On 13 January 2020, in a much awaited decision and major boost for ‘Made in India’ weapons, Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by the PM, approved the largest indigenous defence procurement deal for purchase of 83 Tejas Mk1A fighters worth about Rs 48,000 Cr to strengthen IAF’s combat power . This deal not only address the shortage of fighter jets with IAF but also will be a game-changer for self-reliance in Indian defence industry.

In July 2020, India received the first five Dassault Rafale fighters that instantly captured the imagination of the home audience as it was after 20 years the Indian Air force inducted new fighter jets. While Dassault Rafale is a deadly fighter but they cannot restore the alarmingly falling numbers of fighter jets in the Indian Air Force as only 36 Dassault Rafales, enough to equip two squadrons have been ordered. The fighter that will be critical for the future of the Indian Air Force is HAL Tejas Mk1A as it is going to form the backbone of the future IAF fleet. Thus, Team guarding India brings you the story of the upcoming fighter.

HAL Tejas is ‘Made in India’ single-engine fourth-generation fighter which is the smallest and lightest fighter jet in its class that is being produced by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Tejas is an agile fighter that has a tailless, compound delta wing design with “relaxed static stability” that provides it greater maneuverability.

Tejas was designed as an air superiority fighter but it can also perform ground attack and anti-shipping roles due to its multirole capabilities. Tejas is a pilot friendly plane as it has an advanced fly-by-wire flight control system that allows pilots to concentrate on offensive tasks.

FOC Version of Tejas Mk 1
FOC Version of Tejas Mk 1 | PC : Indian Air Force

Tejas was designed to keep stealth in mind and has several stealth features. Besides having visual stealth due to smaller size, around 95 % of Tejas’s surface is made of composites that do not reflect radar waves and provide stealth advantage to Tejas. Another innovative stealth feature is the use of Y-duct air intake for hiding engine blades which considerably reduce radar signatures. Finally, Tejas also uses radar-absorbent material (RAM) paint that further increases the stealth performance of Tejas fighters.

Tejas can carry around 5,300 kg armaments on its seven hardpoints and has an eighth offset station for carrying various mission-specific pods like recce pods or target designation pods. In addition to internal fuel, Tejas can carry three auxiliary fuel tanks or can use an aerial refueling probe for extending range and endurance.

Presently, IAF’s 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers) operates 16 Tejas Mark 1 fighters of Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) version and 3 Tejas Mk 1s of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) version in newly raised 18 Squadron (Flying Bullets). The Tejas Mk1A fighter was proposed as a stop-gap fighter to bridge the capability gap between Tejas Mk 1 (FOC) jets and much advanced Tejas Mark 2 that is in the design phase.

Despite being a stop-gap fighter until the arrival of much advanced Tejas Mark 2 flies by 2026, the Tejas Mk1A has several enhancements over IOC and FOC versions. These enhancements are aimed at improving combat effectiveness, survivability in combat, and simplifying maintenance of Tejas Mk1A jets.

The Tejas Mk1A will get a new Israeli Elta 2052 airborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with more than 150 km range. The Elta 2052 has been designed for air superiority and advanced surface and naval strike missions. This radar can track up to 64 targets simultaneously at longer ranges than contemporary Pakistani and Chinese fighters. This radar enables Tejas Mk1A to simultaneously target multiple enemy fighters in combat engagements. In air-to-surface and naval missions, it provides long-range target detection, tracking, classification, and engagement.

Tejas Mk1A carries an impressive array of weapons. For air superiority missions, Tejas Mk1A is armed with cutting edge Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles like Russian R-77 missiles with 110 km range, Israeli I-Derby ER missiles with 100 km range and Indian Astra missile with 80 km range which give it a decisive edge in Balakot like scenario. For ground attacks, Tejas Mk1A can be armed with all European, Russian, and Indian laser-guided weapons including DRDO SAAW anti-airfield weapons. For naval missions, Tejas Mk1A will be armed with BrahMos NG anti-ship missile with a 290 km range which is the deadliest anti-ship missile in the world.

Tejas with Brahmos NG Missile
Tejas with Brahmos NG Missile | PC : Hindustan Times

HAL and IAF have placed survivability of HAL Tejas Mk1A as primary aim and it carries a sophisticated avionics suite of the Indian and Israeli origin. Tejas Mk1A carries an Israeli external Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) pod along with self-protection jammers. It has integrated digital radar warning receivers and missile countermeasures system to ward off enemy missiles. Finally, HAL Tejas Mk1A will have key design changes for easy maintenance which will allow faster servicing, reduce the turnaround time, and ensure higher mission rates that will be far better than Russian fighters held with The Indian Air force.

Presently, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has completed the structural design phase of HAL Tejas Mk1A and final designs are likely to be cleared for production by early-2021. This will be followed by manufacturing, system integration, and around 200 test fights before Tejas Mk1A is cleared for mass production by mid-2022.

The order for these 83 HAL Tejas Mk1A fighters includes spares and after-sales services. Out of these 83 Tejas Mk1A jets, 73 will be fighters and 10 will be trainer variant. The delivery of all these 83 Tejas Mk1A fighters will be completed by 2028.

Team Guarding India hopes that by 2024 HAL Tejas Mark1A fighters will be entering serving with The Indian Air Force and these capable ‘Made in India’ fighters will replace vulnerable Mig-21s that have been flying for more than 50 years. Tejas Mark 1A will not only replace Mig-21 numerically but also provide a qualitative edge over Pakistani JF-17 fighters.