VIEWPOINT | LCA MK 1A
Clearance of the deal for 83 LCA Tejas Mk 1A will be a major step forward in the ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme aimed at achieving the national goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat
|The Author is Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command, IAF|
January 13, 2021 will be indeed a Red Letter Day in the history of the Indian aerospace industry as well for the Indian Air Force (IAF) as it was on this day that a long awaited proposal by the IAF to procure 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk 1A fighter jets from the Indian aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was formally cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The deal valued at 48,000 crore is the largest indigenous procurement so far in the history of the IAF and the Indian aerospace industry. The combat platform being procured, has been designed, developed and manufactured indigenously and in this particular deal, some major companies in the private sector as also hundreds of SMEs and MSMEs will be involved. It is estimated that over 50,000 new job opportunities will be created in the country through this procurement. This will also be the first procurement under the category “Buy (Indian-Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured)”. The platform will initially come with an indigenous content of 50 per cent which will progressively be increased 60 per cent by the end of the programme.
Alongside the deal for 83 LCA Tejas Mk 1A, the CCS has also accorded approval of the project to create the required infrastructure at the airbases where the LCA Tejas Mk 1A squadrons will be deployed as well as at the selected Base Repair Depot (BRD) of the IAF to enable it to carry out periodic servicing at the airbases as well as major repairs at the BRD. This will facilitate the process of maintenance of the fleet as well as help the IAF to ensure enhanced flight-line availability of the aircraft.
The LCA Tejas Mk 1A variant is an improved version of the LCA Tejas Mk 1. The LCA Tejas Mk 1A is a state-of-the-art, modern, fourth-plus generation, single-engine combat aircraft equipped with Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, Beyond Visual Range Missile, Electronic Warfare Suite and is endowed with Air-to-Air Refuelling capability that will significantly enhance its operational range. Compared to the LCA Mk 1, the Mk 1A has 43 improvements that were projected by the IAF. These improvements have made the LCA Tejas Mk 1A a significantly more potent platform that should meet with the operational requirements of the IAF. The earlier version, is already in service with the IAF, with the second squadron being operationalised by the Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff, on May 27, last year. As the IAF was not totally satisfied with the capabilities of the LCA Mk 1, its production was limited to 40 aircraft, just enough to equip two squadrons.
Even though it has taken the aerospace industry nearly four decades to offer a modern combat aircraft to the IAF, it has happened at a time when the IAF needed such a platform urgently. Efforts by the IAF over the last two decades to procure modern combat aircraft to sustain its fighter fleet at the authorised level of 42 squadrons, has been partially successful with the induction of just two squadrons of Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation of France. In the meantime, the strength of the combat fleet has dwindled to 32 squadrons as against the authorised level of 42 squadrons. Induction of 83 LCA Tejas Mk 1A will help the IAF enhance the strength of its combat fleet by five squadrons. The major advantage is that since this platform is being produced by the Indian aerospace industry, the IAF can easily place orders for more of this aircraft or its more advanced version in the future. The IAF thus can now hope to restore the combat fleet to its full potential.
Despite the fact that the deal is only for 83 LCA Tejas Mk 1A combat aircraft, under the prevailing deficiency in the combat fleet, it will still be a major boost for the combat capability of the IAF. In addition, it will help in arresting further fall in the strength of the combat fleet due to the retirement from service of the ageing fleet of MiG-21 Bison followed by the six squadrons of Jaguars. This deal will also be the first major step in the ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme recently launched by the government to achieve the national goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat. As described by Rajnath Singh, Minister of Defence, induction of the fleet of the LCA Tejas Mk 1A, will indeed be a game changer for the Indian aerospace industry.