Air Force struggles to create Tejas fleet as HAL misses delivery targets
Production woes of the homegrown Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) have led to disenchantment and frustration in the Indian Air Force (IAF), which has ordered 123 of the planes and plans to order 201 more upgraded variants to arrest a sharp decline in its combat capabilities, Hindustan Times has learnt.
Public sector aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has delivered only six LCAs to the IAF, missing its target of supplying 20 aircraft by the end of the year’s first quarter, a person familiar with the Tejas induction programme in the force told HT.
The IAF’s first Tejas squadron was raised in 2016. “We are not getting as many jets as we would like. By now the first Tejas squadron should have inducted 20 planes.
Six planes can hardly be called a squadron,” the person cited above said.
Compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war, the count of the IAF’s fighter squadrons has shrunk to 30 (excluding Tejas squadron with six aircraft), the lowest in over a decade. So where does the Tejas fit in the IAF’s fighter fleet mix?
“If the IAF were a cricket team, the LCA would fall in the category of an all-rounder/fielder…not a specialist batsman/bowler,” the person cited above said.
HAL claims it is ready to produce eight aircraft per year and is ramping up the production rate to 16 planes by 2019-20 by investing Rs1,331 crore. HAL has even claimed it can deliver 16 to 24 jets 2021 onwards.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The current production rate leaves much to be desired,” said another person tracking the Tejas programme.
The order for 123 Tejas includes 83 in the Mk-IA configuration with improvements including a digital radar warning receiver, external self protection jammer pod, an active electronically scanned array radar, advanced beyond-visual-range missiles and improved maintainability, experts said.
The cost of the 123 jets is estimated to be around Rs70,000 crore.
“The rough order of magnitude cost of the Mk-IA is higher than (that for) a Sukhoi-30,” he said.
The basic versions of the LCA have not been delivered to the IAF, but the state-run company has begun work on an advanced Mk-II variant that will eventually replace the IAF’s Mirage-2000 and MiG-29 jets.
“As of now, we have got the orders for about 123 aircraft and also IAF is committed to take another 201 aircraft which means, Mark-II (is) to be designed and developed; we are half way through…We request another Rs800 crore grants-in-aid,” a top Defence Research and Development Organisation official told a parliamentary panel that has tabled a report in Lok Sabha.