Shaitan’s Billis

Fresh from evangelist Benny Hinn’s miracle healings, the Jakkur airfield outside Bangalore hosted India’s version of the Blue Angels for an aviation expo where India’s surging airlines placed orders for new planes.

The Surya Kiran (Sunrays) precision flying team looks fantastic, but even to these non-military eyes they don’t cluster as tightly as the Blue Angels. They fly Kiran Mark II trainers instead of the more capable F/A-18 Hornets; these stubby trainers handle forgivingly but are slower than front-line fighters. So they use the patented Indian solution of throwing manpower at the problem by using 50% more pilots on the team 🙂

The Surya Kiran issues are related, of course, to India’s difficulty in buying Western military tech after years of sucking up to Russia to ward off China. Most Indian fighter hardware is comprised of MiG-21s from the ’60s with a smattering of Sukhois, Mirages and Jaguars. India’s just now getting around to buying F-16s, which are soon to be obsolete in the Western world. The issues are also related to India’s limited pilot training; the hardware and training issues combined have given the Indian Air Force an alarming accident rate.

Encouragingly, India’s finally developing its own Tejas (Radiance) fighter, a supersonic, semi-stealthy, fly-by-wire delta wing, to replace its MiGs. Tejas shares its name with an optical networking startup in India, one of the few India-headquartered companies funded by an American VC. However, the Tejas is long-delayed; they should bring in the on-time-under-budget Delhi subway leader to kick some butt. I also wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to skip manned fighters entirely and leapfrog to unmanned UAVs, which can handle much higher G-forces. There’s lots of precedent — India leapfrogged wired lines for mobile phones and old subway tech for new. And remote pilotry would be the ultimate in outsourcing.

Then there’s the naming issue, a.k.a. Queer Eye for the Military Guy. It’s not like the U.S. military has perfect taste in names (the Blue Angels were called Satan’s Kittens during the Korean War — meow!). And this military did have the flair to choose the Trishul (Trident), Agni (Fire) and Nag (Cobra). But ‘the Sunrays’ sound like they cut a record around the same time as the Bee Gees. It dooms them to the same fate as my brother’s old soccer team, the E.T.’s: ridicule by soccer moms.

Ouch, Elliott. E.T. phone home for a name change.

But then I’m a stickler for aviation branding. Here are some more Surya Kiran photos and details on the Tejas. Previous posts on the Indian Air Force: 1, 2.

3 thoughts on “Shaitan’s Billis

  1. India is not purchasing F-16s

    The offer was made by Lockheed but was turned down. India’s frontline air superiority fighter will be the SU-30 MKI (Would go toe to toe with a F-15). India currently has 30 or so that came from Russia directly while it has a contract to manufacture 100 plus at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). HAL has previously manufactured under license the Mig 21, Jaguar, and Mig 27 along with any other figher aircraft put together in India.

    The plan is to have the LCA (which has been under development for too long) replace the Mig 21 and other multirole attack aircraft while the SU 30MKI will be used in deep strike and air superiority roles. More Mirage 2000s are being purchased to replace attrition losses and the idea that a few more may be bought is being thrown around (as a stop-gap measure before LCA comes around)

    For more information see for solid information on the Indian Armed Forces.

  2. Clarification:

    With regards to the idea that India will purchase the F-16, it would be a pain the in ass. Too much political shit involved. Especially with Pakistan having f-16s. India does have an interest in finding out how capable the F-16 is vs the comparable Mirage 2000. For the Cope India excersies, India had requested F-16s to spar against, but was turned down by the US Govt. Hence they trained against the fighers from Singapore and Israel as the article suggests.

    The LCA airframe was develped with the help of Lockheed Martin prior to the Nuke blasts after which sanctions were placed. The GE engine that would have been initially used was also placed under the embargo. As a result, India used its own engine for development, though it did not have the same power/performance. With the sanctions lifted post 9-11, the flow and exchange of technology has continued. Hopefully this will get India up and going on the LCA which should be a small but very effective little plane (with all bugs worked out of course)

    I am highly skeptical that India would go through all that pain to purchase F-16s. Though very capable for the forseeable future, too many support issues. French are a much easy arms supplier to deal with. Though more pricey than the Russians, they are more relaible in terms of offering support for spare parts and similar issues. They sell decent equipement to everyone. The Mirage 2000 is a very capable multirole figher.

  3. Last week, India announced that it was in the market for 126 new fighter aircraft, ostensibly to replace the venerable MiG-21 ‘Fishbed. Lockheed Martin’s F-16, the Saab/BaE Gripen, a variant of the MiG-29 and Dassault’s Mirage 2000-5 are reported to be in the running. Some reports have suggested that the U.S. is interested in selling the F-16 to India while also permitting additional sales to Pakistan, just to keep things in check between the two. So it appears that the F-16 is not out of the picture.

    The IAF insists that the LCA (aka Tejas) will be flying soon. But the Indian military is well known for its rampant optimism regarding the procurement and induction of new systems and capabilities. The LCA has been in development for twenty years, and although it stands a good chance to see service, its designers are probably overselling its capabilities. It does not have stealth systems (rather, the small size and delta-wing design is thought to reduce its radar signature relative to IAF MiG-21s, MiG-23s) and its small size will restrict its payload considerably. Many observers remain skeptical that this, or other ambitious programs including the acquisition of the Adm. Gorshkov carrier and ballistic missile submarines, will deliver as promised. Perhaps the moniker “indigenius” is somewhat premature.

    As for tactical UAVs (TUAVs), I haven’t seen the evidence that the Indian aeronautical engineering establishment is capable of working at the level necessary to move the yardsticks. Arming Hunter or Predator UAVs with small missiles is one thing, but developing dedicated TUAVs that can replace manned multi-role combat aircraft is another thing altogether. With renewed cooperation between Indian, Israeli and American firms, however, there’s a lot of potential in this area.