Bengaluru, June 30: P S Subramanyam, one of the top-notch military brains in the country says that the lessons learned from developing Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas will act as a guiding force for all future fighter programmes.
In an exclusive interview to Mathrubhumi English, Subramanyam, the outgoing Director of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Programme Director (Combat Aircraft), said that he and his team saw through the Tejas project through some of the most challenging times.
The Distinguished Scientist retired June 30 after being at the helm of affairs of ADA from 2005. Excerpts.
MB: Your tenure will probably go down in the history of Indian military aviation as the most challenging one. Isn’t it an irony that you had to leave the project just months ahead of its Final Operational Clearance (FOC)?
PSS: The Mk-1 configuration aircraft started coming after I took over in 2005. The challenge started with PV-2, which is the present Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration aircraft. In the last 10 years there were major transformation in the aircraft and systems. I would say 80 per cent changes took place in the last 10 years in terms of design and systems.
Now, FOC is on track and I am happy that it will be achieved in the next six to nine months. Remember that projects are bigger than people. There are capable hands to take the programme forward. I am not running away and will be always available to offer any help.
MB: So what are the major changes to Tejas in the last 10 years?
PSS: Well, there are many. There were changes to the front fuselage, cockpit layout, radome, windshield and canopy. Almost 80 per cent avionics changed and even the wings underwent modifications due to R-73 missile. The rear fuselage too had to be changed to accommodate GE404-IN20 engine. Even the MMR (Multi-Mode Radar) underwent changes after the indigenous effort to make one did not succeed. So we had to go for Israeli Elta Radar. Even the fuel system got changes for better CG (Centre of Gravity) management. New Communication systems too came in. Fourteen aircraft were built during my regime and around 2500 flights achieved in 10 years. Tejas story will inspire generations to come.
MB: What was the most satisfying moment during your command?
PSS: I would say the handing over of SP-1 to the Indian Air Force, the first Series Production aircraft, is the most memorable moment. I can proudly say I saw through the programme end to end.
MB: During your tenure, there were many attempts to close the project. How did you manage to overcome those pressures?
PSS: Okay. We had faced many unexpected encounters while taking Tejas project forward. In 2007, we came to a situation which almost was like to be or not to be. There were several meetings held to close the programme. From our end, we gave confidence to the government and convinced them that it is a doable project. There were occasions in the past that many wanted to merge ADA with some other organisations. We faced all the rough weather bravely.
MB: Who are the people who were behind these ‘undercover operations?’
PSS: They were not undercover operations, but open attempts. Names don’t matter as we have come a great distance ahead successfully.
MB: We understand that the FOC is likely to spill over to next year?
PSS: The programme has come this far and we are confident of achieving the FOC by March 2016. The current delays are just passing clouds and we will have access to all hardware within a month. Nothing can stop achieving FOC now.
MB: What was it like handling multiple agencies, which had different command and structure?
PSS: Interesting one (Laughs). I am not sure whether we have any other national programme running with so many stakeholders associated with it. It made me a better leader. Barring ADA, I had no control over any of the stakeholders in the programme. Still, I got the support of everyone, which I am proud of.
MB: Media has been mostly very critical of the programme, but you never came out countering them.
PSS: (Laughs) If I had to that, who would have run the programme? I believe that everyone has a job to do and I did mine. The media never had the right appreciation of the time and cost of the programme. Every time a new figure came out along with a new set of timelines.
With Rs 7500 crore, we made 14 aircraft and also set up a production line. Isn’t it far superior than the expenditure twice incurred in any other programme in the world? Honestly, we were ever affected by any media reports.
MB: What are your immediate plans?
PSS: I want to get connected with the youngsters. I will visit universities and talk to engineering students. I want to share with them the Tejas story. In the next 10 years, India should be second to none in military aviation. If aviation needs to grow, we need to introspect our position in science and technology today. I have already set a blueprint in my mind to target youngsters.
In the last 10 years, I have not gone for any vacation. Even Sundays were working days. Probably, now I will get some time to listen to some old Hindi and English songs.
MB: Songs like…
PSS: My all-time favourite number is Mary Hopkin’s -- Those were the days my friend…