INDIA DEFENCE CONSULTANTS

WHAT'S HOT? ANALYSIS OF RECENT HAPPENINGS

Combat-ready Tejas Vs Pakistani JF-17 fighters

Source: Rajat Pandit in TOI

14 Oct 2015

Tejas Naval version on test (Photo courtesy ADA)

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 official. 

"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 added.

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