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Utopian Antony irked by Doubting Thomases of India's 'Tejas'
The government is still talking on the development of an engine for Tejas in place of Kaveri. It disintegrated in the test bed due to ineptitude and arrogance. Without an engine, the additional Rs 8000 crore will disappear into a black hole.
A K ANTONY, India’s current defence minister, is no doubt an idealist. The compulsive optimist is however a misfit in India’s public life. Like an earlier predecessor George Fernandez, he is noted for leading an austere life free of ugly ostentation. But, unlike Fernandez, he refuses to entertain high-society ‘friends’ who do deals with defence vendors “for the sake of the party.” No wonder, the soft spoken Keralite was not tolerated by his party men as the State’s chief minister and was kicked upstairs to New Delhi.

The defence minister gleamed after witnessing the flight display of two light combat aircrafts which are being “pioneered” by India. Designed by Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency, the LCA is touted to be the most compact light weight supersonic, multi-role and combat aircraft in its class in the world. However, all it has got after 27 years and billions of rupees is only the name ‘Tejas’ (Radiance). The name was given in the regime of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who posed for cameras in the ‘cockpit’ of a stationary ‘fighter plane’!

Pleased at the look of a twin-seater trainer version prototype (PV5) and another belonging to the limited series production-2 of the LCA program, Antony declared, “All the doubting Thomases have proved to be wrong!” He said the Tejas “will certainly get the initial operational clearance (IOC) by the end of 2010” and will have the final clearance by the end of 2012. Maybe, he does not expect to be around as MoD till then.

The budget specifically allocated for the program since 1983 till end-2009 is put at $1.5 billion. It obviously excludes salaries and administrative expenses of the bloated defence-research officialdom. In addition, the Indian Air Force has already been browbeaten to order 20 LCAs and asked to process an order for 20 more even before the product has seen IOC. Obviously, the substantial money diverted from real needs of IAF will need to be counted in the costs.

More importantly, the estimate does not include expenses in a sister-project Kaveri Engine Program. The brilliant scientists spent decades and imported several tonnes of exotic materials to manufacture the stator and rotor blades of Kaveri. However, ignorance of metallurgical fundamentals in shaping the blades rendered them good only for showcasing and not undergoing rigours of service. Arrogance of tyrannical bosses who refused to acknowledge the blunder resulted in the engine disintegrating and flying off while in the test bed.

The development team chose to make somewhat realistic demands for a project of this type and invisible rulers of the country have decided to back the ‘scientists’ through Anthony. He has been allotted an additional budget of $1.6 billion (Rs 8000 crore) of good money to chase the already-sunk bad money.

Whatever really reaches the team out of the $1.6 billion after usual ‘overheads’, will only be going into a black hole. For, Antony conceded that his government is still talking with parties abroad for the development of an engine for Tejas. Unless systematically married with an absolutely reliable engine that would be available on long-tem without hitch, an airframe is no more than a coffin. Yet, the good minister apparently believes in the power of prayers and spelt out his utopian dream: “Today I can assure you with confidence....I can declare at last LCA is going to be a reality.” Whether a complex project can make any headway just because a good man strongly believes in the agencies involved in it is anyone’s guess.

Tejas can become as much a reality as the other giant farce – Maruti – of the ruling dynasty. Even Sanjay Gandhi had completed several make-believe versions of peoples’ car, flaunting which he minted millions. For making a success out of Tejas, another Suzuki has to be roped in to cover up the heist so far. Maybe, Northrop-Grumman or Boeing-VEGA could start from scratch and call it a great Indian success. In absence of such a deal, the Rs 8000 crore that Antony wants to send chasing the earlier Rs 4800 crore will flow into drain, after lining the desired pockets.

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