Oh good. Another thread that's going to destroy my productivity. You will excuse me if I don my patriotic hat for this one, although I will try and be as objective as possible.
I like the Tejas and think it is technically a better aircraft than the JF-17 although it is hard to deny the time differences with the programs. I wonder if India had been less ambitious initially and gone the JF-17 route of accepting initial lots with basic capability they would be in a better place
A better understanding of Indian contracting and budgeting would show why that could never happen. In India the military has to fight for funding. Mil spending is politically driven, privileges jobs-programme-esque waste, etc etc. Contrast that with Pakistan where the military is firmly in control. It becomes much easier to secure funding, ensure outcomes, and manage programmes with less bureaucratic overhead.
By the nature of all the often lamented and far too numerous issues with Indian defence procurement on the other hand, if the IAF had accepted a stopgap LCA... they be flying and fighting (and probably losing) with it thirty years hence. They have to fight to get the best on day one, or they're screwed by their own system. See: Rafale.
Tejas had a whole lot of requirements creep and needed to lock down the design a lot earlier than they did. JF-17 benefited from having the Chinese as the main development partner and with all respect to India China has more capability today in manufacturing fighter aircraft.
Another unfortunate fallacy that has legs simply because the Indian military, and the IAF in particular, is utterly rubbish at public affairs. They love obfuscation, hate transparency, and that gives their detractors plenty of room to shape the narrative. The IAF mandated changes only insofar as they related to obsolescence, which was a critical issue given that the LCA programme has taken some thirty years to bear fruit. For example, switching from the R60 to the R73 missile -- which should have been a trivial change in any other country, but required a massive redesign on the LCA because, well, that's a whole novel by itself.
It would be interesting to speculate if India had taken the Israeli Lavi prototypes instead of China where India would be today, with perhaps a J-10 type of aircraft in service or perhaps some of the issues Tejas presented would have been overcome quicker.
The divide between the boffins and the uniforms was so vast, there would never have been any useful cross pollination of the sort you're referring to. And contra popular information, it was the civilians that resisted IAF involvement from the very beginning, while simultaneously blaming every problem, delay and setback on the lack of IAF guidance! This is still an issue, although much better today and improving constantly.
Why do you think the Tejas is "better technically"? My impression is that the 2015 JF-17 is better technically in that it's operational,m and the 2023 JF-17 is better technically thanks to it's AESA radar. And I really think $25M is less than $78M
Apart from the "JF-17 is operational" argument, the Tejas is definitely the superior aircraft. It has better baseline performance and equipment. The Mk1A will have AESA, and the Mk.1s will get most of the Mk.1A mods when they cycle in for overhaul. When all is said and done (yes, a long way off yet) the IAF will own and control most of the LCA. That buys you a lot in O&S savings beyond the obvious sovereignty benefits. Otherwise everyone would just buy US/Russian/Chinese kit and not bother spending anything on domestic R&D or industry.
The PAF certainly deserves credit for their incremental development-fielding-upgrading approach, but my points above get into why that was simply not an option across the border.
It's been under development since (arguably before) 1984. That's 37 years!
It's taken inordinately long, by any yardstick, but the 1984 date is not correct. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, India suffered through the worst financial crisis in its history. There was little money spent and little work done on the LCA until about 1991, only meaningfully gathering steam around 1993. No one was twiddling their thumbs, but it was basically a science project until the first phase of development was approved and funding released.
Incidentally, the money spent on the programme to date is a tiny fraction of what it should cost
to develop and field a credible 4G+ fighter. That's another issue with Indian planning -- everyone lowballs, because coming in with a realistic figure means your programme never gets off the ground. That's also why there are no consequences for delay or failure -- there is no real way for anyone to establish what was a realistic target (on the time v funds curve) in the first place.
Basically, I think Sweden and Pakistan have done great, and India has done poorly.
It's hard to argue against this, honestly. Countries like Sweden and Israel punch way above their weight, and India underperforms horribly. I would caution against being too impressed by Pakistan's mil-industry achievements, however, because they are little better than what India was achieving in partnership with the Brits and Russians in the 1960s and 1970s. If 58% is your benchmark for domestic content, India exceeded that figure with just about every plane built since the MiG-21FL. The Mushak is a warmed over Saab Safari, and the JF-17, like it or not, is a Chinese product being co-produced by PAC. They do nothing else of note. Indian industry, particularly when looking beyond the state owned dumpster fires, is making parts for just about every western aircraft under the sun, and is inexorably racing up the value chain as it does so. Long term, that is going to pay off better for the country as a whole, as well as the IAF, than a handful of licenced products produced at Kamra.
He notes, among other things, that India has a tendency to reinvent the wheel, whereas China relies more on derivative and evolutionary technology.
Without the benefit of a ringside view, Andi is closer than he realizes. India is all about empire building. A fighter programme means DRDO gets to set up dozens of labs to make dozens of irrelevant things, creating hundreds of avenues for promotion, to say nothing of the, shall we call them "extra curricular activities" that are so rampant. COTS and MOTS are dirty words. The eggheads have convinced the political leadership that everything must be indian or you can kiss your sovereignty goodbye (which is, of course, nonsense). Then there are obvious nationalistic political benefits to waving the 100% domestic flag as well. Simply put, when fielding defence equipment is lower down the priority list than these asinine things, these inefficiencies are inevitable.