State-run aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) recently delivered the first trainer version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas to the Indian Air Force (IAF). This milestone is significant, as the twin-seater Tejas trainer will play a crucial role in training IAF pilots and can also serve as a fighter aircraft when needed.
Fulfilling an Existing Order
The Tejas trainer aircraft is part of an earlier order for 40 Mk-1 jets, which includes both the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and the more advanced Final Operational Clearance (FOC) configurations. Out of these 40 aircraft, the IAF has already inducted 32 single-seater jets and established two LCA squadrons. The remaining eight aircraft are trainers. HAL has committed to delivering seven more twin-seater aircraft to the IAF by March 2024.
A Boost for ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ Initiative
HAL expressed pride in India’s accomplishment of producing the LCA twin-seater variant, joining a select group of countries with such capabilities in their defense forces. This achievement aligns with the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat‘ (self-reliant India) initiative, showcasing India’s technological prowess and self-sufficiency in the defense sector.
Advanced Features and Technologies
The Tejas trainer aircraft boasts modern concepts and technologies, including relaxed static-stability, quadraplex fly-by-wire flight control, carefree maneuvering, advanced glass cockpit, integrated digital avionics systems, and advanced composite materials for the airframe.
The delivery of the Tejas trainer aircraft follows an announcement by Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari of the IAF regarding a potential ₹67,000-crore contract for 97 more Mk-1A jets, expected to be finalized soon. This order comes on the heels of a ₹48,000-crore contract awarded by the government to HAL two years ago for 83 fighter jets, including 10 trainers.
Future of the Tejas in the IAF
The LCA Tejas is poised to become a cornerstone of the IAF’s combat power in the coming years. The IAF, ranked as the world’s fourth-largest air force, plans to operate over 350 LCAs, including Mk-1, Mk-1A, and Mk-2 versions. A significant portion of these jets has already been ordered, with some already inducted and others on the modernization roadmap.
Shifting the Approach to Defense Procurement
The development and success of the LCA Tejas project have marked a significant shift in India’s approach to defense procurement. It demonstrates India’s capability to design, develop, and manufacture world-class fighter aircraft domestically, reducing reliance on foreign imports.
Enhancing Training and Transition
The introduction of the Tejas trainers will enable the IAF to assign fighter pilots directly to LCA squadrons after completing their training on Hawk aircraft. Additionally, it will facilitate the transition training for pilots transitioning from other fighter squadrons to operate Tejas aircraft.
Upcoming Mk-1A and Mk-2 Variants
The upcoming Mk-1A and Mk-2 variants of the Tejas will feature significantly improved features and technologies over the Mk-1 aircraft. These variants will also incorporate a progressively increasing indigenous content, aligning with India’s self-reliance goals in defense production.
Building the LCA Mk-2
India has plans to build around 130 LCA Mk-2 aircraft, which will play a vital role in the IAF’s future combat capabilities. The government has allocated ₹10,000 crore for the development of the Mk-2 variant, signaling its commitment to indigenous defense manufacturing.
Indigenous Engine Production
To boost the indigenous content of the LCA Mk-2, a memorandum of understanding was signed between GE Aerospace, the world’s leading aircraft engine maker, and HAL to produce F-414 engines in India. This move is expected to increase the indigenous content of the new fighter jet to approximately 75%.
Replacing Aging Aircraft
The LCA Tejas project was initiated in 1983 as a replacement for the aging Soviet-origin MiG-21 fighter fleet. The Mk-1 and Mk-1A variants will replace the IAF’s MiG-21 fighters, while the Mk-2 aircraft is planned as a replacement for the MiG-29s, Mirage-2000s, and Jaguar fighters, which are set to retire in the coming decade.