The serial production of India’s first domestically designed and produced light fighter aircraft, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), is facing additional delays as the Indian Air Force (IAF) has requested upgrades to existing systems and the incorporation of a new ones, sources within India’s state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) told IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly on May 22.
The Tejas LCA is a supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multirole light fighter aircraft that has been under development since over 34 years by India’s Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with HAL. Unhappy with the initial Mark-I variant of the Tejas, the IAF requested various upgrades to be be incorporated in a more advanced version of the fighter jet, the Mark-IA.
The Mark-IA features a number of upgrades such as an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system, and a new electronic warfare sensor suite, as well as a new externally refueling capability to increase the aircraft’s operational range. However, according to HAL sources, the IAF has requested additional upgrades and the incorporation of new systems including advanced ‘smart cockpit’ multi-function displays and identification friend-or-foe (IFF) systems.
“Moreover, the service demands that digital map generators and upgraded radio altimeters be fitted onto the aircraft before it is approved for serial production,” IHS Jane’s writes. “Industry sources said that although some of these systems can be commercially sourced, integrating them with the software currently installed on the fighter’s mission computer would be ‘time-consuming’ and could defer the fighter’s production schedule by about two years.”
As I reported in February 2018:
The Indian Air Force (IAF) issued a tender to HAL in December 2017 for the procurement of 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft including 73 single-engine Tejas LCA Mark-IA and 10 tandem two-seat LCA trainer aircraft. The IAF plans to induct a total of 123 Tejas Mark-IA, next to 40 Mark-I Tejas LCAs. HAL is currently increasing production capacity from eight to 16 aircraft per year, although as of this month, the company has failed to meet the target of producing eight Tejas LCA per annum.
According to a December 2017 MoD statement to the Indian Parliament, a “total 20 [Tejas LCA] IOC [initial operational configuration] aircraft (16 fighters and four trainers), five fighters have been delivered by HAL to IAF till date. The production of remaining 15 IOC [initial operational configuration] aircraft (11 fighters + four trainers) are taken up at HAL. (…).” It is unclear to what degree, the delays with the Mark-IA will impact the roll out of Mark-I Tejas fighter jets.
The production of an initial batch of 20 Mark-I in FOC configuration will only take place following FOC clearance by the Aeronautical Development Agency. In April, a Tejas Mark-I successfully test fired the I-Derby beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile at test range off the coast of Goa bringing the aircraft one step closer to achieving FOC, according to the MoD.