The indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft will be able to thrash
the Pakistani JF-17 'Thunder' fighters in "reach, punch and ability
to kill and survive in an engagement",
top Indian defence officials asserted.
But that will be possible only when the Tejas is ready with an AESA
(active electronically scanned array) radar, mid-air refuelling,
long-range BVR (beyond visual range) missiles and advanced
electronic warfare capabilities. Moreover, the single-engine fighter
has to undergo 43 "improvements" out of the 57 "weaknesses" detected
in its maintainability, which will ensure it can land and take off
again within an hour, the officials said.
All this will take another three years at the very least, further
prolonging the already tortuous development saga of the country's
first home fighter that began way back in 1983. Even if defence PSU
Hindustan Aeronautics manages to ramp up its production rate to 12
jets from the existing eight per year, all the 120 Tejas planned so
far for IAF will be inducted only by 2026 or so.
The development of a Tejas Mark-II, with a more powerful engine, in
turn, would be possible only by 2024-2025 at the earliest, with the
production to follow thereafter. Consequently, the proposed Tejas
Mark-II for the IAF now stands scrapped, though it will continue for
the Navy, as was earlier reported by TOI.
The plan now is to jump directly onto the development of the
indigenous fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the twin-engine AMCA
(advanced medium combat aircraft), from the single-engine Tejas
Mark-I, as part of the overall rejig of fighter induction plans.
"DRDO-HAL will now fully focus on producing the improved Tejas as
well as designing and developing the AMCA, which should start coming
in by 2035 when the upgraded Mirage-2000s and MiG-29s begin
retiring," said an official.
Tejas remains crucial to make up the depleting numbers in IAF, which
is down to just 35 fighter squadrons and will reach its sanctioned
figure of 42 squadrons only by 2027 or so. With a limited range of
just over 400 km, the Tejas will basically be used for "air defence"
to take on incoming enemy fighters or "close air-to-ground"
operations to support the Army.
The "strike packages" deep into enemy territory will perforce have
to be undertaken by fighters like the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKIs
and the Rafales being acquired from France. "But the Tejas, after
the 43 improvements, will be more than able to outgun the similar
JF-17, which Pakistan is inducting with China's help," said an
"Tejas will help in plugging the gaps that will further arise after
all the existing 10 MiG-21 and four MiG-27 squadrons are retired by
2025. It was never meant to replace a MMRCA (medium multi-role
combat aircraft) like Rafale or a heavyweight Sukhoi-30MKI," he