DRDO chairman explains why the fighter jet programme was delayed

In an exclusive interview to India Today, Dr S Christopher, chairman of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) clarified that it would be wrong to say that the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was made in a span of three decades. He explained that that it was only in 1998 that the government decided to go for full-scale production of Tejas and allocated money for it.

Crossing yet another milestone last week, Tejas, for the second time, fired an Israeli Derby Air-to-Air Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile successfully. The Tejas is now a step closer to getting its final operational clearance (FOC) from India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA).


Accepting that the Tejas LCA could have been rolled out much earlier, Dr Christopher said that “sanctions imposed on India” that denied India access to technology after the atomic test in 1998 “affected the development of the fighter.”

Soon after the 1998 explosions the United States imposed sanctions on India.

Referred as the Glenn Amendment to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act of 1994, as many as 200 Indian organisations like the DRDO and Defence Public Sector companies like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Earth Movers were bludgeoned with sanctions.


Dr S Christopher also held the Indian Airforce responsible for the delay in making Tejas. Changing specifications mid-way through the design and development process or changing requirements “led to delays,” he said.

The DRDO chairman added that specifications regarding the engine of the Tejas couldn’t be finalised for a long time because of the constantly changing requirements.

The AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft), however, will roll out much faster than the Tejas. “Learning from past experiences, critical aspects of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a stealth multirole fighter jet being developed by DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), have been frozen,” Dr Christopher said.

Comparing India’s prowess to make world-class missiles against its poor record to design and develop other complex defence machines, Dr Christopher said, “When technology is denied, one has to accept what is available to one.”

The option to source the same item from another country or equipment-maker doesn’t exist and this allows scientists and forces to work together to better the product.


Indian warship building benefitted from competition. Unlike in making fighters where the country had to rely on HAL, shipyards competed to get orders, which fostered the process of design and development.

The Indian Navy has moved from being a buyers’ Navy to a builders’ Navy.
For about a decade now, almost all Indian warships are made in Indian shipyards. When we were developing the fighter “we had to put all eggs in one basket,” whereas there were several contenders in the force for making warships, Dr Christopher said.




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