Thorny path: Tejas Mk2 fighter will be liked but no one will buy it at first
NEW DELHI ($1=82.69 Indian Rupes) — India has high hopes for its Tejas Mk2 fighter jet. It is expected that next year the first prototype will be ready, and a year later it will make its first flight. The Tejas Mk2 has the tough task of retiring India’s aging MiG-29, Mirage-2000, and Jaguar.
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India begins a long journey to get the Tejas Mk2 where it wants to be. The first guidelines have already been set – manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL] has been given the go-ahead to start production. The design is approved. Between three and four prototypes will appear in the coming years, and India plans to purchase six squadrons of Tejas Mk2s. In 2035, the life cycle of MiG-29, Mirage-2000, and Jaguar ends. By then, the Indian Air Force should be flying the local flagship.
Once HAL got the go-ahead, the pressure from the Indian government began. A source quoted by the EurAsia Times claimed that New Delhi wants fast production and a reduction in the cost of production. There are reports that 16 countries are showing interest in the new Indian fighter jet. This is according to Dr. V Madhusudana Rao, LCA Mk2 Project Director at the Aeronautical Development Agency [ADA].
By all accounts, HAL seems set to reverse the production and testing pattern followed by other countries that manufacture fighter jets. For example, the new weapons will be ready before the first prototype, so the first flight of the Tejas Mk2 could be with combat armament.
This, but not only, opens doors for foreign investment. India will not turn them down if an opportunity for private partnership arises. In New Delhi, they believe that such an action will give a boost to the project to be successfully completed on time.
2027 is the key year when the first four prototypes will have completed all possible tests – flight, ground, and software. Until then, all ambiguities and issues must be cleared and resolved before serial production of the aircraft can begin.
However, an industry source makes an important comment about the difficult future that awaits the aircraft. According to him, the Tejas Mk2 will be well-liked and admired by customers, but it will not be bought immediately. The reason, according to the source, lies in the lack of combat experience.
The Tejas Mk2 will most likely follow the path of the French Dassault Rafale – a wonderful aircraft but Paris had difficulty selling it. Then France took part in some military missions in Africa and the Middle East and showed the capabilities of the aircraft. This changed the entire marketing of the company and the sales started.
India has the opportunity to do the same. But it will not be enough for the Tejas Mk2 to participate only in joint exercises with partner countries. The aircraft will have to prove its combat capability, not at the local level, but at the international level. Fortunately for India [and other arms-producing countries], there are military conflicts, and it appears that there will be more, and bigger ones, with more international involvement.
For now, though, the plane looks excellent, but on paper. Good weaponry such as Scalp, Crystal Maze, and Spice-2000, as well as the indigenous Astra Mark 1 and Mark 2 air-to-air missiles. The aircraft will have electronic warfare and anti-radiation missiles. The indigenous Uttam AESA radar is to be integrated. The expected top speed should be up to Mach 1.8, thanks to the GE-F414 INS6 engine and thrust rated at 98 kN.
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