Earlier on Wednesday, the defence minister stated in a written reply in Parliament: “Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) has cleared acquisition of 83 LCA Mk 1A for IAF, production of which is planned from 2019-20…”
With HAL sources placing the ticket price of the Tejas Mark 1A at about Rs 400 crore per aircraft, the 83-fighter deal would generate Rs 33,200 crore worth of business to HAL and a range of Indian and foreign upstream suppliers.
At present, HAL is struggling to establish Tejas manufacture for 40 fighters already on order – 20 fighters in the initial operational configuration (IOC); followed by another 20 in the final operational configuration (FOC), when that is obtained.
Acknowledging the manufacturing delay in Parliament on Wednesday, the defence ministry stated: “Out of total 20 IOC aircraft (16 fighters and 4 trainers), 5 fighters have been delivered by HAL to IAF till date. The production of remaining 15 IOC aircraft (11 fighters + 4 trainers) are taken up at HAL.”
Further, “Production for 20 FOC aircraft, will be taken up after FOC clearance by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA).”
While HAL builds these 40 Tejas Mark 1 fighters, it is also working on four major upgrades that will transform the current version of the fighter into the Tejas Mark 1A, of which 83 will be built.
Of the four upgrades, the two most operationally vital involve integrating the fighter with “active electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar, in place of the Tejas Mark 1’s manually scanned Israeli Elta EL/M 2032 radar; and integrating a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) that is carried in an external pod under the Tejas’ wing.
Two other upgrades – improving the “maintainability” of the fighter, and fitting it with external refuelling capability – are already well in hand.
The defence ministry told Parliament today that, to introduce the Tejas into service in larger numbers, a second production line was being set up. “For ramping up production capacity from existing 8 aircraft to 16 aircraft per annum, Government of India has sanctioned Rs 1,381.04 crore in March 2017”.
Despite these measures, indigenous production of the Tejas would be insufficient to meet the IAF’s requirements, given the likely phasing out of ten squadrons (210 aircraft) of MiG-21s and MiG-27s this decade.
The ministry told Parliament: “In order to bolster the fighter squadron strength, Government of India has also planned to manufacture fighter aircraft through Strategic Partnership model.”
The Strategic Partnership model envisages selected private sector firms building defence platforms in India in partnership with a selected foreign vendor that transfers technology to manufacture here.
The IAF has already sent out enquiries for building a “single-engine fighter” in India, for which Lockheed Martin is fielding its F-16 Block 70 fighter, and Saab is offering the Gripen E.