Faced with a depleting jet fleet, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has suggested to the government that it needed a speedier ‘make in India’ by public sector giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Over the next 16-18 years, the IAF would require more than 300 jets made by the HAL. At the present pace of 11-12 planes per annum, the HAL would take 25-26 years to make various versions of Tejas, Tejas Mark II (called medium weight fighter) and also the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), a fifth generation state-of-the-art plane. All the three planes are part of the projected 300 jets.
The IAF wanted the HAL to ramp up to make 16 planes per annum and outsource work so that the speed could be increased to 20 planes, said sources.
In case of fighter jets, the HAL is listed to make 123 Tejas planes. Of these, 20 are the initial operational clearance (IOC) version, which have been delivered to the IAF and are not part of the future count. Another 20 jets are to be made as per the final operational clearance (FOC) version with some upgrades. The remaining 83 are the Tejas Mark 1A, which will come with 43 improvements.
The IAF has told the MoD that it would need 170 (ten squadrons) Tejas Mark II (known as MWF) planes, the test flight of which is slated for 2022. Tejas weighs around 6.5 tonne and the MWF is the next class weighing around 17 tonne. The Aeronautical Development Agency and the IAF have designed it to have an engine of 98 Kilonewton (kN) thrust.
The IAF has also said that it will want two squadrons (some 35 in number) of the 25-tonne weight class AMCA to kick-off the project with same 98 kN engine. In 2017, the HAL had experimented with outsourcing and roped in Indian private companies to speed up Tejas production.
IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria has himself been a test pilot at the National Flight Test Centre for testing the LCA and has made it clear that his preference was for indigenous planes.