IAF settles for large numbers, more teeth.
But an order jump, based on a complete rethink on the enormously delayed programme, rides on expectation that the current version of Tejas in the making, which lacks key features of a fourth generation fighter jet, will be packed with a power punch to overcome its outdatedness.
The IAF wants the existing Tejas to have Active Electronically Scanned Array ( AESA) radar, new electronic warfare suite and an array of beyond visual range missiles; all the features that were planned to be part of Tejas Mk II, which could never take- off.
A fresh agreement, setting the LCA programme on a new course, was signed on September 23 by all the stakeholders, including Indian Air Force, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Aeronautical Development Agency ( ADA), Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification ( CEMILAC) and others.
The IAF had placed orders for two squadrons ( 40 aircraft) of Tejas that was initially planned to replace Mig- 21s.
The first batch of 20 was to be only a basic version and the second lot of equal number was to have added features, including mid- air refueling.
A new version of the aircraft, termed as Tejas Mk II, was planned to be developed with a more powerful GE F- 414 engine. It would have increased the length and weight of the existing aircraft.
With a tardy progress on the first 40 aircraft and Mk II projected to become a reality only after 2023, the HAL offered Mk 1A, which was more advanced than the current version but less capable then the proposed Mk II. The government has now approved only one version of Tejas dropping all the other nomenclatures.
Highly- placed sources said that the main problem with the existing version of the aircraft is 57 maintenance issues. At least 43 of these points can be resolved during serialised production by 2018.
As per the new agreement, effort is being made to resolve these 43 points before 2018.
With the resolution of these issues and added capacity of AESA radar, advance weapons, electronic warfare suite and refuelling capability, the IAF will not need Tejas Mk II, said a senior officer.
Sources said the F- 414 engines, which were to be used in Tejas Mk II replacing F404, can be used for the naval variant of Tejas which anyway requires a bigger power plant for carrier operations.
Having settled the problem of potency of the aircraft, the delivery continues to remain a major challenge.
HAL at the moment can produce only eight aircraft in a year. To fulfil IAF's new order it will have to double its capacity which will require herculean effort.
The IAF hopes to have its maiden Tejas squadron with four aircraft by March next year while gradually incorporating the improvements.
With a limited endurance and range of only 300 km, Tejas was conceived for operations only on the western border. But the whole orientation changed after 2009 when capacity building for a two front war scenario started.
Officials hope that with the proposed additions, the existing version will be comparable to one of the best fighters in the world in its category.
The government feels that instead of concentrating on Tejas Mk II, all the energies for design and development could be focused on the indigenous fifth generation fighter Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft ( AMCA). It has been proposed that a foreign consultant is hired on the AMCA project right from the beginning to avoid glitches later in the development programme. The feasibility report on AMCA is going to be finalised soon, said sources.
A change in the Tejas programme rides on the expectation that the version in the making will have advanced features
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