India officially wants to buy 97 Tejas Mk1As worth a total of $7.8B

The Indian Defense Ministry has formally lodged a request for 97 native Tejas Mk1 fighter jets, which is expected to come at an estimated cost of around $7,8 billion. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL], a domestic leader in the field of military aeronautical engineering and aircraft production, is expected to emerge as the likely contractor. The exact bid price, although it remains undisclosed, is projected to be ironed out in the upcoming months. It is anticipated that HAL will respond to this tender within a three-month timeframe. 

India's first 'production' Tejas Mk1A made a secret test flight
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Speculation had been rife since late last year within the Indian military community that the Indian Air Force [IAF] was considering a substantial order of approximately 100 fighter jets, and the recent tender publication validates these conjectures.

The underlying aim of the Tejas Mk1A order is to radically overhaul the Indian aerial combat fleet by phasing out older Soviet fighters including the likes of MiG-21, MiG-23, and MiG-27. These three prior-generation Soviet fighter models have all exceeded their effective service lives and have been duly retired. 

Tejas - India is trying to 'screw up' the sale of US F-16s to Argentina
Photo credit: Indian MoD

‘Made in India’

BulgarianMilitary.com recalls that the Tejas program enjoys robust backing from the local government. The Made in India initiative, a program that uplifts local production, has been championed by New Delhi for several years now.

Even foreign companies aiming to market their weapons systems to India need to comply with this program, which mandates over half of the components required for producing Western systems be locally produced. It’s worth noting that the Indian President, Narendra Modi, has publicly lent his support to the Tejas fighter and the program, having even flown in the domestic fighter jet himself.

Indian Tejas Mk.1 fighter jet
Photo credit; Reddit

Production problems

In 2022, HAL gave us a first glimpse of the Tejas Mk1A, with the prototype taking to the skies just two years later, in March of this year. Despite this advancement, a Times of India report from April 2023 hinted at possible delays in initiating mass production. 

The root causes behind this shift in the production timeline are updates to the equipment. According to reports from idrw.org, uncertified redesigned systems, which include the introduction of the EL/M-2052 radar, could contribute to the delays in mass-producing the Mk1A. 

Thorny path: Tejas Mk2 fighter will be liked but no one will buy it at first
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Under normal circumstances without these changes, the Tejas Mk1A would have been unveiled toward the end of the previous year. However, with the alterations and the projected additional waiting time of three months, it seems more likely for the Mk1A to hit the production line in the latter stages of this year.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that HAL and India’s ambitions stretch beyond serving only domestic air forces. The Tejas’ bid for the Argentine Air Force’s contract for new units, where it competed with Denmark’s second-hand F-16 fighters, hints at its global objectives. Although the Tejas didn’t clinch the deal, it was a clear indicator of HAL’s international aspirations for the aircraft.

What the Tejas Mk1 is?

Argentina's F-16 decision in limbo, while Tejas still holds ground
Photo credit: Flickr

The Tejas Mk1 is a lightweight, multirole, single-engine tactical fighter aircraft developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency [ADA] and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL] for the Indian Air Force and Navy. It is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary supersonic combat aircraft. 

The aircraft has a length of 13.2 meters, a wingspan of 8.2 meters, and a height of 4.4 meters. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 13,500 kilograms and can reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.8. The Tejas Mk1 is designed with a delta wing configuration, devoid of tailplanes or foreplanes, and features a single vertical fin. 

In terms of avionics, the Tejas Mk1 is equipped with a ‘glass cockpit’, which includes multi-function displays [MFD], a head-up display [HUD], and a helmet-mounted display and sight [HMDS]. It also features an integrated digital avionics suite, typically incorporating mission computers, digital maps, and secure communication systems.

Indian MiG, Su and Tejas fighters get Mach 4.5 Astra Mk1 BVR AAM
Photo: Wikipedia

Tejas Mk1’s radar and armament

The aircraft uses a multi-mode radar for weather and terrain following, which is capable of tracking 10 targets simultaneously. It also features an advanced electronic warfare suite, equipped with a radar warning receiver [RWR], laser warning receiver [LWR], and missile approach warning [MAW] system. 

The operational range of the Tejas Mk1 is approximately 500 kilometers for a typical combat mission, with a ferry range of 1,750 kilometers. It has a service ceiling of 16,000 meters and can climb at a rate of 300 meters per second. 

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

In terms of weaponry, the Tejas Mk1 can carry a wide range of air-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles, as well as precision-guided munitions. It has eight hard points for carrying weapons and other external stores. The aircraft is also equipped with a 23mm twin-barrel cannon for close combat situations.

Mk2 and some innovations

HAL isn’t stopping at the Mk1 model. In response to the rapidly evolving global aviation industry, standing still just isn’t an option. Currently, HAL is diverting resources towards the development of the Mk2 version. According to my sources, there are reasons to believe that the propulsion system for the aircraft will be manufactured domestically in India. This conclusion stems from a memorandum signed between General Electric Aerospace [GEA] and HAL in June 2023. 

India bought single-engine Tejas fighter jets totalling $4,5B
Photo credit: Wikipedia

As articulated in the signed memorandum, GEA is set to partner in building its state-of-the-art F414 jet engines directly on Indian soil. These powerhouses, known as F414 engines, are planned to be the driving force behind HAL’s Tejas Mk2 fighter jets. 

In hindsight, with the thwarted deal involving Argentina, HAL has demonstrated its ability to adapt flexibly to alterations in the Tejas design. A speculated hurdle was Britain potentially imposing an export ban on the Tejas due to the inclusion of British ejection seats. However, India swiftly proposed a solution by offering the substitute of Russian K-36 ejection seats, components that are familiar to the Russian Su-30 which already forms part of India’s fleet.

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