With the ministry of defence (MoD) setting a 2018 deadline for making the first upgraded Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is seeking help from Swedish company SAAB.
T Suvarna Raju, chairman and managing director, HAL, told FE, “For enhancing the capability of the indigenous LCA, HAL is in talks with the SAAB.” “By June 2016, our company will hand over the fourth aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF). The four aircraft will make up for the first squadron of IAF which will be used for training,” he added.
Last June, India and Sweden had signed several agreements to boost ties and decided to restart the bilateral strategic dialogue besides finding ways for investment by the Nordic country in India’s defence sector under the ambitious ‘Make-in-India’ initiative.
Swedish defence major SAAB is likely to insist on a government-to-government (G2G) deal if they assist India in developing and manufacturing a light fighter.
SAAB CEO Hakan Buskhe had recently said the company will offer any help to the indigenous light combat aircraft project.
Ulf Nilsson, head of SAAB’s aeronautics division, had earlier told FE that, “We are open to partner with HAL in developing the next version of indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.”
According to Raju, “The plan is to give 22 indigenously manufactured LCA to the IAF by 2018. There were some teething issues with the Mark-I version of the ‘Tejas’ as well as some design issues those have been resolved.”
The Tejas LCA is a supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multirole light fighter aircraft, which has been under development for the past three decades. It has been co-developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with HAL to replace the IAF’s aging fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-23 aircraft.
India needs about 300 aircraft of the LCA, therefore to speed up induction of the ‘Tejas’, the MoD has decided to upgrade the aircraft with over 40 modifications. SAAB’s help would be needed in ensuring these modifications pass IAF’s tests. IAF currently plans to acquire 120 Tejas aircraft, with 100 of these having major modifications. The force wants Active Electrically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Unified Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite, mid-air refuelling capacity and beyond the vision range missiles.
The customer IAF, which has so far ordered just 20 ‘Tejas’ Mark I for its first squadron that will come up in Sulur in Coimbatore, is actually keen on the Mark II of the indigenous aircraft. Once the LCA obtains FOC, another 20 fighters will be built in the FOC configuration.