The author, Air Marshal M.S.D. Wollen (Retd) was the chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited from September 1984 to March 1988. He entered the Indian Air Force in 1947 and was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) for his exemplary role in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. It was during his tenure at HAL that the design and development of the Advanced Light Helicopter and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was undertaken. He is considered an authority on LCA, and MIGs in particular. Air Marshal Wollen has authored several papers on aviation and here he talks about Tejas and the reason why it is so important.
This story is incomplete. With the maiden, 20-minute flight of the first Technology Demonstrator of the Light Combat Aircraft on January 4, 2001, one could say it was halfway through. Even at this point of time, it is of enormous interest to nations in the far corners of the world. India has two priorities One, improve the quality of life of a third of its population. Two, keep inviolate its borders, shores and skies. The latter requires military might.
The geo-politics of the region (South Asia and surrounds) is of such a complexity that, despite good intentions of all, major conflicts have erupted; border skirmishes and cross- border terror-ism continue. In fact, right from Day 1 (August 15, 1947) India has faced a military threat; because of this, there is a compulsion to achieve self-reliance in design, development and production of weapon systems e.g. the LCA. It may be noted that some Asian countries, with great economic wealth and technical know why/know how, do not have such a compulsion. Further, success of the LCA programme is a must for continuation and enhancement of India's aircraft industry. For these reasons, 33 R&D establishments; 60 major industries and 11 academic institutions participate in the programme. Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of hype by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as to its capabilities, contemporariness and when it will enter service. This has led to, although not unwarranted, cynicism.
An important recommendation of the Aeronautics Committee, which was accepted by Government in 1969, was that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) should design and develop an advanced technology fighter aircraft around a proven engine. Based on IAF 'air staff target' papers, HAL finally completed design studies for a Tactical Air support Aircraft in 1975 and it appeared that HAL would, after a lapse of twenty years, get down to developing a fighter. However, the selected ‘proven engine’ from abroad, could not be procured and the project fell through. HAL's design and development capability started to decline. Meanwhile, The IAF's requirement for an air superiority fighter (primary role) with air support/interdiction capability (secondary role) in the tactical battle area, continued.
"Success of the LCA programme is a must for continuation and enhancement of India's aircraft industry. For these reasons, 33 R&D establishments, 60 major industries and 11 academic institutions participate in the programme."