Delay in LCA project has resulted in security threat to country, says Parliamentary report

New Delhi: Frowning upon the “huge delays” in the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme, a Parliamentary Committee has said the failure to provide the required number of fighters to the IAF has “adversely affected” its
combat potential and resulted in “security threat to the country”.

The Public Accounts Committee, while noting the “temporary measures” taken by the IAF to maintain the operational preparedness and to overcome the drawdown of squadron strength, asked the Defence Ministry to take urgent steps to expedite development of LCA.

It said the urgent completion of the project is necessary to cater to the needs of the IAF “so as to restrict imports of fighter aircraft of this class and ensure self-reliance of the country in the long run.”

The Committee noted that the IAF is operating with 35 squadrons as against 42 squadrons sanctioned, out of which squadrons for MiG-21 aircraft and MiG-27 aircraft would retire over the next 10 years.

The report of the Committee, headed by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, assumes significance as it comes at a time when the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter planes from Fench company Dassault is mired in a controversy, with the Opposition Congress alleging corruption in it.

The government has been emphasising that the 36 Rafale planes in fly-away conditions are urgently required by the IAF to strengthen the country’s defence capabilities.

The PAC expressed disappointment that even after almost three decades, the Aeronautical Develoment Agency (ADA) under the Defence Ministry has not been able to develop the indigenous LCA as per the requirements of the IAF in terms of combat potential and serviceability.

“Non-fulfilling of requirements of the users has rendered investment of both time and money in the project, so far, infructuous,” the committee said in a report tabled in Parliament.

“The Committee are disappointed to note that the failure of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) /ADA and the Ministry of Defence to provide the required number of aircraft has adversely affected the combat potential of the IAF, resulting in security threat to the country, “it said.

The LCA programme was initially sanctioned in 1983 with a development schedule of eight to 10 years against IAF’s requirement of induction by 1994.

However, the project schedules slipped, mainly on account of design changes necessitated due to change in weapon requirements, non-availability of Kaveri engine, delay in completion of work packages by the work centres, etc, the report said.

“The Committee are aghast to note that, as on 31 July, 2018, IAF has only got 9 out of the 200 fighter and 20 trainer aircraft envisaged in ASR (Air Staff Requirement),” it said.

Six aircraft have been productionised after only an Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and “are not combat ready, as yet”, it added.

It said that due to “huge delays” in development and induction of LCA, forming of two LCA squadrons could not materialise and IAF had to upgrade MiG-BIS, MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft at a cost of Rs 20,037 crore while phasing out of MiG-21 had to be revised.

“It is needless to mention that at times of war, it would be difficult for the nation to procure combat aircraft from unfriendly countries,” the Committee observed.

“The HAL, ADA and its work stations are miserably failing in its R&D to have the much-needed technology in the aviation sector,” it said.

The Committee said it should be apprised of the schedule for induction of aircraft for overcoming the depleting squadron strength of IAF.