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Defence ministry clears Rs 38,000 cr deal for 83 advanced Tejas jets

The defence ministry on Wednesday gave a green light to the purchase of 83 Light Combat Aircraft Mk-1A advanced Tejas jets from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the proposal would be sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security for final approval soon, a ministry spokesperson said.

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.

“While orders of 40 Tejas aircraft had been placed with HAL in initial configurations, the Defence Acquisition Council paved the way for procurement of 83 of the more advanced Mk-1A version of the aircraft from HAL by finalising the contractual and other issues,” the spokesperson said after a DAC meeting.

He said the purchase would provide a significant boost to the Make in India initiative.

The deal for the 83 Mk-1A jets will take the total number of Tejas variants ordered to 123.

The 40 LCAs already ordered by the IAF 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 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 deal was earlier expected to be worth around Rs 50,000 crore but it turned out to be cheaper as the air force reduced its requirements for spares and support facilities for the fighter jets.

The Mk-1A jets will form the bulk of the IAF’s combat squadrons as it attempts to make up the shortfall in its fighter fleet, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

“The Mk-1A jets will also serve as a stepping stone for the Tejas Mk-2 fighters on which the IAF has placed high hopes,” Bahadur added.

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.

In a report tabled in Parliament in December 2019, the Parliamentary standing committee on defence said “all-out steps” should be taken to ensure that the “order book position” of defence public sector units such as HAL improved in the coming years and the ministry should extend full cooperation to achieve that.

The DAC, headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh, also approved the acquisition of indigenous military hardware worth Rs 1,300 crore including aerial fuses and twin-dome simulators for the IAF’s Hawk trainer aircraft.

The council also approved an amendment to the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)-2016 to enable review by a ‘costing committee’ of bids submitted by joint ventures of defence public sector undertakings/Ordnance Factory Board /Defence Research and Development Organisation from whom purchases are made on a nomination basis. “This will bring about more transparency in costs and compress the timelines for negotiation of the contract,” the spokesperson added.

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