits. True; this fine aircraft has been hostage to a series of systemic shortcomings"

This kind of comment comes only from a mindset with zero exposure to Research and development process

Research and development means shortcomings will be there, if there is none, then we are not doing R and D, regardless of what we are trying to develop. We must build on what we learned and not try to create or expect to create something new out of blue sky that too within a period of time.

Indian government must fund R and D in colleges, not just in DRDO or HAL.

Anonymous said...

After reading in between the lines of test Chief's "candid" review, we come to know that IAF, is no different than Army when it comes to corruption and kickbacks. Only difference is IAF is more suave in it's approach to con the nation than Army.
The IAF never wanted this aircraft from the very beginning. The reason being indigenous jets don't yield any kickbacks for our top brass, babus and mantris. Tejas program is redux of Arjun tank.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with the article more especially the comments on the industry not being aware of how to operate and use millitary aircraft. As a former aircraft engineer in the services to working with HAL post retirement on several projects I have personal experience of the issues mentioned above. This creates problems in operationalising and smooth induction of aircraft into service.

Anonymous said...

IAF and IA strategy... won't drink milk till... get choclate (phorien deals)... inbetween war happens... IAF & IA... has jawans & air warriors... as connon fodder...

Hrishikesh said...

"Tejas is a wonderful flying machine". All the IAF pilots who have flown it say this. The issues outlined are the ones which the program is battling and that is why it is absolutely imperative to get it done. Last mile is absolutely the toughest one. Like everyone IAF has to go through a complete mindset change. Moreover there has to be project management expertise. I was spoke with someone closely associated with the test program last year and he echoed the same sentiments especially around building industrial base. We are not only building an aircraft but also the testing equipment and so on which was never built before.

rahul said...

the tejas as we call it a leap toward indigenous avionics design...the progress in the technology was inhereted time and again which delayed d project .better late than never.. following the NTPC when the americans imposed restrictions, the engine proposed could not be brought in..anywaz d way ahead is developing metallurgy for us to design indgenous engines .which will prove our worth in aviation engg. funding of projects at colleges is a good idea but lets see what d diplomats have to say about this

Anonymous said...

We only want to buy Phoren so that our babus, mantris, and armed forces personnel can go on Phoren trips.

Red Baron said...

Tejas is definetly not a groundbreaking plane in any technological area.

It is not going to break any records in speed, stealth, maneouvrability or operational capabilities.

Instead, Tejas should be mostly viewed, and appreciated, as a very important step in the learning and development of native indian technological know how.

Something that many other countries like USA, United Kingdom, France and Russia had to go through to achieve a higher level of sophistication.
India is learning (and that is a good thing) how to design and produce from scratch highly complicated flying weapon platforms.

It is a long and expensive process, but if China can do it, india also can.

Anonymous said...

what i think that the problems are1-The political will for indigenisation of military technology i mean hal can deliver an helo dhruv in 4,5years and the same can not deliver an avg fighter in 29 yrs.2-The difficiency of technocrats in R N D field.If we talk about a particular state say up then their are more than 500 engg. Colleges and around a million of engineers passout every year those from reputed institutions get campus placement and remaining became the fodder for the coaching institutes in delhi or hayderabad.

captainjohann said...

Brilliant account by a patriotic pilot. A must read fro all babus of Delhi

Anonymous said...

Muthanna praises the ASR given by IAF as world class documenet comparing it to some US standards in 1994.

But IAF could not anticipate the need for longer range BVR weighing significantly heavier with even more launch stress on wings than the one’s available in the eighties.

This lack of foresight is also one of the reason for delays, and weight increase in Tejas which led to the kaveri engine’s thrust falling below the level required for Tejas ,

because later wings needed to be significantly strengthened to carry long range heavy BVRs.

As usual it is quite easy to pat IAF on the back and pounce on ADA for all the so called troubles on LCA.The original ASR which is posted in ADA site calls for top speed of mach 1.5 at tropopause and 17 deg STR, which Tejas has exceeded even in MK-1 version and even with partially opened flight envelope has been exceeded by mk-1 itself within the partially opened flight envelope.
ersakthivel says:

Anonymous said...

LCA had a radome dia almost equal to that of RAFALE, so that it can technically house the same diameter radar as RAFALE and fire the same METEOR missile as RAFALE does with almost the same RCS.
What is surprising is so called critics almost seem to forget this critical fact ,the extra stengthening of the wings is a fact posted in an article by former SA to Pm like A.Partahsarahty and head of the procurement committee Raman Puri.And no one from IAF contested it till date.

The original ASR of IAF says a weapon weight of 4 tons. Now mk-2 is about to carry 5 tons with almost the same empty weight and the same wing loading and RAFALE sized asea Radar which is a feat equal to that of Grippen NG.In fact the TWR of mk-2 will be lot closer to that of RAFALE.

MK-1 itself has more TWR and lower wing loading than Mirage -2000 in IAF. Lower wing loading and more TWR means more maneuverable than Mirage .

The reason Tejas was freed from the shackles of IAF and HAL was the disappointing failure of HAL-IAF combine to develop even a decent turbo prop till date or a trainer of international class.

That led to the creation of ADA and now LCA mk-1 is comparable to the upgraded Mirage-2000 within it’s weapon load and range.
The reason the funding was delayed was due to the economic crisis and intense wrangling by IAF and many sections of officialdom to scuttle the project. The two TDs first and LSPs later arrangement was due to the efforts of higher up to save the project.

So once the funding was released the prototypes flew in seven years. What is the problem?
It took “7 years “IAF and MOD combine to evaluate and select the MMRCA contenders.Still there is no clarity on contract and the deal in murky waters with shadowy allegations about bribes.

SO folks must be rational in commenting. When some one says it is a fine flying machine. There is no way a fine flying machine comes out of a flawed design process.All fighters have niggling issues. Even SUKHOI has engine shaft failures and typhons of RAF limited to 80 percent of their top speeds due to uncontrollable vibrations and cracks on Hornets and flawed OBORGs on F_22.

SO why the big fuss about LCA time line.

Anonymous said...

Ashok Parthasarathi was Science Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Vice- Admiral (retired) Raman Puri was Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, Committee of Service Chiefs, remaining closely involved with the inter-service weapons acquisition process from October 2003 to February 2006

In the link above RAMAN PURI explicitly says that Tejas will remain at the cutting edge of the IAF even after the induction of MMRCA contender.He is the head of procurement who handled MMRCA tender.

The fighter had a developmental time line almost equal to that of TYPHOON , even with delayed funding due to the financial wranglings and economic crisis of the 90s.

till date test pilots have only praised it’s handling qualities stressing it is an ever upgradable fighter..

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

There are even insinuations that this aircraft has been more of a success to the scientists in lab coats than to the war fighter in flight suits. True; this fine aircraft has been hostage to a series of systemic shortcomings. There are significant lessons here for the Indian aviation industry. It is vitally important that these lessons are imbibed in order to move forward coherently in building a strong aeronautics industry in this country. luxury travel