Government Clears Largest Fighter Aircraft Procurement for Indian Air Force
On 13th January 2021, the Cabinet met under the Chairmanship of the Hon’ble Prime Minister and approved the proposal of Ministry of Defence to procure 83 Tejas Mk-1A from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for Indian Air Force (IAF). IAF thus far has procured around 36 to 40 fighter aircraft at any one time to equip two squadrons and repeated several such tranches to build few large fleets. This will be the largest fighter aircraft procurement for IAF through a single contract. Even 40 Tejas Mk-1 were procured through two contracts of 20 aircraft each. 83 Tejas Mk-1A procurement, besides arresting the declining number of fighter aircraft in the IAF, will also provide a significant stimulus to emerging Indian aviation industry, including numerous Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), under the ‘Make in India’ campaign.
Tejas highlights the success story of indigenous design, development, production and induction of a ‘4+ Generation Fighter’ into the IAF. Tejas is a multi-role fighter with advanced avionics, glass cockpit, digital quadruplex fly-by-wire flight control system and large percentage of composite structures. It was conceptualised in mid-1980s by Indian aeronautical and IAF experts to replace the MiG-21. During development of Tejas, India needed to not only fill a huge technological design and development void of over 20 years since development of ‘HF-24 Marut’, which flew its maiden flight on 17th June 1961, but also leap frog to 4th generation technologies to develop a contemporary fighter.
Tejas programme commenced with Government approval for ‘LCA Full Scale Engineering Development Phase 1’ in June 1993. TD-1, the Technology Demonstrator of Tejas, flew its maiden flight seven and half years later on 4 January 2001. Since then, Tejas prototypes and Limited Series Production aircraft flew over 4,400 developmental flight test sorties culminating in its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) in December 2013 and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) in February 2019. Tejas development timelines are comparable with those of many other contemporary aircraft designed elsewhere in the world. 45 Squadron of IAF started inducting IOC Tejas aircraft on 1 July 2016 and is now fully operational and mission ready with 16 IOC single-seater Tejas. HAL is currently producing 16 FOC single-seater and 8 two-seater Tejas. 18 Squadron of IAF commenced induction of FOC Tejas aircraft on 27 May 2020 and will soon be operational and mission ready.
Tejas Mk-1A has significantly enhanced operational capabilities along with numerous improvements towards its maintainability. The aircraft will have Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar coupled with indigenous Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles. Tejas can get airborne swiftly for ‘Air Defence Alert’ missions. Its AESA radar coupled with Astra missiles make it formidable in the Air Defence role as Astra provides better kill ranges than most current air-to-air missiles of our adversaries. In ground attack role, Tejas Mk-1A will be capable of delivering all conventional bombs, laser guided bombs and smart stand-off precision weapons with pin-point accuracy on surface targets.
Most significantly, equipped with ‘Software Defined Radios’, Tejas Mk-1A will be fully compatible with IAF’s network centric operations. To improve survivability, it will have modern Electronic Warfare suite consisting of Radar Warning Receiver, Self-Protection Jammer to jam threat radars of fighter aircraft and surface-to-air weapons, Chaff for passive jamming of threat radars and Infra-Red Flares to deceive infra-red missiles. It will have air-to-air refuelling capable for enhancing its radius of action in offensive missions and increasing patrol time in air defence alert missions. In the process of designing air-to-air refuelling capability of Tejas Mk-1A, ADA has successfully incorporated air-to-air refuelling capabilities on FOC Tejas Mk-1, which is getting inducted in IAF. ADA is also in the process of integrating Astra missiles on FOC Tejas Mk-1.
To ease maintainability and reduce aircraft preparation time between missions, Tejas Mk-1A will be designed with ‘Trigger and Lock’ type inspection panels as against screw panels of Tejas Mk-1. Additional access panels are being provided to improve access to all components that need checking during routine servicing and aircraft preparation. The aircraft will have ‘On Board Oxygen Generation System’ to provide essential oxygen for pilot(s) to breath in the cockpit and thereby eliminate the complex oxygen replenishment process before every sortie. All observations recorded with respect to maintenance of Tejas MK-1 are being eliminated in Tejas MK-1A design. The aircraft would be equipped with indigenous ‘Health & Usage Monitoring System (HUMS)’ to continuously record parameters of critical components and systems for preventive identification of defects and their rectification before they can impact operations and safety.
Tejas Mk-1A delivery will commence 36 months after contract signature and all 83 aircraft, consisting of 73 single-seater and 10 two-seater, will be delivered over the following five years. HAL will deliver three aircraft in first year and 16 each in subsequent years. To meet high production rate, Tejas Mk-1A will have modular structure to enable simultaneous manufacturing of various modules by different sub-vendors of HAL. Highly controlled production standards and very stringent manufacturing tolerances will ensure seamless mating of all modules in quick time at HAL.
Success of Tejas programme is a collaborative effort of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) as lead Design Agency, HAL as lead Production Agency, many Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories, IAF, National Flight Test Centre (NFTC), Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification (CEMILAC), Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), eminent national academic institutions like IITs, NITs, IISc etc., several prominent players from private sector industries and a few hundred MSMEs.
Tejas programme has made India ‘AtmaNirbhar’ (self-reliant) in most contemporary technologies related to fighter aircraft. During development of Tejas, DRDO has matured technologies related to unstable aircraft aerodynamics, composite structures, digital fly-by-wire flight control system, digital avionics, glass cockpit, open architecture mission computers, air data computers, computer-based management of electrical, hydraulic, fuel, braking and environment control systems. Today Government, IAF and DRDO are confident and keen to develop more potent and capable indigenous fighter aircraft in the country including Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). After successfully validating naval technologies on Naval Tejas for operations from aircraft carrier, ADA has initiated design and development of a twin-engine deck-based fighter to meet future needs of Indian Navy (IN). Tejas programme has also provided an impetus to development of cutting-edge air-to-air missiles, variety of smart stand-off air-to-ground weapons, advanced AESA radar for fighter aircraft and advanced electronic warfare equipment to enhance survivability.
Today, India is one of the few nations in the world having contemporary and strategic capabilities to design and develop fighter aircraft. Indigenous fighter aircraft development programme has saved the country billions of dollars in foreign exchange and has generated about one lakh direct and indirect employment in the country over the past 30 years towards production, maintenance, repair and overhaul of Tejas aircraft. Design, development and production of Tejas Mk-2, a larger and more potent 4.5 generation fighter, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), the Indian FGFA, along with Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter will further contribute towards the national pursuit of equipping IAF and IN with contemporary indigenous fighter aircraft and make India ‘AtmaNirbhar’ (self-reliant) in respect of fighter aircraft design, development and production.