Eye on export markets, Tejas debuts in Dubai for audience in Malaysia, Argentina and Egypt - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 16 November 2021

Eye on export markets, Tejas debuts in Dubai for audience in Malaysia, Argentina and Egypt

Malaysia, Argentina, Egypt – the countries interested in the Indian light fighter


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 17th Nov 21


The Indian Air Force (IAF) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) are making a splash at the Dubai Air Show, which began on Sunday and will run through Thursday.


Two IAF aerobatics teams are catching the eye of spectators – the Suryakiran team that performs with nine Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJTs), and the Sarang team that flies four Dhruv helicopters.


In addition to these, the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), built by HAL, screams through the skies several times each day in aerobatics displays, flaunting its performance to possible customers.


The real audience for the Tejas displays, however, is far from Dubai. It is in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Cairo (Egypt) -- three countries that have evinced interest in the Indian light fighter.


The most promising potential customer is the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), which has tendered to buy 18 light fighters with an option for 18 more. This would be an inviting first export order for the Tejas.


According to the Malaysian news media, the other contestants in the fray are: Russia’s MiG-35, China’s Catic, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50, Turkey Aerospace industries (TAI) Hürjet, and Italy’s Leonardo with the M-346.


Also potentially in the fray is the Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 Thunder.


The RMAF’s tender requirements includes mid-air refueling, beyond-visual-range (BVR) combat and supersonic flight capabilities. Manufacture must be localised in Malaysia to the extent of 30 per cent of the aircraft and delivery must begin within 36 months of the contract. 


Speaking to Business Standard, HAL chief, R Madhavan said that HAL met almost every one of the RMAF’s requirements. “The Tejas is technically ahead of the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 and the other competitors. One or two of the Malaysian parameters that we do not meet can be easily engineered. For example, we can quickly add on the on-board oxygen generating system (OBOGS) they have specified,” said Madhavan.


The other competitors are not meeting many of the Malaysian requirements, says the HAL chief. The Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 does not have the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that is specified; and its mid-air refueling capability is still being tested.


Turkey does not yet have a flying aircraft, while the Malaysian tender specifies that the fighter offered must have already flown. The Chinese fighter is likely to be treated warily, given Beijing’s political assertiveness in the region.


HAL has offered the RMAF the sophisticated Tejas Mark 1A version of the fighter, which comes with mid-air refueling, an AESA radar, electronic warfare (EW) capability and the ability to fire BVR missiles.


Price is an important issue for the RMAF, which is expecting to pay in the region of $900 million for 18 fighters, or $50 million per fighter. It is understood that the Tejas is being offered at that price.


The Korean fighter is understood to be slightly more expensive than the Tejas and the Russian MiG-35 dramatically so. Meanwhile, the Chinese are believed to have slashed the price of the JF-17 by about 30 per cent, a loss it will bear in order to capture the market.


While the contest is believed to be between the South Korean, Chinese-Pakistani and Tejas fighters, there is a perception that the Malaysians will prefer not to buy a Chinese fighter, given Kuala Lumpur’s wariness after recent Chinese incursions into disputed waters in the South China Sea.


Argentine interest in Tejas


The Tejas is also on the radar of Buenos Aires, with Argentina in the market for 12 light fighters. HAL is pursuing the case, but there is a UK embargo – dating back to the Falklands War -- on the supply of British defence equipment to Argentina. 


Argentina is believed to have gotten only two offers: one from the Chinese and a Letter of Intention from HAL to participate in the tender. This too appears to have become a JF-17 versus Tejas contest.


HAL will be required to replace several systems and sub-systems on the Tejas that are supplied by UK firms such as BAE Systems, Cobham and Martin-Baker. 


“We will have to replace more than 50 systems and sub-systems -- such as the Martin-Baker ejection seat. In addition, we will have to test and certify the replacements we fit. There will be a cost attached with this,” says Madhavan.


HAL is working out the costs and hopes to inform Argentine before the end of November.


Interest from Egypt


Another reason for fielding the Tejas in the Dubai Air Show is to test the waters in West Asia. One possibility is Egypt, but that will require weaning Cairo off US platforms, which Washington has long supplied at subsidized rates. 


“We are going to Egypt for that reason. The idea is to manufacture the Tejas there by setting up a factory for them over there,” says the HAL chief. 

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