India puts Russian K-36 ejection seat in Tejas to bar UK impact

In a bold move, India is fervently seeking to export its single-engine, delta-wing Light Combat Aircraft, colloquially known as ‘Tejas’, to Argentina. The intrinsic Martin Baker ejection seat, a staple feature of this Indian fighter jet, is slated for replacement with the Russian-engineered K-36 seats. This strategic alteration is intended to sidestep the existing British embargo on sales to Argentina.  

India's Tejas MK2 fighter will fire with SCALP EG and SPICE
Photo credit: Kuntal Biswas

On August 30, an important diplomatic meeting took place between Dinesh Bhatia, the Indian Ambassador to Argentina, and Brig General Xavier Isaac, the Chief of the Argentinian Air Force. The primary focus of their discussion was the prospective expansion of bilateral ties between the two nations, principally through Argentina’s potential acquisition of Tejas combat aircraft and helicopters. 

These advanced military vehicles are manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd [HAL], a renowned Indian company. The potential procurement of these military assets by Argentina indicates a significant deepening of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

The Zvezda K-36 seat, a prominent feature in both the MiG series and the Sukhoi 30 MKIs fighter jets, bears a history of military aviation innovation. The initial iteration of this renowned seat, the Zvezda K-36 D, emerged in the late 1960s with the specific purpose of gracing the interior of the MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft. This aircraft was the crowning achievement of the esteemed Soviet aircraft designer Mikhail Gurevich, and it accrued fame for its unprecedented Mach 3 speed and its capacity for stratospheric sorties.

An official from HAL has confirmed to the EurAsian Times that a concrete proposal has indeed been presented to the Argentinians. The process of substituting the British components has already commenced, marking significant progress in this endeavor.

In the course of his diplomatic visit to India in July 2023, Argentina’s Defense Minister, Jorge Taiana, raised a significant matter. He pointed out the presence of 16 components of British origin in the Light Combat Aircraft [LCA]. This issue, he stated, necessitated a replacement of these elements, a consequence of the British embargo on arms sales to Argentina, established in the aftermath of the Falkland Wars.

In a strategic maneuver, the United Kingdom has taken action to obstruct Argentina’s attempts to enhance its military capabilities by purchasing fighter jets. By imposing embargoes on aircraft components produced within its jurisdiction, the UK has effectively hindered Argentina’s procurement process. Additionally, the UK has exerted diplomatic pressure on Spain, compelling it to abandon an agreement to provide Argentina with surplus Mirage F1M fighter jets.

India puts Russian K-36 ejection seat in Tejas to bar UK influence
Photo credit: Reddit

To avoid the LCA Tejas agreement falling prey to British strong-arm diplomacy, the Russian K-36 seats will be installed as replacements for the Martin-Baker ejection seats. As the HAL official noted, “We already have the seats available.” The HAL, engaged in the licensed production of the Sukhoi SU-30 MKI, is already in possession of K-36 ejection seats.

Martin-Baker, a privately held entity, holds a prominent position in the global landscape of ejection seat manufacturers. With a staggering 17,000 of its ejection seats currently in operation across 84 nations and 54 diverse aircraft types, the company’s influence continues to burgeon. This dominance is particularly pronounced in the Western world, where it controls a formidable 75 percent of the market. Key markets include the United States, South Korea, Germany, Italy, and France. 

The ejection seat, a paramount invention of Martin-Baker, has a commendable track record of saving lives. To date, 7699 individuals owe their survival to this critical safety apparatus. This number, just like the company’s footprint, is persistently on the rise.

Further British components that pose significant impediments to the successful conclusion of the deal encompass a radome, an integral part of aircraft technology, furnished by the esteemed UK aerospace manufacturer, Cobham Limited. Additionally, the aircraft tires, a crucial element for the safety and performance of the aircraft, are sourced from the renowned Scottish firm, Dunlop.

Exploring the K-36

In the realm of military aviation, the Russian ejection seats serve as a formidable rival to those produced by Martin Baker. The K-36 variants, in particular, are incorporated into Russian combat aircraft such as the MiG-29, Su-27, Su-30, and Su-57. These seats, recognized for their zero-zero capabilities, are widely regarded as equivalent in performance and reliability to their Martin Baker counterparts.

