As India struggles to maintain the desired number of fighter jets for its air force, a fresh contract to procure 83 more jets of the next version of the light combat aircraft, the Tejas, is expected to be inked this year. Part of the production work is expected to be outsourced.
The 83 jets are dubbed the ‘Tejas Mark1-A’ and carry some 43 improvements over the existing ‘Tejas Mark1’, 40 of the latter are under production at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, a company owned by the Ministry of Defence.
A contract for 83 such single engine jets is expected to be signed, India’s Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar said while talking to the media on the sidelines of an event in Kolkatta in eastern India where he commissioned two fast patrol vessels for the Coast Guard.
“We are in the process of finalising the contract for 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark 1 A, which are advanced fighters to meet the urgent needs of India,” the defence secretary told reporters.
Kumar, an Indian Administrative Services officer, said the contract for the LCAs will be signed “definitely this year”. “We want to do it as soon as possible,” the defence secretary said when asked whether a time frame has been finalised by which the new aircraft are to be acquired.
The design for the jet has been finalised, said the Defence Secretary. The HAL is will be ramping up production to make 16 jets annually. “If required, through outsourcing, we can further enhance it,” he said.
India is working to have 200 more aircraft immediately
As an immediate measure the government is in the process of acquiring around 200 aircraft to cope with the depleting aerial inventories of the Indian Air Force. “Acquisition process is on for toughly 200 aircraft,” Kumar said.
Besides the expected order of 83 Tejas Mark1A, it will include a Request for Proposal for making the 114 fighter jets here in India under the ‘Strategic Partnership” model. India has already asked leading combat aircraft makers for an ‘Expression of Interest’. A Request for Proposal (RFP) ,which is next step of the multi-billion dollar tendering process, will be floated, Kumar said.
In the race for this tender are the Lockheed Martin’s F-21, Boeing’s F/A-18IN, Eurofighter Typhoon, French Dassault’s Rafale, Swedish Saab’s Gripen and Russian MiG-35 and the Sukhoi 35.
The Air Force has some 32 squadrons ( 16-18planes in each) of fighter jets. The bulk is formed by the Russian Sukhoi 30 MKIs, MiG 29s and the MiG 21 Bisons. The French origin Mirage and the British Jaguar are the two other types of planes used by the IAF.
The last fleet of swing-wing MiG-27 fighters was decommissioned on December 27
Ramping up production and privatising it
Some time in 2015 the HAL tasked private vendors to make modules like wing, front fuselage, centre fuselage, rear fuselage and contracted , four pieces of an aircraft separate major vendors in India.
In March 2017, the Government of India (GoI) has sanctioned Rs.1381 Crore ( some $ 180 million) to increase capacities
The HAL chairman had testified before a Parliamentary committee which reported the same in December 2018.
In all 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.
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.