India to Order 97 Tejas Mk1A Fighter Aircraft

The Deal

The Indian government has issued a tender for 97 Tejas Mk1A Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) from India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The purchase will be the largest ever for domestically produced equipment, as the deal’s total value is around $777 million (Rs 65,000 crore) if it were to go through.

HAL has around three months to respond. If these aircraft are purchased, they will replace the current fleet of older-generation MiGs, such as the MiG 21, 23, and 27, which are now phased out or being phased out.

Tejas series aircraft fires a Python-5 missile. Source: Wikipedia

This comes after a similar deal with HAL in 2021 to acquire 73 Tejas MK1A and a recent increase in defense spending and development.

The Tejas Airframe 

The Tejas series of aircraft is a single-engine, lightweight, 4th generation aircraft currently operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF). It features a delta wing formation, speeds of up to Mach 1.8, and is powered by a single General Electric F404 engine. The maximum effective combat range is 439 miles (739 km), with a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,240 m).

The armaments consist of a Soviet-designed, Indian-produced Gsh-23 twin-barreled 23mm cannon. The Tejas can carry any two air-to-air, air-to-surface, or anti-ship missiles in the Indian arsenal, or up to four lighter missiles depending on size and weight. 

Underbelly of a Tejas fighter. Source: HAL

It can also carry any type of bomb, including precision-guided bombs such as JDAMs, laser-guided GBU-16s, unguided FAB or OFABs, or cluster munitions. 

The Mk1A is currently in the prototype phase. The current specifications show that it is an improvement over the Tejas, such as the Active Electronic Scanned Array (AESA), Electronic Countermeasure (ECM), and a radar warning receiver, among other smaller improvements.

Within its class, it is the smallest and lightest aircraft to exist.

Analysis 

If this deal goes through, it would greatly bolster the capabilities of the IAF, replacing the outdated MiG airframes and any other aircraft the IAF decides to retire.

The Tejas is considered a capable 4th generation fighter, so adding it to their fleet will only be to the IAF’s benefit.

The decision to pursue an indigenous design also fits with India’s push to move toward locally designed and produced equipment, which carries several advantages, such as continuous production if shipping is disrupted and less reliance on foreign powers.

Designing more indigenous platforms like this will potentially lead to better, more advanced designs as designers and local manufacturers grow. 

This news also comes at a time of tension over the border with China. The size of this order could imply a sense of urgency among the Indian government and armed services to match Chinese military abilities along the border regions. The 2021 deal for 73 aircraft could also reflect an urge to build up the Air Force as fast as possible. 

With both orders of aircraft, India will need personnel to fill those roles. A shortage of pilots is currently an issue among the IAF, which could make filling the cockpits of the Tejas MK1As tricky. 

Although having the Tejas Mk1A would increase IAF performance and effectiveness, it likely won’t be the tipping point to better compete with China’s aerial power. 

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) possesses more capable aircraft and a greater number of pilots, including 5th-generation fighters like the J-20. 

India is developing a fifth-generation fighter with the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), allowing them to close the gap a little. However, the aircraft is set to arrive in the 2030s, and China will likely still have a numerical advantage. 

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