The Ministry of Defence has decided to locally produce 106 upgraded Light Combat Aircraft “Tejas” jets to replace the ageing fleet of MiG fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force. The “Tejas Mark 1-A” will have 43 improvements over the existing Tejas currently being test-flown by the IAF for various parameters and slated for final operation clearance in March. The existing project is running years behind schedule. Sources told The Tribune that a decision has been taken to produce 106 “Tejas Mark 1-A” jets and the same has been conveyed to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), besides the manufacturer — Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a public sector undertaking owned by MoD. The MoD has set a 2018 deadline for the first aircraft to be ready with a target to complete its production by 2022-2023. In September, new specifications were agreed upon and the IAF accepted 43 modifications that could be carried out without changing the existing design.
On the list of modifications are five major improvements, including an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, which the HAL will co-develop with Israel firm Elta; air-to-air refuelling facility; externally fitted self-protection jammer to prevent incoming enemy missiles from homing in using radar signature; and a new layout, involving 27 modifications, of internal systems to iron out maintenance issues. The plane will be 1,000 kg lighter than the existing version, which currently weighs 6,500 kg, but will use the same engine — General Electric’s 404. “The power of the engine is more than enough,” said a senior functionary. Fitting the newer and more powerful GE-414 engine would entail fresh design and airframe studies.
The HAL has been asked to produce 16 jets annually and a Rs 1,252-crore modernisation plan has been okayed to ramp up capacities from the present six-seven planes annually.The decision will go a long way in keeping the IAF battle-ready. The upgraded jets will fill the void created by MiG-21s and MiG-27s that will be phased out by 2022. There are 260 Soviet-era single-engine MiG-21 and MiG-27 jets in the IAF fleet. The air force needs 400 jets over the next 10 years.