IAF may place order for improved Tejas variant: HAL chief
The Indian Air Force could place a Rs 50,000-crore order for an advanced version of the indigenously produced Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, in the next two to three months, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman R Madhavan said at Aero India 2019 on Thursday.
Madhavan said the first flight of LCA Mk-1A was likely to take place three years after the contract was signed, followed by production a year later. The air force plans to buy 83 Mk-1A jets, taking the total number of LCA variants ordered to 123.
Of the 123 planes on order, 20 each are in the initial operational clearance (IOC) and the more advanced final operational clearance (FOC) configurations. The LCA Mk-1A will come with additional improvements over the FOC aircraft, making it the most advanced Tejas variant so far. The Tejas received FOC for induction into the IAF as a combat-ready fighter at a ceremony held here on Wednesday.
The Mk-1A will come with digital radar warning receivers, external self-protection jammer pods, active electronically scanned array radar, advanced beyond-visual-range missiles and significantly improved maintainability. Madhavan said HAL was exploring opportunities to export the LCA to countries in north Africa and the Asia Pacific. The IAF plans to order more than 210 LCA Mk-2 fighters in the long term.
Madhavan said the state-owned plane maker was also expecting an order for 18 more Sukhoi-30 fighters from the IAF. 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 31, the lowest in over a decade. The IAF is planning to buy 21 MiG-29 fighters from Russia to arrest the steep decline in its combat potential.
Asked to comment on Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s allegations that the government had ignored and ill-treated HAL, Madhavan said that was not the case. “Had we been ignored, we wouldn’t have got orders. And we look forward to more orders,” he said. Amid a flurry of reports that HAL was facing a financial crisis and had been borrowing from banks, the company said it was financially stable.
HAL’s director (finance) CB Ananthakrishnan said the firm’s reserves were healthy and the only issue was pending payments from the armed forces. “That is being sorted out,” he said.
On the controversy surrounding the Rafale fighter jet deal, Madhavan said the issue was a fight between others and HAL didn’t want to be dragged into it.