The outgoing Tejas chief said the aircraft will join the IAF fleet by 2021-22. Ajai Shukla reports
When a young P S Subramanyam joined the Aeronautical Development Agency in 1986, that nodal agency charged with designing and developing an indigenous Light Combat Aircraft had little more than ideas. Air force fighter pilots and ADA engineers were deciding on the capabilities they wanted in the aircraft that would later be called the Tejas. But a flying fighter was still years of struggle away.
On Tuesday, Subramanyam retired from ADA after a full decade at its helm. In six-eight months, after some 2,500 hours of test flying, the Tejas will obtain “final operational clearance”, which certifies it as combat ready.
The Indian Air Force has received its first Tejas, while another 17 are concluding a flight test programme that has not seen a single accident so far. Under Subramanyam, ADA has built three LCA variants -- a single-seat operational fighter, a twin-pilot trainer and a naval Tejas for aircraft-carrier deck operations.
On ADA’s drawing board are two major projects that are critical for the IAF’s future: The Tejas Mark II, with a powerful new engine and advanced avionics; and the advanced medium combat aircraft , a fifth-generation fighter that will enter IAF service after 2025.
“I was lucky to be able to focus on just three Tejas variants,” said Subramanyam, a trim, pleasant mannered, grey-haired man with a penchant for well-cut suits. “My successor will have to oversee five-six programmes simultaneously. That will probably require ADA to revamp its management structures and functioning.”
Subramanyam says that a search committee, led by former Defence Research and Development Organisation chief V K Aatrey is choosing his successor. The selection is likely to be announced within a week, he says.
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“I hope it will be one of the existing ADA managers. That would ease the transition, since we are running a tight relay and I’d like to hand over the baton to a runner who is already warmed up. An ADA officer would be fully in the picture and running full pelt from Day-1,” says Subramanyam.
ADA’s outgoing director is well respected across the defence aerospace establishment for his skills at coordinating with the multiple agencies involved in the Tejas programme. These include Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which has designed important sub-systems for the Tejas, built all the prototypes, and established the assembly line for series production; the DRDO, which owns ADA but also oversees numerous other projects; the ministry of defence, which controls funding and final sanctions; and that most picky of customers, the IAF.
Subramanyam’s retirement comes at a delicate time, with the DRDO chief -- the ex-officio director general of ADA -- also new to his job. S Christopher took over as Director General, DRDO on June 1. A month later, ADA is also getting a new chief executive.
MoD officials say Subramanyam’s departure is in line with the government’s policy of avoiding granting extensions to top officials. In any case, he had already been granted three extensions.
The outgoing director says the Tejas Mark II is on track. ADA’s design challenge is to accommodate the bigger, heavier, more powerful, General Electric F-414 engine into the Tejas fuselage, which was built to house the current, smaller F-404IN engine. Subramanyam is confident this will not present a major challenge. “The preliminary design of the Tejas Mark II fuselage is already completed, without surprises. The detailed design will not cause delay. The fighter will make its first flight by 2018-19; and will begin joining the IAF fleet by 2021-22,” says Subramanyam.
The outgoing ADA director is even more bullish about the AMCA, which the IAF is supporting enthusiastically -- a change from its opposition to the Tejas. The AMCA’s configuration is finalised, and preliminary design is about to commence. That would provide a clear indication of how much funding the AMCA project would need. “I am confident that the AMCA project would cost less than any fifth generation fighter project anywhere. My estimate would be in the region of $4 billion (Rs 25,000 crore),” says Subramanyam.