It was indeed the Russians who spearheaded the development of the ‘zero-zero’ ejection seat, a revolutionary innovation designed to guarantee the safe evacuation of the pilot even under conditions of zero airspeed and zero altitude.

In an exploration of advanced safety measures, the US Air Force once contemplated the integration of the K-36D ejection seat into their fifth-generation air superiority F-22 fighters. This innovative seat, a product of meticulous design by the renowned Zvezda Research and Production organization, boasts a complex assembly of features. Within its structure, the K-36D houses an ejection rocket firing mechanism and a gearbox, intricately designed to ensure optimal functioning during emergencies. 

Complementing these core features, the seat also includes a headrest – a seemingly simple component, which, in fact, serves a dual function. Not only does it contribute to the comfort of the pilot, but it also cleverly conceals the rescue system’s dome. The operating systems of the K-36D seat, meanwhile, are engineered with a singular objective: to provide a safe and efficient bail-out mechanism in critical situations.

Designed with paramount precision and ingenuity, the ejection seat serves as the ultimate safeguard for a pilot, facilitating a secure emergency evacuation. This sophisticated piece of equipment operates within an extensive velocity range, from 0 to 1,300 km/h [equivalent to 700 kilonewtons or 810 mph] extending to 1,400 km/h (which is approximately 760 kilonewtons or 870 mph). Not only does it function across a wide spectrum of speeds, but it also performs efficiently across varied altitudes, ranging from sea level up to an impressive 20,000 m [or 66,000 ft]. Furthermore, it maintains its effectiveness at Mach numbers as high as 2.5, a testament to its remarkable engineering.

F-22 Raptor has a suitability and cyber survivability issue
Photo credit: Pixabay

In an extraordinary display of its adeptness, the K-36 seat’s prowess was on full display in 1999 at the Paris air show when a Sukhoi-30 MKI met with a calamitous accident. The Su-30, in the process of performing a meticulously controlled spin, unfortunately, initiated its recovery a tad too late, thereby inadvertently completing one turn more than it was designed to handle.

In an adrenaline-fueled sequence of events, the fighter jet, post-dive, grazed the earth’s surface due to its tail-down altitude. In a blink, it was soaring skywards again, its trajectory marred by the damage inflicted upon its starboard engine’s jet pipe during the ground impact. The port engine, too, was not spared, with flames spewing forth from a fuel line torn asunder. 

The Su-30MKI, in a dramatic display of aerodynamics, stood vertically, its nose beginning to plummet. With a mere two seconds separating them from a fatal catastrophe, the two pilots made a split-second decision to eject. Their former vessel, now bereft of human control, crashed adjacent to the runway, culminating in a fiery explosion.

In an astonishing turn of events, the Sukhoi aircraft was found to be in an inverted position when the ejection seat was triggered. The pilots, demonstrating an impressive level of resilience and composure, were initially propelled away from the aircraft’s surface, prior to the successful deployment of the parachute. Miraculously, both aviators emerged from this harrowing incident unscathed and without any physical injuries.

Operating out of Russia, Zvezda is a distinguished corporation that has made significant strides in the engineering and creation of portable life support systems. These are specifically designed to ensure the survival and well-being of crew members aboard both aircraft and spacecraft.

It is widely recognized that Zvezda, a prominent Russian enterprise, has been instrumental in the development of the majority of Russian spacesuits. This includes the historic spacesuit worn by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, the first human to venture into the vast expanse of space.

Alexei Leonov, a cosmonaut hailing from the Soviet Union, etched his name into the annals of space history as the first human to venture into the open cosmos during a spacewalk in 1965. Notably, the spacesuit that safeguarded him from the harsh conditions of outer space was a product of Zvezda’s technological ingenuity.

Currently, the esteemed manufacturer, Zvezda, is meticulously crafting the spacesuits and individual seats intended for Indian cosmonauts. These cosmonauts are slated to journey into the vast abyss of space under the auspices of the highly-anticipated Gaganyaan Mission.


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