The Indian Air Force is all set to raise its second squadron of the locally made light combat aircraft Tejas at Sulur in Tamil Nadu on May 27, people familiar with the development said on Sunday. The IAF’s first Tejas squadron was raised at the Sulur air base in 2016 with two aircraft and more planes joined the fleet progressively.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria is expected to travel to Sulur on Wednesday for the event. The second squadron is being raised with the first aircraft in the final operational clearance (FOC) configuration and more will be added later, officials said.
The IAF has so far ordered 40 LCAs, split in the initial operational clearance (IOC) version and the more advanced and FOC configuration. The first squadron consists of IOC aircraft.
“The raising of the squadron, though delayed, is welcome news. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has to speed up production of the Tejas to meet the trust placed on it by the IAF; eight Tejas per year is just not acceptable,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
In March, the defence ministry gave the green light to the purchase of 83 LCA Mk-1A advanced Tejas jets from HAL. The contract is expected to be inked in the coming months.
The deal, expected to be worth Rs 38,000 crore, is critical for HAL to prevent a complete halt of production at its facilities. HT reported on January 11 that HAL’s order books are empty beyond 2021-22 and new orders from the armed forces --- especially for the 83 jets --- are critical for continuity in production.
The LCA Mk-1A will come with additional improvements over the FOC aircraft, making it the most advanced Tejas variant so far.
The Mk-1A variant is expected to 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. HAL is expected to deliver the first Mk-1A jet to the IAF three years after the deal is signed.
The IAF is struggling with a shortage of warplanes. 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 first four of the 36 Rafales ordered from France are expected to arrive in India by July-end.