Tejas not singled out during post-Iron Fist briefing: IAF
Bengaluru: The Indian Air Force (IAF) clarified that it never portrayed India’s home-grown fighter jet Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas in ‘poor light’ after a section of media reported on a probe into ‘failed bombing missions’ during Iron Fist exercise held in Pokhran ranges recently.
The IAF also clarified that its post-Iron Fist briefing did not single out Tejas, instead presented an overall review of the Fire Power Demonstration (FPD) held on March 18.
The negative publicity for Tejas, which is on course towards fulfilling the Final Operational Clearance (FOC), is said to have caught the attention of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Tuesday, who was chairing a top-level review meeting on the fighter programme in Delhi.
Missed target figures in Tejas review meeting
During the meeting, the progress of Tejas was reviewed by Parrikar, who has now emerged as the strongest supporter for the home-grown project. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha and a host of top Defence Research and Development Organisation officials were present during the review.
“The failed mission of Tejas came for a discussion. The negative publicity for the programme for no fault of the machine was a concern. Many felt that the media should have been briefed adequately so that any misconceptions could have been ironed out,” an official who attended the meeting said.
On Tejas, the official said that the IAF was in agreement with the current plans of DRDO.
“Ultimately, the IAF wants Tejas in large numbers and at a faster rate to form the squadron. Hopefully they (HAL-ADA) combine should be able to complete the remaining tasks without any delays. Unlike his predecessor (A K Antony), the RM (Parrikar) has a better hold on the project,” says the official.
106 bombs hit targets, only 2 malfunctioned
While Parrikar was chairing the meeting, social media was abuzz with the ‘failed mission’ of Tejas.
Speaking to Mathrubhumi, Air Vice Marshal Vikram Singh, Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Operations (Space) said that all through his briefing he hailed the role of Tejas and its pilots.
“First of all, the briefing was not restricted to Tejas alone. We dropped 108 bombs during Iron Fist and 106 hit bang on the target. Only two had an issue and we are investigating the matter,” AVM Vikram Singh said.
Only Jaguar LGB had a clean strike
According to him, the IAF had planned four LGB (Laser Guided Bomb) missions, including Tejas, Sukhoi-30 MKI, Mirage and Jaguar.
“Jaguar had a clean strike and Mirage did not drop the bomb at all due to poor visibility. The LGBs dropped by Sukhoi and Tejas missed the targets. We are looking into the malfunction of the bombs,” the official said.
The IAF claimed that a total of 577 rockets were fired during the exercise and all were declared as hits. He said all the missiles fired were also on target.
“The Tejas and Sukhoi carry complex bombs. The pilots had visibility concerns owing to the clouds and smoke in the area. We are finding out what went wrong,” he said.
Tejas and Sukhoi had carried Griffin and Paveway LGBs during Iron First, both capable of pint-point precision-strike capabilities.
Everything can’t be spectacular; it’s not a movie
With the media ‘highlighting’ only Tejas missing the target, the issue seems to have demoralised a young team of engineers and designers at HAL and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA).
“During the FDR (Full Dress Rehearsal) on March 15, Tejas hit all the targets as mandated by the mission. The pilots could lock on within 20 meters of the target. On March 18, it was cloudy and there were visibility issues as well. The R-73 pierced through the flare, something that was not visible for the spectators. It was not probably that spectacular as expected,” says an HAL official, who was part of the Tejas detachment.
Lack of awareness on fighter’s abilities
According to a scientist with ADA, Tejas performed the most critical ‘swing role’ on March 18.
“There’s absolutely a lack of awareness among a large section of people on the abilities of a fighter plane. Everything cannot be spectacular. This is not a movie. Unfortunately Iron First was publicized as FPD and there’s more than what meet your eyes. In swing role, from an A-to-G (air-to-ground) attack mission, Tejas got on to an A-to-A (air-to-air) mode, which is significant. The pilot swiftly moves to 6G to 8G during this phase,” says the official.
Interestingly, on a day when Tejas was hit by the ‘media missile,’ back in Bengaluru, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd rolled out the second series production (SP-2) fighter for this maiden flight.
(The writer is an author, blogger and seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. His upcoming book ‘Precious Souls’ captures the inspiring lives of special children and their families. He is currently a Content Consultant with Mathrubhumi (English) Online and tweets @writetake.)