HAL Tejas: India’s LCA is worse than you think, comparable to 1950s MiG-21, IAF internal assessment report

The (LCA) is the LCA from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which has been keeping the IAF changing in balance since 1983 on its order of 83 such aircraft.

Indian Air Force (IAF) assesses the aircraft in various criteria which it did for the French Rafale aircraft and Lockheed’s single-engine F-16V, the IAF assessment reported that the HAL Tejas is the most expensive MiG-21 ever built costing a whopping $77 million apiece.

Indigenization with the primary objective of achieving ‘Make in India’ and lowering dependence on foreign countries, leading to high corruption in the Tejas program, especially for critical airframe subcontracts, was given for decades without any lead time to deliver anything.

Indian Air Force made the initial mistakes by setting up the wrong goal for Hindustan Aeronautics to develop Tejas with the primary objective of replacing the MiG-21 fleet of the Indian Air Force and playing the role of an interceptor, ground support, and Close-combat role.

Out of the 83 aircraft ordered by the IAF, it has just received six so far. The delay has been conveyed to the Ministry of Defense by the IAF, and the previous air chiefs had expressed concerns over the same. More so, the mere six Tejas—yet to be declared ‘combat ready’—are part of the initial contract for 40 aircraft given by IAF in 2005. For inducting the entire fleet of 83 aircraft, the IAF has to wait for one more decade.

This is at a time when the IAF has already been pleading before the government that the number of its fighter squadrons will fall to 31 by March-end compared to its sanctioned strength of 42 required in case of simultaneous aggression from Pakistan and China.

But as the IAF struggles to replace its dwindling fighter squadrons and obsolete fighter fleet, it is not just the issue of delivery of these aircraft but also their performance that is bothering the Air Force.

Speaking about the design pitfalls, a senior IAF official closely associated with testing Tejas prototypes said that the aircraft fell well short of its design performance goals set in 1982.

“A cursory glance of capabilities shows that Tejas is extremely handicapped regarding the crucial criterion of the ‘ability to turn’, or change direction rapidly to throw off an attacker or turn to face him. Tejas is only as capable as a MiG 21 of 1957 vintage on this feature. Even the IAF’s Mirage 2000 is better than this,” the official said.

“Further, the agility of Tejas, i.e. the time taken to achieve a given rate of turn or pitch, is also limited by its ‘fly by wire’ control system, which are yet to prove departure protection. No amount of pilot skills will be able to overcome the LCA’s limitations, including those on spin tests,” said the official, adding that Tejas might have to run for its own survival when engaged in combat with PAF’s F-16.

HAL officials could not be contacted for comments about the IAF assessment.

Hindustan Aeronautics never tested the aircraft with a view to make the aircraft combat ready. HAL test pilot and IAF’s first Tejas squadron are aware of fly-by-wire control system shortcomings.

Officials closely associated with assessing Tejas said that the LCA’s ability to strike targets afar was also a matter of concern compared to other contemporary single-engine fighters. And to worsen issues, Tejas comes with a high maintenance cost. IAF has already conveyed to the MoD that Tejas can be just one component in a healthy mix of LCA and other high-performance fighters in IAF.

Lastly, Tejas originally intended to produce local aircraft, but Tejas subsystems are sourced from France, Russia, and Germany. The major components, such as avionics, cockpits, and radar, are sourced from Israel, and the engine is from America.

Tejas failed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground combat parameters; the IAF questions Tejas’s in-flight stability due to fly-by-wire control, and the flight control system is yet to be perfected to suit IAF’s operational requirements.  

India Navy rejected the HAL Tejas for its poor performance in trials and purchased the French Rafale M for its INS Vikrant aircraft carrier.

The Tejas’ origins can be traced back to 1983 when the concept of a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was conceived. The Tejas program has been running for more than 40 years, however, in 2010, the IAF should have run a mid-life upgrade or service extension program for the original Tejas Mk1.

Surprisingly, HAL Tejas is yet to achieve full-rate production capacity because Hindustan Aeronautics has only the capacity to assemble 14 aircraft per year once parts are received from subcontractors.

Amidst these questionable performances, costing $77 million apiece and depressing achievements in international tenders, the Malaysian Air Force and Argentine Air Force’s rejection of Tejas proved again that Tejas will remain troublesome for the Indian Air Force, and the export of the aircraft becomes problematic.

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