Indian Defence Forces : Tejas Mk 1A: Finally a Reality

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Also published in free press journal on 17 Jan 21 link https://epaper.freepressjournal.in/c/57787885

By Lt. Gen Dushyant Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Retd)

Deal of the Decade

On Jan 13, RM Sh. Rajnath Singh tweeted, “The CCS chaired by PM Sh. Narendra Modi today approved the largest indigenous defence procurement deal worth about 48000 Crores to strengthen IAF’s fleet of homegrown fighter jet ‘LCA-Tejas’. This deal will be a game changer for self reliance in the Indian defence manufacturing.” No doubt the deal will go a long way in building Atmnirbhar Bharat. It is common knowledge that India is the largest importer of defence equipment in the world. Although it has improved its defence exports but the balance of trade remains lopsided in favour of imports. With induction of 83 Tejas Mk1A air crafts, IAF would be in a position to take on its two adversaries quite comfortably. Infact as per Wg. Cdr T. Sebastian (Retd) a well known defence expert, test pilot and a Kargil War Veteran the current strength of 33 Sqns with 500 odd fighter air crafts is adequate to defend India against the twin threats of China and Pakistan. This assessment is based on India’s qualitative superiority, availability of Rafaels in due course of time, SU30s, mid life upgrades of Mirages, Jaguars and Mig 29s, S-400 systems for Air Defence, Attack Helicopters and Light Combat Helicopters and gradual replacement of MIG 21 BIS 3 Sqns with LCAs. Induction of the LCA Mk 1A is likely to take some time  in fact not before 2024. But once inducted, the IAF will be a force to reckon with. However, it will be interesting to know the challenges and how the Tejas fairs against its immediate competitor the Chinese JF 17 which is also under production in Pakistan.

How Does it Fare in its Class

As highlighted earlier, Tejas is a lightweight multirole single engine combat aircraft probably the smallest aircraft in its class. SAAB Gripen E is the nearest competitor in size but its real competition is with Chinese – Pak joint venture JF-17. It is the JF 17 held by Pakistan and China that the Tejas Mk 1 and 1A will have to face. Accordingly, it would be more appropriate to compare Tejas with JF 17 with Gripen E as a benchmark being one of the better aircrafts in this category. A comparative table of salient characteristics of the three aircrafts is given below.

COMPARATIVE : TABLE

Characteristics LCA Tejas Mk 1A JF-17 Gripen E
Role Multirole light fighter Multirole Combat Aircraft Multirole Combat Aircraft
Units Produced till date 33 150 247
Basic Cost 24-42 million USD 25-32 million USD Approximately 80 to 85 million USD
Maximum Speed 1975 km/hr 1960 km/hr 2205 km/hr
Maximum Height 54,134 ft. 55,500 ft. 50,000 ft.
Crew Single and twin Single and twin Single
Weight 6500 kg dry and 13500 kg maximum all up  load 6586 kg and 12383 kg maximum all up load 6800 kg maximum all up weight 14000 kg
Size 13.2 m length by 8.2 m wing span 14.93 m by 9.48 m 14.10 m by 9.2m
Range 3000 km extendable AAR 3482 km 3200 km
Weapon Configuration Laser-guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, and has Air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, laser-guided bombs Eight hard points can carry Air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, laser-guided bombs
Fire Control Israel’s Elta EL/M2032 multimode fire control radar China’s Airborne Pulse-Doppler Fire-Control Radar on-board Integrated Fire Control System on board Selex’s ES-05 Raven
Engine Single General Electric engine rated at 53.9 kN thrust dry and 90 kN with afterburner. Single Klimov RD-93 afterburning turbofan engine with digital electronic engine control (DEEC) and has a 49.4 kN dry thrust and 85.3 kN with afterburner. Volvo Aero RM12 (General Electric F404) afterburning turbofan engine developing 18,100 lb thrust.
In service life 9000 hours extendable to 12000 hrs 4000 hrs 8000 hrs
Fire Control Radar Detection Range 150 km 102 km 120 km
Radar AESW Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, BVR (Beyond Visual Range) Airborne Pulse-Doppler Fire-Control Radar AESW
EW Suite Yes No (Yes in Block 3) Yes
Air to air Refuler Yes No (Yes in Block 3) Yes

So What is the Verdict? 

If we analyse the above data and related information, the pros and cons of the Tejas Mk1A are :-

  1. The Pros
  • Tejas is definitely lighter, smaller, agile and difficult to detect and hence it will enjoy an edge in aerial combat.
  • It is faster than its competition the JF 17 though slower than the Gripen E.
  • Its payload carrying capacity is better than JF 17 but less than Gripen E.
  • It can detect the JF 17 and Gripen E before they can detect the Tejas, hence its survivability is relatively better. BVR of Tejas is better than F16s held by Pakistan.
  • The in service life of Tejas is double that of JF 17 and slightly better than Gripen E.
  • Engine of Tejas is better than JF 17 and more powerful and almost at par with that of the Gripen E.
  1. The Cons
  • Tejas Mk 1A will take a long time to fructify. The first Sqn not before 2024/25 and all 83 by 2029. Capability gap with our primary adversary will remain as far as numbers are concerned.
  • Tejas is still not matured whereas JF 17 is under commercial production.
  • As far as export potential is concerned most  of the countries that have evinced interest in Tejas such as UAE, Egypt and Malaysia have not given firm commitment. They want first India to use and prove the technology. On the other hand Pakistani JF 17 has bagged firm orders for export by countries such as Nigeria and Myanmar and Argentina, Azerbaijan and Iraq are eyeing the advanced variant of JF 17. Primary reason is low cost, relatively proven technology, assured supply chain and Chinese  backing. LCA Tejas though claimed to be better remains partially proven with only 33 aircrafts in service.
  • The indigenous content of JF 17 although it is a Pak-China joint venture is far greater than Tejas. Currently the indigenous content of Tejas is around 60 %.
  • Finally while the engines of JF 17 and Tejas are imported the Chinese are very close to developing their indigenous engine WS 15 which they are likely to fit in their JF 17 and JF 20s. On the other hand Indian effort of developing an  indigenous Kaveri engine has met with rough weather. It has been virtually shelved. This is a major disadvantage when compared to Chinese JF 17.
  1. In the Balance
  • While in practical terms JF 17 may give the Pakistanis an edge in the short term in the long term Tejas Mk1A and its subsequent version Mk 2 will provide a definite advantage to India.
  • In qualitative terms the FOC (final operational clearance) has already been accorded to Tejas so we should be fairly confident of stabilising the technology and thus attract orders for export. However, for this we will have to ramp up our manufacturing capability which is currently only 8 aircrafts a year. As per reports additional manufacturing unit is being created in Nasik to boost this capacity to 16 aircrafts per year. Thankfully a number of private firms such as L&T, Dynamatics and Alpha Technology are involved in the production of the aircraft which will immensely help in maintaining the timelines of production schedule.

Conclusion

The Government and the Indian Airforce have embarked on an ambitious journey towards fulfilment of the goal of self reliance in defence sector.IAF Chief is exuding confidence in the Tejas system especially after  the upgrade of Tejas Mk1 to Mk1A. Mk 1A is equipped with four critical capabilities: firstly, BVR targeting, secondly, AESW radar system, thirdly, EW Suite and fourthly, air to air refuelling system.   Unless Indian defence forces transform themselves into a makers army, the economic growth of the country will remain a major challenge. With Navy almost being the front leader in indigenisation, the Indian Airforce with signing of the LCA deal is well on the path of taking India towards an Atma Nirbhar Bharat.