India immediately needs a second assembly line to produce fighter jets. The existing production line at the Ministry Defence owned public sector giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) may not be enough to meet the needs of the Indian Air Force which has projected the need for more than 300 India-made jets over the next 15-16 years.
The existing production line at Bangalore, for now, produces no more than 12 Tejas single engine planes. At its peak it would be able to make 16 planes. In simple words it would take some 19-20 years to make the 300 jets projected by IAF. The thrust for make in India has a new impetus as the new IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, a former Tejas test pilot, has made it clear that ‘make in India’ is the way forward.
The talk for having a second production line for jets has been doing the rounds since for more than three year. In February 2017, the Ministry of Defence announced it will start a second line of fighter jet production. This will add to the line producing ‘Tejas’ at the HAL plant at Bangalore. The line is yet to start.
The IAF requirement: In case of fighter jets, the HAL is listed to make 123 Tejas planes. Of these, 20 are what is called the initial operational clearance (IOC) version, which have already been delivered to the IAF and are not part of the future count. Another 20 jets are to be made as per the final operational clearance (FOC) version with some upgrades. The remaining 83 are the Tejas Mark 1A, which will come with 43 improvements. A formal order for these is yet awaited from the MoD.
In its projection for the future, the IAF says it needs 170 (ten squadrons) Tejas Mark II – the same plane also goes by the name Medium weight fighter or the MWF. A first test-flight is slated in 2022. The Tejas has all up weight of 13.5 tonnes, including 7 tonnes of payload. The MWF is the next class with an expected all up weight of 17 tonne, including 8.5- 9 tonnes of payload. The Aeronautical Development Agency and the IAF have designed it to have an engine of 98 Kilonewton (kN) thrust. The US giant General Electric, has supplied ADA with Eight F414-INS6 engines which generate 98kN, however, the company has the F414 Enhanced Engine which can generate 116 kN. Both the engines have same dimensions.
The IAF has also said that it will want two squadrons (some 35 in number) of the 25-tonne weight class AMCA to kick-off the project with same 98 kN engine as used in the MWF with the possibility of using a 125 Kn engine in the latter versions.
IDD View: The time to set up a second assembly line for fighter jets is now. Without the assembly line the production will suffer. India needs to make nearly 24 – 30 jets a year to match the IAF needs. By 2025, the Jaguar fleet will start getting phased out. By 2027 the Mirage 2000 fleet will start the phase out. Around the same time the MiG 29 would also be ready for it final flight. For India to be counted as a global power, the rapid manufacture of jets will help. The MoD and HAL could tie-up with foreign vendor to learn the trick of being super efficient.