Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind India’s Indigenous Fighter Aircraft

Cityzen

Born and brought up at Berhampur, Dr. Kota Harinarayana was the programme director and chief designer of India's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Programme. After the success of the project, he has now become a role model for many. Fondly called as Kota by his fellow colleagues and friends, he is a cheerful and humorous person.

In an interaction with MCL, Kota talked about his aspiration to give the best result and develop India’s first homegrown aircrafts. Excerpts.

How did you feel when you became a part of India’s dream project of developing India’s first Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Programme?

Back then, people thought it to be a difficult aircraft to make. With India’s poor technology and industrial base, it seemed to be a challenging task, but not impossible. We realised that India needed such an aircraft. Thus, to develop that technology, we had to build the required industrial base and put together an efficient team.  It was a challenge that we had to take and wanted to as well.

According to a report, USA claimed that India would never be able to develop its own aircraft. What do you have to say to that claim?

In 1998, when we were working on the technology, India conducted the atomic bomb tests at Pokhran. As a consequence of those tests, the Indian government’s funds were diverted and the Tejas project did not receive any support. The Indian Defence Minister too received several reports about India’s incapability of developing such a technology.

However, having taken it as a challenge, we worked relentlessly on the project and built an aircraft that was superior to any other aircraft. Eventually, we were successful in proving our technology and ourselves.

Even though the project began in 1980; funds were sanctioned only after 1993. What were the reasons for the delay?

Until 1993, we did not have enough funding for the project as it took a while for the Indian Air Force to accept it, as well as for the Indian Government tocreate an organisation to do work on the project. Even as we were ready, the Indian economy was in a bad shape to be able to provide us with the required capital. Nevertheless, we managed to survive the project from 1980 to 1993 with almost no funds till the government started funding us in 1993.

Was the Air Force reluctant to use the aircraft?

Yes, they were initially skeptical and even doubtful if we would be able to build such an aircraft. In fact, they had given us clearance to make only two-technology demonstrator fighter planes. But once they started flying it, they slowly gained confidence.   

What features did you ensure while designing the aircraft so that it could become one of the best defence aircrafts?

We wanted to make a better, smaller and cost effective aircraft.I think our aircraft costs half as much of an aircraft from USA or any other country.  We have been able to build a high technology aircraft, which is highly agile and maneuverable, and is difficult to detect. Its configuration and shape is also different. We would use maximum amount of indigenous technology for almost half the cost.

How do you feel after successfully completing the project?

I am happy that for the first time in the history of India, an aircraft designed and built in India, and even tested and flown in India has now entered into the service. Its capabilities are well appreciated and have already received many inquiries for export from other countries and they are asking whether we can export this aircraft.  Therefore, from being an importing country, we have become an exporting country. It is an important milestone in the history of Indian aviation.

By 2025, the Light Combat Aircraft will be included in the Indian Air Force. What is the reason for such delayed inclusion?

One can’t build the capacity of 40-50 aircrafts. It is huge and we will not be able to sustain that. We have to maintain a balance. About 16 aircrafts per year is the right balance.

How is training procedure going on?

The training is going good and very soon, the first three women pilots are going to fly Tejas. This is good news and I hope that these pilots also love flying it.

You were born and brought in Berhampur, Odisha.  How do you look at your journey?

Berhampur has a special place in my heart, and having grown up there, I have many sweet memories associated with the place. It feels good that even after growing up in a town like Berhampur, I reached a stage where I got an opportunity to design a complex fighter plane. It doesn’t matter how big or small place you come from, given an opportunity, one can always prove oneself.