“Touch the sky with Glory”, the motto of Indian Air Force will soon be a reality for the indigenous Tejas Mk1A as the Cabinet Committee on Security on January 13, 2021, cleared the way for the procurement of 83 Tejas Mk1A combat aircrafts. This is the single largest ever deal given to any Indian manufacturer, a landmark moment for the Project LCA. Also, it provides a much required impetus for the Atmanirbhar Bharat as well as Make in India campaign especially in the defence sector.

Key Features of the deal:

  • Procurement includes a total of 83 Mk1A fighter jets, consisting of 73 fighters + 10 trainers. Tejas Mk1A Version is an upgrade over MK1 version with 43 critical enhancements.
  • Price: Procurement of 83 Tejas Mk1A amounts to ₹ 45696 crores. According to R. Madhavan, HAL CMD in an interview, ~₹38k cr is the actual cost coming to HAL (excluding the taxes). This ₹38k cr includes setting up of Ground Support Equipments and facilities to be set up at different airbases, design and development costs to DRDO, the cost of spares, maintenance and serviceability. Refuting all the exaggerated claims of media regarding the price, HAL CMD said that the price per aircraft amounts to ₹309cr.
  • Timeline: 1st aircraft will be delivered after 36 months of formal signing of contract which is expected at Aero India 2021 (3-5 Feb 2021) and the rate of production per aircraft is 16 per year.
  • Opportunity for Indian Vendors: As per R. Madhavan, HAL CMD, there are a total of over 70 domestic suppliers with 500+ Indian vendors including the MSME sector associated with the Tejas Mk1A

The Power Pack of Tejas

Tejas is a Fly by Wire (where flight controls of an aircraft is managed by an electronic interface) aircraft which features a great array of the state of the art technologies developed indigenously. Some of its major highlights are:

  • Design: The airframe consist of 42% of carbon fiber composites (one of the highest among contemporary aircrafts) and 43% of aluminium- lithium and titanium alloys, which not only makes it lighter but also reduces radar signature and improves the aircraft’s reliability and lowers its susceptibility to structural fatigues. The airframe is designed with ‘Relaxed static stability’ which offers enhanced manoeuvrability. Currently the aircraft is certified to fly from -3.5 to +8.0G manoeuvres, up to an altitude of 50k feet, a top speed of Mach 1.6, and an angle of attack (AoA) of up to 24 degrees. The test pilots have stretched the prototypes to even 8.5G. It also possess a Thrust to Weight ratio higher than 1.0 (essential for vertical lift).
  • Weapon Package: Tejas current missile package features Astra Mk1 BVRAAM (beyond visual range Air to Air missile), ASRAAM CCM (Close Combat Missile) by European consortium MBDA, short range missiles Derby of Israel and R73 of Russia. In few years to come, this will be replaced by an indigenous missile package of Astra Mk1 (operational, range upto 110km), Astra Mk2 (under development, range upto 160km), Astra IR (under development, range upto 80km), Astra CCM (under development, range probably around 50km) and anti radiation missile Rudram-1 or NGARM (to be inducted in 2022) and Brahmos Next Generation/mini Brahmos (Air to surface/Air to Ship) supersonic cruise missile. This alongwith the indigenous package of DRDO SAAW (Smart Anti Airfield Weapon), Garuthma and Garuda GPS guided bombs, Sudarshan laser guided bombs, DRDO Glide bombs and other munitions will further sharpen the teeth of Tejas’s arsenal.
  • Radar and Electronic Warfare Suit: Tejas Mk1A currently features Israeli EL/M-2052 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and ELL-8212/22WB EW suite. As per HAL CMD, R. Madhavan, this will be replaced by indigenous Uttam AESA radar and EW suite by DRDO from 20th aircraft onwards in order to increase the indigenous content of the aircraft from over 50% to 65%.
  • OBOX: The OBOX (On Board Oxygen Generating System) is a state of art system developed by DEBEL, under DRDO, in which Oxygen is separated from the bleed air from the engine and processed through ‘sieves’ and ‘adsorption process’ and pumped to the cockpit. It helps the pilot to stay alert for a longer duration of time replacing the need to replenish the oxygen cylinder.
  • Maintenance & Scalability: According to Gp. Captain (Retd.) MJA Vinod, due to the modular design of Tejas, the downtime is less and changing of unserviceable part is much easier and spares (mostly indigenous) are readily available, as a result, the aircraft is easy to maintain and sports a high serviceability percentage.

Why is Tejas important?

IAF is mainly dependent on the foreign equipments which not only takes a large chunk of the defense budget but also limits the scalability to an extent due to the restriction of critical technology sharing by foreign OEMs. At this time, Tejas comes as a ray of hope for the Indian aerospace industry, as through it, numerous technologies have been indigenously developed and mastered. It is not only restricted to Tejas Light combat aircraft development but also paves way to the development of Medium Weight Fighter/Tejas Mk2, carrier based fighter TEDBF (Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter), fifth Generation AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) and other related projects. It is a technology generator, the avionics developed for it is there or being incorporated in various present aircrafts of IAF such as Su30MKI and Jaguar. Developing a 4.x generation aircraft from scratch especially at a critical time when India faced sanctions after 1998 Pokhran-II, speaks volume about the team of Indian scientists led by Dr. Kota Harinarayana. Tejas along with its different variants has the capability to become the backbone of the IAF, provided the project is actively supported both by the IAF and GOI to achieve self reliance in the aerospace industry in the years to come.

Need of the hour

  • Sync between IAF, MoD & Scientists: The first indigenous aircraft developed in India, HF Marut developed under German scientist Kurt Tank unfortunately was never taken forward. As a result, the project was long gone, so was the team associated with it. IAF fell for the relatively cheaper Migs, Jaguars etc. and HAL had become more of a licensed manufacturing unit in such situations. Unlike India, the development cost of an aircraft at rest countries is provided by their Air Force. Project LCA in its earlier days, suffered from lack of program management organisation, without much user involvement except a handful of elite test pilots and flight test establishments, as a result the project got delayed. The foreign design teams including the US one helped till an extent before the sanctions. On the other hand, the limitation of funds and policy paralysis by the Ministry of Defence earlier too didn’t help the cause either. Hence, one must learn from Tejas project and IAF, MoD and scientists needs to be on the same page for any kind of future development project and must set up a program management organisation with the best of combat and technical staff, who would work closely with HAL, private industry, DRDO to lead and cooperate on key designs that would share common modules, technology and learning.
  • Need of Marketing: One aspect that PSU’s like HAL and DRDO lag behind is the marketing. One must learn from foreign OEMs that good marketing strategy not only provides the user a better view of the product but also improves the chances of its export. Also it would help to understand the product better and debunk the fallacies created by the so called self proclaimed defense experts and lobbyists. Marketing does create a positive impact among the common people, as it attracts them to join the forces and the research organisations in this case.

The project Tejas has seen lots of challenging times. This is a crucial phase to take it forward along the projects associated with it. The decades of hard work of scientists, test pilots is reaping fruits now. People associated with the project must learn from the previous experience and take corrective actions henceforth. They must come together to make this project a real success and ultimately do justice to IAF’s motto “Touch the sky with Glory”.

Tejas Light Combat Aircraft

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