Here’s Why India’s Tejas Will Not be the Winning Bidder in Malaysia’s LCA Program?

According to Malaysian media reports, six bids have been submitted to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) light combat aircraft (LCA) tender.

The bids include India’s Hindustan Aeronautics with the Tejas, a conglomerate of Russian-led companies with the MiG-35, China’s Catic with the L-15, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with the FA-50, Turkey Aerospace Industries (TAI) with the Hürjet, and Italy’s Leonardo with the M-346.

The news was reported by the Malaysian business newspaper, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, with reference to an unnamed source close to the matter.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a public sector aircraft company, will be bidding to sell 18 LCA Mk1 A fighter aircrafts to the Royal Malaysian Air Force in the light of Malaysian authorities showing interest in the indigenous fighter planes, HAL chairman R Madhavan said Wednesday.

HAL will respond to a Request for Proposal (RfP) from the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) in the third week of September, the HAL chairman said. Malaysia has shown interest in the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-1A and India stands a good chance in bagging the deal, Madhavan added.

The list does not contain the Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 Thunder, which was rumored to be one of the prime contenders. The Boeing T-7A Red Hawk and the Yakovlev Yak-130 are also absent.

According to The Edge, the tender documents were acquired by nine companies, while just six of them sent their bids before the closing date on October 6, 2021.

Earlier reports by the Malaysian media indicated nine contenders. Besides the T7A, the Yak-130, and the JF-17, they also included the Czech Aero Vodochy L-39NH, but excluded the TAI Hürjet.

Malaysia announced the LCA tender in June 2021 in the wake of international tensions in the region. The country intends to purchase 18 aircraft, with the opportunity to add a further 18 to the order later. Eight aircraft from the initial batch are intended to be used as trainers and 10 will act as light combat aircraft, performing both air-to-ground and air-to-air missions.

According to The Edge’s source, requirements for the aircraft include aerial refueling, beyond-visual-range (BVR) combat and supersonic flight capabilities, as well as containing at least 30% of parts produced in Malaysia. The manufacturer will also start deliveries within 36 months after the contract is signed. 

These requirements exclude the L-39NH, which is not supersonic. It seems that all the other aircraft meet the requirements, or at least can be modified to do so.

The TAI Hürjet is the only aircraft of the six that has not yet performed a maiden flight ‒ its prototype is expected to enter production in late 2021, and fly before the end of 2022. It is intended to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon as an advanced trainer for the Turkish Air Force, and also has a light combat variant.

The Indian HAL Tejas has been one of the primary fighter jets of the Indian Air Force since 2015 but has received no foreign orders so far.

The MiG-35, which has been offered by a corporation called Aerospace Technology Systems, is a deep modification of the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, which was retired from the Malaysian Royal Air Force in 2017. The MiG-35 was adopted by the Russian Air Force in 2019 but is yet to be mass-produced or sold outside Russia.

The L-15 Falcon, offered to Malaysia by the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) and produced by the Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation (HAIC), was introduced in 2010 and is currently on its way to becoming the primary lead-in fighter trainer for China’s Air Force and Naval Air Force.

Considering China’s recent aggression towards its neighbour in the South China Sea, Malaysia may not pick Chinese JF-17 and L-15 fighter aircraft.

The KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle, a light combat variant of the T-50 trainer, has already been adopted by the Philippines, while several other countries – including Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, and South Korea – use the trainer variant.

The M-346 Master, developed by Alenia Aermacchi (later absorbed by Leonardo), has been delivered to numerous countries in a trainer variant. Its fighter attack version has been ordered by Turkmenistan and Nigeria.

American F404-GE-IN20 engines and associated components power the HAL Tejas. Under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) administers the export and re-export of defense articles, defense services and related technical data from the United States to any foreign destination or to any foreign person, whether located in the United States or abroad requires approval from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) under the U.S. state department.

GE F404-GE-IN20 engine. photo by GE Aviation.

HAL placed an order worth Rs 5,375 crore for 99 F404-GE-IN20 engines and support services with GE Aviation, USA, to power the LCA. Madhavan said on Wednesday that work on the Tejas Mark II is progressing, and ground trials will begin by December 2022.

The Indian Government is yet to request DSCA for an export license of F404-GE-IN20 engines. The Tejas also come with Israeli Radar, Electronic Warfare equipment and armaments. Although Israel has allowed resupply of Israeli defense articles to third-party, such as FA-50 fighters, components were exported to Iraq and Indonesia. Still, India is yet to request an export license from Israel which does not have a diplomatic relationship with Malaysia.

Its highly likely that India’s $77 million apiece HAL Tejas will not be the winning bidder for the Malaysian LCA program. Turkish Hurjet will be the most likely winner of the Malaysian LCA program.

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