The defence ministry Wednesday cleared the much–awaited deal for the purchase of 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark 1A Tejas from the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for a surprisingly low amount of Rs 37,000 crore as against the original value of the deal, which was pegged at around Rs 50,000 crore.
These 83 jets will come with more enhanced capabilities than the earlier 40 Tejas ordered by the Indian Air Force (IAF). These enhanced capabilities include not just better weapon systems but also mid-air refueling and Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
This is the largest defence order placed by the Narendra Modi government under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
“While orders of 40 Tejas aircraft had been placed with HAL in initial configurations, DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) paved the way for procurement of 83 of the more advanced Mark 1A version of the aircraft from HAL by finalising the contractual and other issues,” according to a statement by the defence ministry.
“The proposal will now be placed for consideration of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). This procurement will be a major boost to ‘Make in India’ as the aircraft is indigenously designed, developed and manufactured with participation of several local vendors apart from HAL,” the statement added.
The first LCA Mark 1A aircraft will be delivered to the IAF 36 months from the date of the contract.
ThePrint takes a look at how the Tejas Mark 1A will enhance the IAF’s capabilities.
16 aircraft to be delivered every year
Defence sources told ThePrint if a contract is signed in the next three months, then the first flight of the Tejas Mark 1A will take place by the end of 2022 and the first squadron would be completed by 2024.
According to the plan, 16 aircraft are to be delivered every year.
“The relevant infrastructure has been put in place to ramp up the production to 16 aircraft per year. Once the contract is signed, work on procurement of supplies will start and the production will be geared up,” HAL sources said.
Significant works on the jets have been outsourced by HAL to companies like Larsen and Toubro (L&T), Dynamatic Technologies and Alpha Design.
The wings will be manufactured by L&T, while front fuselage has been outsourced to Dynamatic Technologies and the middle section to VEM. The rear section of the fighter has been outsourced to Alpha Design.
Contract likely to be inked next fiscal year
Defence sources said the actual contract for the Mark 1A Tejas is likely to be signed only in next fiscal year, starting 1 April.
This, sources said, was because the process of CCS clearance will take time and the fund allocation would be done through the new budget, which comes into effect from 1 April.
While initially the IAF wanted major capability enhancement in the Tejas and was looking at a significantly different aircraft LCA Mark 2, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the DRDO and HAL proposed the LCA Mark 1A in 2015.
So while the ADA focuses on the Tejas Mark 2, which falls in the category of a medium weight fighter, the IAF will induct the Mark 1A Tejas to deal with a depleting squadron strength.
The current squadron strength stands at 30 as against the sanctioned strength of 42.
The 83 Tejas Mark 1A will be significantly better than the 40 Tejas Mark 1 that the IAF has ordered. They are already in the process of being manufactured and inducted into the IAF.
The significant difference between Mark 1 and Mark 1A Tejas is that the latter will be equipped with the Israeli Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar instead of the manually-scanned Elta EL/M 2032 radar, also Israeli.
While work is in progress on an indigenous AESA radar, Uttam, which is currently undergoing trials, the initial lot of the Tejas Mark 1A will come equipped with the Israeli technology.
The new Tejas will also have a Self-Protection Jammer (SPJ) on a pod under the wing.
Two other upgrades include improving the “maintainability” of the fighter and equipping it with external refuelling capability to allow it to cover a longer distance.
The Mark 1A will also be able to fire a variety of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and close combat air-to-air missiles. Sources also said the jets will be equipped with Vympel R-73 CCMs and a Derby BVR missile.
Efforts are also on to integrate the Brahmos NG with the jets.
Why the fall in price
The big fall in price from an estimated Rs 50,000 crore to just about Rs 37,000 crore is a direct result of a juggling exercise by the IAF, which cut down on its demand list, including spares, logistics support and other issues.
Also, the HAL was directed to cut down its earlier projected profit of 12 per cent to a little over 6 per cent.
These efforts led to a decrease in the price at a time the military is facing a huge budget challenge amid cash crunch.