Tejas Mk1-A Upgrade Strengthens India’s Air Combat Prowess

The inaugural flight of the Tejas Mk1A Aircraft series, designated LA5033, was successfully completed at the HAL facility in Bengaluru.

Today, the inaugural flight of the Tejas Mk1A Aircraft series, designated LA5033, was successfully completed at the HAL facility in Bengaluru, achieving an 18-minute flight duration.

In a press release on 28th of March, to the media, Mr. C.B. Ananthakrishnan, the Chairman and Managing Director of HAL, marked this accomplishment as a key milestone in production. He noted it was achieved amid substantial supply chain obstacles that have arisen in the current global geopolitical situation since the signing of the contract in February 2021. He stressed that this milestone was realized through parallel efforts in design and development.

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The flight was conducted by Gp Capt K K Venugopal (Retd), serving as the Chief Test Pilot.

HAL expressed its gratitude to the Ministry of Defence, the Indian Air Force, DRDO/ADA, CEMILAC, DGAQA, and the MSMEs for their significant contributions to the program’s success. With ongoing support from these partners, there is an optimistic outlook for the swift induction of the Tejas Mk1A into the IAF, facilitated by the three production lines set up at HAL.

The Tejas Mk1A is set to feature enhanced electronic radar, warfare, and communication systems, along with augmented combat capabilities and better maintenance aspects.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has completed the delivery of 32 single-seat LCA fighters and two out of eight twin-seat trainers from the Tejas Mk1 order valued at Rs 8,802 crore. The company is now set to start delivering 83 Tejas Mk-1A aircraft within the period from March 2024 to February 2028, according to the terms of the Rs 46,898 crore agreement for 83 upgraded Tejas Mark-1A jets, which was signed in 2021.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his support for the indigenous Tejas fighter aircraft by flying in a trainer version that was received in October 2023. This act is significant as it indicates his personal endorsement and signifies the Tejas’ future role as the primary fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force, replacing foreign jets.

At the same time, HAL is actively advocating for the export of the LCA to other international air forces. Their confidence in this aircraft is evident through their readiness to deploy it in forward bases.

The Tejas’ final objective is to secure an export order from a foreign country, and India is dedicating its diplomatic efforts to support this mission.

In the global market, the Tejas already poses a significant challenge to the JF-17. With the introduction of the Mk-1A variant, this rivalry is expected to intensify.

Currently, the Indian Air Force operates two squadrons of Tejas aircraft named the ‘Flying Daggers’ and ‘Flying Bullets’. One of these squadrons has been stationed in the southwestern sector, specifically in the region that faces Pakistan.

To strengthen the position of the Tejas aircraft as the primary choice for the Indian Air Force, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has approved the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for an additional 97 Tejas Mk-1A aircraft. It is anticipated that these aircraft will be ordered once the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) grants its final clearance.

The Tejas aircraft holds great importance for the Indian Air Force as it plays a crucial role in addressing the decline in the number of fighter squadrons. Currently, the IAF only possesses 31 squadrons, whereas a minimum of 42 squadrons is necessary to effectively deal with potential threats from China and Pakistan.The Indian Air Force is placing significant reliance on the LCA Tejas to address the shortage of combat squadrons.

Presently, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has a production rate of 8 LCA aircraft per year. However, there are plans to gradually increase this rate to 16 aircraft annually by 2025. Additionally, there is a further goal to escalate the production to 24 aircraft per year within the following three years.

An important point to highlight is that the Indian Air Force recently experienced its initial incident of losing a Tejas Mk 1 fighter aircraft due to an unfortunate air crash that occurred on March 12th.

The TEJAS MK-1A is an upgraded variant of the MK-1, which received approval for procurement in 2021. The Mk1A exhibits enhanced features such as a top speed of Mach 1.8, a combat range of 550km, and a service ceiling of 16km.

According to multiple sources, it has been reported that the Number 3 Squadron of the Indian Air Force, known as the ‘Cobras’, will be the initial unit to operate the LCA Mk 1A.

In the coming years, the LCA Mk 1A is intended to replace the outdated fighter jets, including the MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and MiG-27s. There are also preparations to retire the MiG-29s, followed by the Mirages and Jaguars. As a result, it is foreseen that the indigenous LCA Tejas will play a prominent role in the Indian Air Force’s frontline operations in the next decade.

 

AESA Radar

Roughly fifty percent of the LCA Mk1A Tejas fleet will be integrated with an advanced Israeli AESA radar, surpassing the capabilities of the pulse Doppler radar currently installed on trainer jets. From around 2026 onwards, the remaining LCA Mk1A aircraft will feature a highly potent indigenous Gallium Nitride Uttam AESA radar, which offers even greater power compared to the Gallium Arsenide radar variant.

The advanced Gallium Nitride Uttam AESA radar will provide Tejas aircraft with enhanced striking capabilities, allowing them to engage targets with greater power, from increased distances, and at an earlier stage. These fighter aircraft will be armed with the indigenous Astra air-to-air missile, which is recognized as one of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated missiles. In August 2023, a successful missile launch of the Astra was conducted from an LCA aircraft in the vicinity of the Goa coast.

 

(The author Girish Linganna of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also the Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected])

(Views expressed in article are of author’s own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Business Upturn)