A modern fighter aircraft is a very complex machine. It consists of a high performance aerodynamic airframe, constructed using a variety of modern materials such as aluminium and titanium alloys, carbon/glass fiber composites, etc., and a very high performance jet engine involving cutting edge technology and high precision machined parts. This only constitutes the basic flying platform, which is then equipped with a large variety of systems involving hydraulics, pneumatic, avionics, electrical and weapons related equipment to make it an efficient, sturdy, rugged, reliable, dependable, potent and safe machine. In fact,
“The quality of the systems and weapons fitted on a fighter aircraft is what really determines whether it is a “really good” or a mediocre aircraft”.
The design and development of a modern fighter aircraft needs a whole set of skills, capabilities, technologies and infrastructure extending over a very wide engineering spectrum. Further, due to the rapid advances in engineering technologies these days, such an industry would need to assimilate technologies as well as innovate their own continuously through R&D.
All these require highly qualified and trained engineers and scientists, who are encouraged and supported with the best of environment, infrastructure, financial backing and most importantly, quality leadership. Such an ecosystem has been sadly missing in this country all these years. With HAL being the exclusive PSU engaged in the development and manufacture of military aircraft for the last six decades, there has been very little opportunity for the private sector to get a foothold in this sector. One must also appreciate the fact that an aerospace industry is highly capital intensive with long gestation periods and hence no private sector organisation would have been able to afford the investments as made by the Govt. of India into HAL.
It is only in the last 15 years that large Indian business houses have evinced interest in foraying into aircraft manufacture. The synergy arising out of the joint participation of various aerospace organisations such as NAL, ADE, DRDO and HAL, by itself has resulted in a quantum jump resulting in the development of the LCA. This needs to be carried further with the active inclusion of the private sector, particularly in the areas of development of the airborne equipment falling under various categories.
What is required is a holistic and planned approach to developing the indigenous capability that synergises the strengths of the Govt. controlled aerospace organisations with the private sector companies that possess proven domain expertise in each of the engineering areas such as electronics, electrical, hydraulics, mechanical, pneumatic, and software engineering.