India in talks with Argentina, Egypt for possible Tejas sale
BENGALURU: India is in talks with Egypt and Argentina for a possible sale of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) to their air forces as the country sharpens its focus on getting a toehold in foreign markets and boosting defence exports, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman CB Ananthakrishnan said at the Aero India 2023 air show on Tuesday
BENGALURU: India is in talks with Egypt and Argentina for a possible sale of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) to their air forces as the country sharpens its focus on getting a toehold in foreign markets and boosting defence exports, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman CB Ananthakrishnan said at the Aero India 2023 air show on Tuesday.
Egypt has projected a requirement for 20 aircraft, while Argentina needs 15 new fighters, he said.
“Egypt has also shown interest in creating a local aerospace ecosystem. We will help facilitate that. Two teams from the Argentine Air Force have visited HAL and flown the LCA,” Ananthakrishnan said. HAL has offered the LCA Mk-1A variant to the two countries.
Inaugurating the biennial air show on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi counted LCA among the locally built weapon systems that have led to a transformation in the defence sector in the past eight to nine years.
HAL, however, may have been edged out by a Korean aircraft maker in a contest to sell new fighter jets to Malaysia, said Ananthakrishnan.
Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari on Monday flew the LCA during the inaugural display at the Yelahanka airbase at a time when India is aggressively looking to tap the aircraft’s export potential, and the air force also plans to induct its newer versions in the coming years to boost its combat strength.
While the LCA project is on track, several HAL programmes have been hit by delays and forced the armed forces to look for alternatives. These include the basic trainer aircraft, intermediate jet trainer and the LCA project itself.
The air force raised its first LCA squadron with two aircraft in July 2016, even though the project was sanctioned in 1983 as a replacement for the Soviet-origin MiG-21 fleet.
IAF has inducted 40 earlier variants of LCA, ordered 83 improved Mk-1A variants in 2021, and is now looking at ordering the newest variant of the aircraft, LCA Mk-2. HAL can build 16 LCA Mk-1 aircraft every year, and if the planemaker wins export orders, a new production line could come up in Nashik in Maharashtra to meet the requirements, officials said, asking not to be named.
At Aero India 2021, the defence ministry awarded a ₹48,000-crore contract to HAL for 83 LCA Mk-1A jets for the air force. The first Mk-1A aircraft will be delivered to the air force in February 2024, with the rest slated to join its combat fleet by 2029, HAL officials said.
“We hope to roll out the first LCA Mk-2 aircraft in December 2024 and fly it the following year,” the HAL chairman said. IAF is likely to order 108 Mk-2 aircraft (six squadrons).
The government last year gave its nod to develop the LCA Mk-2, a variant that will form an important element of future air combat.
The LCA Mk-2, the most advanced warplane set to be built in India, will come with enhanced survivability, better situational awareness for pilots, high payload capacity, improved range, network centric capabilities, integrated avionics, and an ability to quickly switch from one role to another.
India has set a target of achieving defence exports worth $5 billion by 2025. In November, Indian defence firm Kalyani Strategic Systems Limited won an export order worth $155.5 million to supply artillery guns to a friendly foreign country, the first order won by a local company for the 155mm weapon system. That order came on the back of the Philippines ordering BrahMos missiles and Armenia choosing to buy Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers from India. Modi on Monday said that India, which was the largest importer of military hardware for decades, was now exporting defence equipment to 75 countries, and it was on course to increase its exports from the current $1.5 billion to $5 billion by 2024-25.
HAL is also looking to export the advanced light helicopter to the Philippines, the officials said. In December 2020, the Union cabinet, headed by Modi, gave its go-ahead to the sale of Akash missile systems to friendly foreign countries. It also created a high-powered panel for swifter approvals to export of military hardware.
The focus on boosting exports comes along with a renewed thrust on indigenisation of weapons and systems. Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday indicated that India could bring more weapons and systems under an import ban, and manufacture them in the country to give a new push to self-reliance in the defence sector, with the latest ‘positive indigenisation list’ set to come on the back of four similar lists that have barred the import of 411 military items in the past 30 months.