Tejas delays could be blessing in disguise

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It was Groundhog Day at Aero India when a Sitara HJT intermediate jet trainer prototype crash-landed on the show’s eve, just as one did at the 2007 show.

But the Tejas light combat aircraft and Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter demonstrated that the country’s indigenous programmes are making headway. And plans for medium combat aircraft, combat and utility helicopters, and joint programmes with Russia to build transports and fifth-generation fighters show the scale of New Delhi’s ambitions.

India, however, is far from its defence minister’s aim of meeting 70% of its military requirements locally. Reality supersedes political rhetoric and some in India realise that, including the Tejas developers.

They have decoupled the beleaguered Kaveri engine programme from the much-delayed fighter, deciding it is far more important for the air force to have a viable aircraft than an indigenous but underpowered one.

As a result, the first seven LCA squadrons will have foreign powerplants. Such pragmatism is encouraging in the face of growing calls for indigenous products in India’s armed forces.

India is increasingly important on the global stage and must find a balance. Local industry should be encouraged as India needs its own source of weapons. But there is no harm in detouring abroad if it helps India reach its destination. The much-belittled LCA could, ironically, show the way forward for India’s aircraft industry.

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