Tejas MK1A – FADEC Controlled Engine – Challenges vs Benefits

Written by adityagm5

Indian planners must evaluate the benefits of a FADEC controlled engine in critical wartime scenarios.

GE404-IN20, With 19k lbs of thrust, this engine has the highest thrust in its class of engines which was specifically built on the requirements given by Indian Air Force. Tejas MK-1A is the smallest operational mainstream supersonic fighter jet in the world developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of India. The Tejas program has built the entire Aerospace industry ecosystem in India. Therefore, the program is particularly important for India. For details on the aircraft any public source can give you most details of the program barring a few critical ones. The whole Tejas program is a relief for Indian Air Force, particularly in reducing the decline of force levels. In terms of capability, Tejas stands apart from the aircrafts developed by regional rivals Pakistan and China. Chinese and Pakistanis have made another joint fighter JF 17  which is technically inferior to Tejas MK1A. Chinese have also made J16, J11 with Russia.

None of these fighters would be able to counter Tejas Mk1A due to various military advantages that the stealth & small size of the plane possess.

Indian military planners must have already considered it well given their close relationship with American forces and especially GE. However, there is one aspect which makes Tejas highly vulnerable is the engine. The FADEC controlled engine is susceptible to be hacked if anyone plans to. There are operational reasons for saying so. No other engine in this family of F404 is FADEC controlled as per the manufacturer. FADEC stands for Full Authority Digital Electronic Control. It has its own advantages versus disadvantages.

The biggest advantage is fuel consumption. The biggest disadvantage is the operational control limit.

The FADEC imposes a digital control over thrust and performance. If a failure occurs then the entire engine shuts down. The manual override is a must within pilot’s reach to ensure that the man behind that machine takes over in case of any anomaly in performance. None of the American Airforce planes use FADEC controlled engines because reliable manual control of the engine in critical situations is more important for the American pilot. That’s the American Airforce philosophy unlike Europeans.

2021 Budget of India pays a great importance to self reliance in all aspects of defense production. India has the second largest military industrial complex after Russia in Asia, however, it has failed to galvanize it to obtain military self reliance. There is a huge opportunity to transform the forty one factories of ordnance factory board into a defense research & manufacturing hub. There is also a need for an integrative defense innovation and manufacturing hub centered around these existing large military industrial capacity of India. The Indian defense planners have not yet harnessed the delivery strengths of a strong Program Management aspect. Most Indian defense innovation has lagged behind the world standards because of weak Program Management.

Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing and British Aerospace have developed expertise in Program Management. Also, a general contractor model that American Government has perfected in building futuristic defense systems has also to be looked into. The general contractor is the program manager. A Program Manager can be a firm, not just an individual.

Tejas engine development is a case study in point. Given India’s own attempts at Kaveri engine development, it would be rather easy to hand over the design to a good Program Manager. Let that Program Management contractor set up parameters for a non-FADEC engine design, either meeting or exceeding the existing performance delivered by the GE engine. The capacity for large scale manufacturing can be added in some of the chosen OFB locations. For example, once you have a moderately performing engine then it is easier to start innovating on that engine to build variants with higher thrust and lower weight. India has already done a lot with missile engines reaching 5 Mach in speeds. Currently, India doesn’t have the engine test facility. After spending close to $350m on engine development, DRDO still had to use a Russian IL76 and other Russian facilities to test. For the MK2 version of the Tejas aircraft, it will be worthwhile to explore partnering in the Program Manager model wherein the Private Indian Engineering Partners act as Program Managers for delivering the new engine to power all variants of Tejas, whether existing or in future.

To conclude, a FADEC controlled engine must be reviewed and manual controls of the engine must be in the hands of the pilot for survivability in critical wartime situations.


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