It is a moment of pride for Indian defence researchers when the naval version of Tejas achieved a key milestone by successfully undertaking the maiden ski-jump take-off from INS Vikramaditya. The landing as well as take-off by the indigenously-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has put India among a select group of five nations in the world having the capability to design such a jet, which can operate from an aircraft carrier. The landmark event was a tribute to the professional commitment and synergy among various agencies involved in the project, including Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Aircraft Research and Design Centre of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) and CSIR. It has been a long and arduous journey for defence scientists and engineers in bringing the fighter aircraft development programme to fruition. The Indian Air Force has already inducted a batch of Tejas aircraft. Initially, the IAF had placed an order with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 40 Tejas aircraft. In 2018, the IAF issued the request for a proposal (RFP) to HAL for the procurement of another batch of 83 Tejas at a cost of over Rs 50,000 crore. Despite the latest achievement that demonstrated technological talent, design expertise and engineering competence, India still remains an underperformer in the military-industry field with the DRDO lagging behind the delivery schedules on many key projects. Even seven decades after independence, India is yet to attain self-reliance in military hardware and is heavily dependent on import of defence equipment. This certainly makes national security vulnerable.
India needs to develop the capability for design and serial production of its own weapon systems, particularly in the wake of Pakistan acquiring a steady stream of weapon systems from its all-weather friend China. Despite having the world’s fourth-largest armed forces, India has to depend on imports for everything, ranging from tanks, submarines, fighters, missiles and artillery to small arms and ammunition. Even a prestigious project like LCA was bogged down by inordinate delays due to bureaucratic indifference and lethargy. Similarly, uncertainty has surrounded the turbojet ‘Kaveri’ engine project. India could have gained massive strategic advantage if there was a sustained focus on indigenous military industry. Starting from a similar base in the 1950s, the defence industries of China, Brazil, South Korea and Turkey have left India miles behind. Self-sufficiency in military hardware has not received due attention from the political leadership, with successive defence ministers failing to appreciate the need for enhancing investments in defence research and development and providing impetus to vital indigenous projects. As a result, there has been a mismatch between the combat requirements of armed forces and the delivery schedules of the DRDO.