The wait is over. By 2026, the Indian Air Force will get indigenous fighter aircraft in its fleet – the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) `Tejas’. On January 13, 2021, the CCS has put its stamp of approval for 73 Tejas Mk 1A and 10 Tejas Mk 1 trainers which will be produced by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at its facility located in Bengaluru.
What does HAL say?
According to R Madhavan, CMD, HAL, “The Tejas program has received a major shot in the arm in boosting the `Atamanirbhar’ drive in the aerospace and aeronautics.
How will the HAL produce so many aircraft?
“The production of these fighters will be taking place at the newly created state-of-the-art facility in Bengaluru. The rate of production is being augmented from 8 to 16 aircraft per year,” says the HAL CMD.
There is going to be highest level of indigenisation in comparison to any programme of this scale. In the words of the CMD, “There will be progressive indigenisation of critical technologies and this will make India a technologically self-reliant nation.” Adding, “The programme is also going to look at developing technologies indigenously.”
More about the program
According to HAL, “LCA-Tejas programme which is following the integrator system has created a national aerospace ecosystem, And there are around 560 companies from large to SMEs are participating in this. These encompass all the facets of aircraft design and manufacturing.”
Once the LCA MK1A program kicks-off, more than 5000 jobs are expected to be created across the country and it will help in fostering the local industries and help in Skill Development of the young work force.
As of today, there are more than 200 Indian companies which are already involved in the in tooling, GSEs, and GHEs supplies for the program. And, 50,000 primary and secondary jobs have been created across the nation.
In the history of the country’s aerospace history, under the LCA-program partnership with the private players has enabled manufacturing of the aircraft fuselage and wings.
VEM technologies, L&T, DTL, Alpha Toccol, TAML, Data Patterns, Pendios, Compupower and many others are some of the companies which are contributing in the LCA programme.
View of a former CMD of HAL
Sharing his view with Financial Express Online, former CMD of HAL Dr RK Tyagi says, “It will create an excellent ecosystem with HAL, BEL, L&T and other 160 plus Indian Companies and S/MSMEs.” Adding, “As Chairman HAL, IOC (initial operational clearance) was achieved on Dec 20, 2013. And, we delivered first Series Production aircraft (SP-1) to Air Chief Arup Raha and it was in the presence of Manohar Parrikar, the then Defence Minister on Jan 17, 2015 (in just 13 months).”
Three suggestions by the former CMD Dr RK Tyagi
“I suggest we form a national advisory group of LCA for effective execution and technology adoptions. There is a need for HAL to increase annual production capacity. And LCA skills be converted into a new National program-IRTA (Indian Regional Transport Aircraft.”
What did CCS approve?
The CCS chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved procurement of 73 LCA Tejas Mk-1A fighter aircrafts and 10 LCA Tejas Mk-1 Trainer aircraft at the cost of Rs. 45,696 Crore. And Design and Development of Infrastructure sanctions worth Rs 1,202 Crore.
To the Ministry of Defence statement, the procurement of the combat aircraft is the first under `Buy (Indian-Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured)’ category procurement.
It has an indigenous content of 50 per cent which is expected to go up to 60 per cent by the end of the programme.
Also, approval has been given for the infrastructure development by IAF which will help in handling repairs or servicing at their base depot.
Will enable IAF to sustain the fleet more efficiently and effectively due to availability of repair infrastructure at respective bases.
Because the turnaround time would get reduced for mission critical systems. This will lead to increased availability of aircraft for operational exploitation.
Doors for exports open
With the order for IAF approved, the doors are open to export these Made in India fighter jets to other countries. As has been reported by Financial Express Online, India is exploring the possibilities of exports to not only the ASEAN region but to South America and the African nations.
According to a top official who spoke to Financial Express Online on condition of anonymity, “There have been queries from Malaysia and other neighboring countries. And this means that the fighter aircraft being produced by the state-owned HAL has got international recognition for its design capability and also received validation for the machine and indigenous technology on board.”
As reported earlier, once the LCA gets exported to any country especially in the South East Asian countries, it will open up an array of opportunities for other platforms such as SU-30 and Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) `Hawk’, as well the helicopters.
In 2019, the HAL had showcased two fighters in the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) 2019 in Malaysia for the first time. These two LCA had been ferried by the IAF and had participated in the flight displays alongside the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well Jupiter Aerobatic Team of Indonesia.
Malaysia was one of the first countries from the region expressing interest in Light Combat Aircraft as they wanted to add on to their existing fleets in its air force.
When did `Tejas’ have its first international exposure?
It was in 2016, during the Bahrain International Air Show in 2016.
Setting offices overseas
In 2020, the government has set an ambitious defence export target at USD 5 billion in the next five years. All the major military manufacturers in India are working hard to achieve this target.
And, the HAL is now focusing on boosting exports and has started focusing on with the focus on achieving the USD 5 billion in defence export and has identified South East Asia, West Asia and North Africa. The products it is keen on exporting includes key platforms including the Tejas, Attack Helicopter `Rudra’ and ALH `Dhruv’.
The state-owned company is also planning to setting up maintenance facilities in the South East Asian Region in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.