Made in India

The IAF will soon get 324 Tejas aircraft in different configurations

Air Commodore Trilok Chand (retd)

Recent reports indicate that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is likely to get 18 squadrons (Sqn) i.e. 324 Tejas aircraft in varying configurations (Tejas Mk I, Tejas Mk IA, Tejas Mk II) in the years to come. Timeframe for this acquisition has not been specified. It seems nearly certain that the debate about the acquisition of the single-engine fighter aircraft under the Strategic Partnership model fuelled by the Request for Information (RFI) for this purpose and reported likely joint ventures of Tata-Lockheed Martin and Adani-Saab has been settled in favour of the Tejas Mk II aircraft. With the induction of the 15 Sqn i.e. 272 Su30 MKI twin engine heavy fighter aircraft, the IAF will reach 33 Sqn strength of these new aircraft. With induction of two Sqn of Rafale aircraft the strength will go up to 35 Sqn. The replacement of remaining seven Sqn, comprising of Jaguars, MiG 29 and Mirage 2000 aircraft would necessarily be of twin-engine medium class fighter aircraft. The debate, therefore, is likely to shift towards long-term approach for acquisition of this class of the aircraft. India’s Perspective Multi-Role Fighter (PMF) in joint development with Russia and development of its own Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) are likely to come into focus now. The fast dwindling strength of the fighter aircraft and equally fast emerging collusive and collaborative threat from China and Pakistan need deeper analysis and assessment of the likely force structure of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the years to come.

LCA Tejas at Leh

The IAF has already committed to induct 123 Tejas aircraft in Mk 1A configuration. It has reportedly agreed to induct 201 Tejas Mark II aircraft which will be fitted with much better avionics including radars, enhanced fuel and weapons carrying capacity, and more powerful engines.

Only a few of the 20 Tejas ordered by the IAF in their Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration have been delivered by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) till now under the first Rs 2,813 crore contracts. Another 20 Tejas in their Final Operational Clearance (FOC) configuration were to be delivered by December 2016, as per the second Rs 5,989 crore contracts. The IAF is now hoping to begin inducting these 20 aircraft may be from 2019 onwards.

The contract for 83 Tejas Mark IA aircraft, which will cost around 50,000 crores, is in the process of being finalised now. The delivery of these aircraft is slated to begin in 2023.

Tejas Mark IA will be equipped with an advanced AESA Radar and an Electronic Warfare (EW) sensor suite. Several maintainability and reliability issues flagged by the IAF teams will also be addressed. It will also have a mid-air refuelling capability to enhance its endurance and radius of action.

The Tejas Mark II is to feature the more powerful General Electric F414-GE-INS6 engine. The ministry of defence had sanctioned Rs 2,431.55 crore for Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to develop the IAF’s Tejas Mk II variant. The Mk II will also see the incorporation of a new electronic warfare suite which is being jointly developed with Israel. The variant will also have a new glass cockpit with larger displays. The Mk II is expected to have 30 per cent commonality of components with the Mk I and these parts are already in production. The Mark II was scheduled for flight testing by 2018, but this may be delayed by a few years to allow time for facilitating the installation of the GE 414 engine. In addition, few important features of the Tejas Mk II aircraft include AESA radar which is being indigenously developed in India by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LDRE), external storage capacity is expected to be 5,000 kg in comparison with 4,000 kg for Mk I, the on-board oxygen generating system along with air refueling which will provide a much longer mission time and it will have Astra BVRAAM missile. Its production is expected to take place around 2022–25. Defence minister has clearly informed that the Tejas programme will go on and there is no other single-engine fighter deal that the government wants and is eagerly waiting for Mk II version.

Many important milestones have already been achieved by the Tejas aircraft. On 12 May 2017, Tejas successfully tested a Derby, air to air Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile, in radar guided mode at Interim Test Range, Chandipur. Earlier, on 1 July 2016, Tejas series Production 1 and 2 aircraft in Mk I configuration were formally inducted into the IAF. First squadron (45 sqn) has already been raised at Bengaluru.

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