83 indigenous Tejas jets for the IAF: What does it mean for the nation?

Updated: Jan 18, 2021 1:29 PM

Over the years the IAF has been dealing with dwindling aircraft strength even as the threat of a two front war hangs over its head.

Tejas jets LCAThe new ones contracted are the Mark 1 A version, essentially an upgrade of the existing ones.

By Wing Commander Amit Ranjan Giri, 

Just in the recent past, the government has signed a deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for an additional 83 Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, at a whopping Rs 48000 crores, bringing the cost of each piece to approx 600 crores. This is in addition to the 40 + LCA Mark 1 aircraft that the IAF presently operates. The new ones contracted are the Mark 1 A version, essentially an upgrade of the existing ones.

What does it mean for the IAF?

Over the years the IAF has been dealing with dwindling aircraft strength even as the threat of a two front war hangs over its head. The sanctioned 40+ number of squadrons to enable the IAF to execute its responsibilities entrusted, is a far cry today with the number of squadron falling short, continues to be in double figures. The recent infusion of two squadrons of Rafale, directly off the shelf, from France has flowered an optimism amongst the populace, albeit with the pessimist objecting to the meagre quantity. With the 83 new homegrown birds, with capability close to the imported ones, the boost to the IAF arsenal would be tremendous. The deliveries are expected to start within a three year time frame which, no doubt would be a Herculean task for the OEM, but would certainly ease out a lot of IAF worries in terms of support and user defined product specifications, considering the homegrown factor.

What does the nation gain?

It seems aeons back when India was standing in a similar crossroad and had at that point of time opted for the HF Marut to boost IAF’s combat capability. People in the aviation sector would agree that this was one of the most efficient aerodynamic design only to be let down by unsuitable, cannibalised engines. In the absence of faith, trust and proper policies, not only did the fighter development program die its own death but pushed along with it the DPSUs’ at least a few decades behind. The Indian defence production industries are fledgelings at the most when compared to global giants and they have remained so for a considerable amount of time. They need hand-holding and support of the nation to grow and compete with the world, something which they never enjoyed for a very long time, but are exposed to for the past few years. This new found push and enthusiasm for indigenous products would certainly give the industries the required impetus to compete globally. Very pleasantly surprising was the fact that the US Navy had recently shown interest in the Naval LCA LIFT program considering it with legends such as the Super Hornet program, an unexpected boost from a totally unexpected player to the morale of the people involved.

Will Indian Products match up to the imported ones?

This is a question which the optimist have been avoiding, the pessimist have been voicing and the global arms exporters have been cashing in, on. To answer upfront, it’s a NO, at least not initially. When the LCA, the present one, was inducted in the IAF a few years back the OEM had asked for relaxation on about 100 + factors, rightly so the IAF was not in the happiest mood but good sense prevailed and they hung on. A few years down the line most of these shortcomings have been addressed and at places upgraded to global standards, some of the researches towards improvement also laid the foundations of future indigenous technology. This was made possible mainly because the IAF stuck to its faith and the OEM produced the goods. It was a common sight to see HAL scientists and engineers rubbing shoulders, in the LCA Squadron, with the fighters jocks and refining the aircraft to the users needs. The result today, is a world-class formidable fighter produced to the IAF’s required and refined specifications.

The path for these 83 would also be similarly strewn with thorns but the call for faith needs to be addressed to enjoy the fruits of labour grown in one’s own backyard. The takeaway is tremendous when one adds up the advantage of future developments, the AMCA project would surely benefit from some technology build into the LCA, not to mention the advantages to other non-aviation related projects.

What’s inside the LCA Mark 1A

The latest of the Indian stables comes with the same airframe and engine as her predecessor, the Mark 1. The upgrades are in form of a world class AESA radar, a proud to be of Electronic Warfare suite, a much better pilot machine interface and the cherry on the cake, a state of the art ‘fly by wire’ system which would be the envy of the aviation world. The weapons to be integrated are a balanced mixture of imported and homegrown pedigree. The radar being bought off the shelf from Israel and the parts of the EW suite also from the same source but integrated to perform to the optimum, indigenously. The rest of the upgrades are mostly developed in the house including the FBW which gives the pilot the capability of carefree handling through the ALSR (Advanced Auto Low-Speed Recovery).

Is there a bigger picture here?

Since independence, we have mostly looked beyond our borders for military equipment as a quick fix solutions, these have at times landed our forces in trouble, forcing them to resort to other unconventional methods of solution. When the erstwhile USSR broke down, the services faced an acute crunch of spares for equipment of Russian origin, forcing them to suddenly try and manufacture some in house, or pay through their noses to have some foreign firm make them. With the self-sufficiency drive and thought kicking in, it is envisaged these situations won’t repeat in the future.

At this point, an euphoria of optimism would even dare one to explore an export market for Indian defence produce, nothing wrong in the dream, and of course parts of this dream has even started to fructify. Slow but steady, the march to compete with the world continues.

The way ahead…

With the promise of a rosy picture in the future, the way ahead would certainly be the path of self-reliance. The workforce at NFTC, the designers of the Tejas along with HAL, certainly deserve a pat on the back to have been able to ensure that this time around, users trust is upheld. This has borne fruits in form of the present contract.

(The author is IAF Veteran and was Flight Commander, The Flying Bullets 2010 -2012. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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