AMCA: Another white elephant for HAL?

While Make in India continues to cast its dark shadow on the overall defence preparedness of the day, none of those shadows are bigger than the one cast by AMCA on the Future.

Imagined as a ‘home grown’ Fifth Generation fighter aircraft, its being envisaged in a country which still has problems in servicing its fourth generation Jet engines by itself. The Goverment has simply not understood that concept of factory line production and the need of an ‘industry’ to support such a great product.

To a simple question – what goes into building a new Fifth Generation fighter aircraft, HAL needs to look at both the FGFA experiments (which Indian establishments has said that their SU-30MKI radars can detect) and the F-35 Lightening II massive costs and ongoing technological challenges. Most of the big manufacturers like a Boing or even Rossiyskaya samoletostroitel’naya korporatsiya “MiG” run assembly units which assemble parts made by various associates, subsidiaries and at time even competition held  entities.

It has taken decades for the manufacturers to develop their supply chains, specialisations and even talent. At their home bases the Universities churn out students that are already attuned to both the tech requirements as well as the working culture and most importantly the management is held accountable to the time frames and deliveries.

Even a cursory reading of this article tells you that India has nothing of this sort. The annual India Trade Promotions (ITPO) exhibition has more space allocated to Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers when it comes to sophisticated equipment than their Indian counterparts. As a matter of fact much of Indian representation tries to sell Baking equipment.

Just a look at listed entities in BSE – except for 3-4 companies, there is hardly any defence focussed private company that you investors can find.  Likes of L&T, Tata, Bharat Forge too have dedicated defence units however they are yet to enter the exclusive club that likes of HAL occupy.

HAL on its own has a terrible track record of deliveries. While it has built a record number of MIG 21s, SU 30 MKIs the fact that it took almost three decades to come out with a delivery worthy LCA is not to  be missed. The company also lacks vision. Not many might know, it had developed and deployed its first fighter HF-24 Marut way back in 1961. If India had to wait for another half a century for LCA – its a testament to  criminal waste of talent and learnings.

As SU 30 MKI production lines near end and AMCA deadline being expanded from the word go, we are looking at more of the same historical cycle. Once again we will buy some of the very expensive planes from likes of Russia or Sweden and blame HAL.

There will be no time table, no industry preparedness and no educational tie up. In our efforts to run without walking we are doomed to fall on the face. Another white elephant is staring and there is no one to stare back.


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