LCA Tejas Mk1A will transform India's Air Power in the decades ahead
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Speaking on the status of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program on August 22, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari stated that the deliveries of Tejas Mark-1 have been completed. Additionally, a press release reported that representatives of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) assured the CAS of timely delivery of the contracted twin-seater in the coming months, as well. The Chairman and MD of HAL assured that deliveries of the advanced variant of the LCA would commence by February 2024. 83 LCA Mk1A aircraft have also been contracted by the IAF in 2021. The deliveries are likely to be spread over the next four years as per the schedule.
The CAS indicated that the LCA Mk1A could be inducted in a newly raised squadron in one of the IAF's operational bases, early next year. This will be the first squadron with effective combat capabilities necessary for the air force in the coming decades given the number plating of the MiG-21, which will be followed by the MiG-29, Jaguar and the Mirage 2000 roughly in that order. The press release also indicated that timely deliveries of the more capable variant, the LCA Mk1A is likely to see increased deployments at forward bases, besides participation in International exercises in the days to come.
A Major Milestone has been achieved with the Tejas Mk-1 deliveries completed, marking a huge success for the LCA Program
There is speculation in media that with only three MiG-21 squadrons now operational as the Srinagar unit has now been replaced by the MiG-29 the Indian Air Force (IAF) may be down to just 30 squadrons – a mix of Su-30 MKI which makes up the largest numbers, Jaguar upgraded, Mirage 2000, MiG-29 and the newly acquired Rafale fighters.
In the pipeline are the medium version of the LCA Tejas Mark-2 expected to be 108 in number and 126 indigenous stealth fifth-generation advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) both to be developed and manufactured indigenously. The Mark-2 will be powered by the GE F414, a MoU for which was signed during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US in June this year.
LCA Mk1A will provide Next-Gen combat capabilities and willlead the charge in IAF's operational bases
The fate of the 114 multi-role fighter aircraft under the strategic partnership programme has remained in limbo for the past five years. In backdrop of the dwindling number of combat squadrons, the IAF is launching a “second upgrade” of the MiG-29 aircraft which otherwise were to retire in 2027 with the first upgrade. Therefore, the IAF is banking to a large extent on the LCA Tejas to make up the deficiency in fighter squadrons. Much is at stake for the success of the LCA Mk1A programme and the HAL meeting the delivery schedule. Ironically, the HAL’s past record in meeting the time schedules of development and timely delivery is far from satisfactory.
The latest on the LCA is the news reports of August 28, 2023, which have talked of a second order of 100 Tejas Mk1A jets for the IAF, saying that these additional 100 Tejas Mk1A will be delivered by 2028-2029. This is over and above the 83 Mk1A Tejas jets that are already on order. About half of the Mk1A Tejas fighter jets will carry the Israeli AESA radar, which is more advanced than the pulse Doppler radar mounted on the trainer jets and existing Mk1 Tejas fighter jets have, The rest, starting from around 2026, will carry DRDO’s top of the line Gallium Nitride Uttam AESA radar, which is exponentially more powerful than Gallium Arsenide radar.The Gallium Nitride Uttam AESA radar will allow a Tejas jet to land a mightier punch much earlier and from much far away. These fighter jets are to be armed with the indigenous air-to-air Astra missile. The Astra air-to-air missile is among the most sophisticated missiles in the world in this category. The Astra Mk 2 was successfully test-fired from a Tejas fighter jet in 2022. The Astra Mk 3 is under development.
LCA Tejas Mk1A will have game-changing upgrades and willfeature cutting-edge AESA Radars and Astra Missiles."
For much of the rest of the decade, the IAF may be looking at 30 combat fighter squadrons “plus” with the Su-30 MKI as the backbone and Rafale a front line fighter though with limited numbers. The IAF continues to pursue the 42 combat squadron requirements given the two front challenges. The requirement of operational combat squadronswas brought down from 45 to 42 some years back.