At least 16 countries have approached India seeking details of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas Mk2 and efforts are on to identify additional agencies to increase the production rate of the aircraft, a senior government official told News18.
In September, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave its nod to the LCA Mk2 which would eventually fill a critical gap in the fighter squadrons of the Indian Air Force when the MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and the Jaguar fleets retire in around a decade.
The 4.5-generation fighter aircraft — a more advanced and lethal version of the LCA Tejas — is at the design and development stage at present.
“There is a huge push from the central government on increasing the production rate of the aircraft with India already getting enquiries about the aircraft from 16 countries,” LCA Mk2 Project Director at Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) Dr V Madhusudana Rao told News18 on the sidelines of the DefExpo-2022 here.
Towards this, he said, efforts are on to identify private production agencies, other than the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which can ramp up the production of the advanced aircraft.
“HAL can meet the requirement of the Indian Armed Forces. HAL can be the lead integrator, responsible for putting together all major parts and systems, doing the flight testing and delivery. But beyond that, private partnership will be required,” Rao added.
The official said the government has sought for reduction of costs and ensure a competitive pricing for the aircraft for better export opportunities.
Engine Will Be Made in India, Letter on ToT Expected from US Soon
Rao said the aircraft should be rolled out by December 2023 and the first flight of the first prototype of the aircraft is expected by December 2024. This will be followed by the manufacturing of three more prototypes of the fighter.
“The long lead component manufacturing for the aircraft has begun. By December 2027 we will be completing the design and development of LCA Mark 2 with complete flight testing for all four prototypes and entering into the production of LCA Mark 2 for the IAF,” Rao told News18.
He said that before the complete flight testing is completed, the initial set of key weapons will be, by design, integrated into the aircraft.
This includes the wing tip missiles, two to four Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and smart bombs.
The complete set of weapons will be integrated into the aircraft in the production phase when the squadrons are getting formed, Rao said, adding that other observations put forth by the IAF will also be included in aircraft in this phase.
The IAF, he said, has committed to getting 10 squadrons of LCA Tejas Mk2, which will come in two phases, six squadrons initially to begin with and then four squadrons later.
The latest F414 GE fighter jet engines will power the Mk II version of LCA Tejas. “The engines will be completely manufactured in India post a transfer of technology from the US-based General Electric,” he said, adding that a letter from the United States government detailing that the engine will be manufactured in India with 100% manufacturing ToT is expected within three weeks.
Delay in the LCA Programme
Acknowledging that India’s LCA programme has seen major delays in the past four decades since 1983, he said the reasons are often multiple.
“There have been issues with the supply chain management; items need to come timely for integration, then the maturity of sub systems should be taken into account in which there could be some teething problems. Manufacturing processes are taking time and this needs to be further automated,” he said.
He added that increasing the number of production lines will further accelerate the process.
“For LCA Tejas Mark 1A, there are two chain producing eight aircraft each. For Mk2, we are planning three production lines, which will work together to produce 24 aircraft annually,” he said.
HAL has got orders from the IAF for development of 83 Tejas Mk1A at a cost of more than Rs 48,000 crore, of which 73 will be those with advanced features and the remaining 10 are trainer aircraft.
Having additional private production agencies will further accelerate the production, he said.
“It has been a learning curve for us. Initially, we were producing one aircraft a year, which is going up to 16 and now we are looking at 24 a year,” he said.
Read all the Latest India News here