The success of LCA Tejas, one of the finest fighter aircraft, attributed to its Architect, Designer & Project Director Dr. Kota Harinarayana. He was a keynote speaker at the NASSCOM Design and Engineering Summit. Following are the highlights:
India’s first fighter jet was HL-24 Marut. After more than two decades of neglect & disregard of the Indian Aerospace Industry, the LCA program started with an initial outlay of Rs.500 crore in the early 1990s.
We have the World’s third-largest domestic traffic and will be the third-largest – USA and China being the top two – in combined domestic-international travel. We are the fourth largest Airforce in the world, but until recently have been importing turbo-pass aircraft (only one among the BRIC nations). Years of sanctions by the Americans, especially after Pokhran tests delayed our R&D. Technology transfers from European countries were also restricted attributing the genesis of aero-technology to the USA.
Key features of the indigenous LCA Tejas:
- Usage of advanced composites, the highest by any contemporary fighter jet in the world.
- Mastering of the fly-by-wire technology.
- Complete digital cockpit.
- Management controller for extraordinary handling, maneuverability, and stability of the flight – this to an extent that the American pilots who flew both LCA Tejas and F16, thought F16 was better off with the LCA controller subsystems!
Some of the lessons learned during the development of LCA Tejas:
- Supporting partners as your own. “Their failure is your failure.” SME partners constituted almost 95% of the LCA work.
- “No to taking shortcuts.” Thus goes a short story: a teacher asks a student, “why was he late to the class?” The student responded that he took a shortcut!
- We should not believe that a turbo-propeller is unsafe only because the Americans say so.
- Independent quality review – you can design, develop and integrate on your own. However, always have an independent reviewer.
- Be leaders, not followers – after the success of LCA Tejas, the whole world thinks that Indians are intelligent people. So, never self-doubt. Believe in your intelligence and get going with your work.
- Compete with yourself, not with your neighbors – while every country owns an Army, Pakistan is the only country in the world where the army owns the country!
- R&D in incremental steps may not be good.
“Do not leap-frog, but pole vault.”
The jigs, fixtures, and gauges of manufacturing in LCA Tejas, converted into a fully digital-assembly by making use of robots/cobots, thereby setting a platform for increased productivity and lowering costs. India is well poised for scale although adopting digital technology took more time. It is cheap and easier compared to analog systems.
The fuel efficiency of the jets, affordability of air travel (cost) was the main reason for the success of low-cost airlines (Air Deccan) in the domestic circuit. This pushed larger middle-income Indians onto using air-as-a-mode-of transport, thereby driving volumes. This “mantra” also influenced the designers of LCA Tejas.
In final words, there was an imploration to the CXO’s. Although we are one of the leading countries in technology services, our industry contribution to invest in tech innovation is appalling – we are not even in the top 15% of the countries who invest in R&D.
“Tech is a crown jewel, invest in technology.”
We missed the first three industrial revolutions. Nevertheless, we can be leaders in Industrial 4.0 with our leap in digital technologies and transformation.