HAL Tejas Light Combat Aircraft: Too Late, Too Little and Too Expense

HAL “Tejas”, the indigenous compound delta-wing light combat aircraft, was meant to be a replacement for MiG-21s but even after four decades in the making, the aircraft is still undergoing the process of induction. State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has produced the 16th Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark-I in initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration—the minimum set of requirements for operational deployment of the aircraft by the Indian Air Force.

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The Tejas LCA is a supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multi-role light fighter aircraft that has been under development by the ADA in cooperation with HAL since the early 1980s.

Tejas is a Light Combat Aircraft that uses fourth generation technologies. It is an aerodynamically unstable tailless compound delta-wing configuration, optimized primarily for maneuverability and agility. Designed to meet the tactical requirements of a modern Air Force, Tejas was envisioned to be a multi-role aircraft capable of comprehensive air superiority and air defense roles.

Contractors

  • HAL – Almost entire fuselage which includes wings, center of fuselage is made by private companies and HAL is only an integrator of the project and prime contractor responsible for the delivery of the project. HAL will work with the private sectors to make components and make sure private sector becomes 1-tier suppliers.
  • DRDO – Avionics, Electronic Warfare (EW), Heads Up Display (HUD), IFF, Data Link and ASTRA Missile
  • Elbit Systems- Helmet Mounted Display (HMD)
  • General Electric – F404-GE-IN20 Engine
  • Rafael Advanced Defense Systems – Derby Air-to-Air Missile, Lighting targeting pod
  • Vympel- Air-to-air Missiles
  • Elta Systems – EL/M-2032 multi-mode advanced pulse doppler fire control radar. EL/M-2052 AESA radar for MK2 variant.
  • MBDA- IR guided short range ASRAAM
  • Larsen and Toubro – manufacture Wings
  • Dynamatic Technologies – manufacture Front fuselage and main body
  • VEM Technologies – manufacture Centre fuselage
  • Alpha Doca – manufacture rear fuselage
  • BrahMos Aerospace Limited – Brahmos anti-ship Cruise Missile

LCA Cost Blowout

The LCA program development has already cost India over US $6.8 billion. The cost of the LCA Mark 1A has shot up. The 83 Mark 1As are going to cost US $6.3 billion, which is about $77 million a piece, triple the cost of Sino-Pakistani fully operational JF-17 and double the cost of South Korean highly capable multi-role combat aircraft FA-50. The LCA Mark-2 is likely to cost much more, probably close to $90-$100 million – very expensive for a homegrown fourth generation fighter jet.

Compared this to the production cost of the American F-35 fifth generation fighter jet. By leveraging economies of scale, advanced and efficient production methods, the cost of the F-35 has been brought down to less than $80 million each. The comparable SAAB Gripen E, costs about $85 million and Lockheed Martin F-16V cost around $70 million a piece.

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Cockpit

The Tejas has Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) and a Head Up Display (HUD). A glass cockpit uses several displays driven by flight management systems, which can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. The MFDs are colour Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Displays (AMLCDs) Information required by the pilot to take-off, navigate, perform his operational mission, deliver his weapons, cope with enemy threats, return to base and land is gathered by sensors on board the aircraft, processed by a mission computer and then displayed on the MFDs and HUD. The Tejas use indigenous HUD.

Avionics

Jointly development by India and Israel, the coherent pulse-Doppler Multi Mode Radar is designed to operate equally effectively in the Air to Air and Air to Surface domains. The radar features multi-target Air to Air Track, Hi Resolution Synthetic Aperture Mapping and specialized Air to Sea modes. The radar facilitates all weather employment of a variety of Air to Air and Air to Surface Weaponry, and is the primary targeting sensor on the Tejas.

The EW suite for Tejas is under development for LCA but since it is small it has to be compact other than that Tusker EW suite is the bigger derivative of the suite Mayavi EW for LCA and is used for Mig-29, jaguar and Su-30. Samyukta is also another EW suite that has used the experience from past developement of Mayavi and tusker EW. The DRDO planned to integrated an indigenous EW suite for Tejas. ELBIT Systems Israel designed Helmet Mounted Display but IFF is designed by DRDO.

Engine

The licensed produced General Electric F404-GE-IN20 afterburning turbofan produces 9,163 kg (20,200 lb) thrust.

Operational History

The LCA got Final Operational Clearance (FOC) from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) only earlier this year. The certification confirmed Tejas as a multi-role fighter with capabilities like beyond visual range air-to-air and air-to-ground attack capabilities and longer endurance through mid-air refuelling.

Armaments

The Tejas has wing loading 247 kg/m². The Tejas is designed to carry a veritable plethora of air to air, air to surface, precision guided and standoff weaponry. The Tejas can carry Indian, Israeli and Russian origin weapons. Under current conditions, Tejas can carry Derby missiles, must wait until Tejas MK1 to carry any precision strike missile.

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LCA Tejas LSP-7 (KH-2017) successfully fired a Derby BVR missile from the western coast of the country while taking off from INS Hansa, Goa as a final step towards certifying the BVR. This was a significant trial where the above specified missile will now have the full operational capability.

Variants

LCA Mk 1 (a) and LCA-Mk 2 will be the improved version of Tejas. The Tejas Mk 1A will be equipped with an improved version of the EL/M-2052 AESA radar being developed jointly by Elta and HAL.

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The first ever arrested landing of LCA (Navy) at the shore based test facility succesfully took place at INS Hansa Goa on 13th September 2019 and will pave the way for this Indigenous platform to undertake Aircraft Carrier landing demonstration on board the Indian Naval Aircraft Carrier, Vikramaditya. The LCA(Navy) team had to conceptualise and experiment with complex software modes for the unique Short Take-Off but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) concept of aircraft operations

Operators

The Indian Air Force (IAF) inducted a batch of Tejas aircraft earlier this year. Initially, an order was placed with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 40 Tejas aircraft.

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Last year, the IAF issued the request for proposal (RFP) to HAL for the procurement of another batch of 83 Tejas at a cost of over US $6.3 Billion.

Exports

Indian Government offered HAL Tejas to Malaysia and Sri Lanka but had not been successful exporting the aircraft.

Conclusion

The Indian Navy, which has rejected the LCA for carrier operations, will likely prefer the twin-engine AMCA, alternatively, Indian Navy may induct Super Hornet or Rafale-M as a stop gap measure. Meanwhile the IAF may increase the order for the Rafale, for which India has sunk in costs for India-specific enhancements.

Despite advanced features promised on Tejas MK2, Tejas in its current form is only an improved version of MiG-21 but it falls short when compared to other modern day fighters. If the IAF throws its weight behind the AMCA now, it will likely end up with a situation where HAL Tejas might be dumped in favor of more advanced AMCA combat aircraft or IAF may adopt Lockheed Martin F-21 fighter jet under “Make in India” initiatives with complete transfer of technology.

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