Revamped Tejas Mark 1A fighters ready for take-off: First batch of 16 to enter IAF service this year - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 27 May 2024

Revamped Tejas Mark 1A fighters ready for take-off: First batch of 16 to enter IAF service this year

Part 1 of a 4-part series: “Soaring Tejas”


With the order for Tejas Mark 1 fighters nearly fulfilled, attention turns to meeting the Tejas Mark 1A specifications



By Ajai Shukla

HAL, Bengaluru

Business Standard, 28th May 24


With the Indian Air Force (IAF) having placed a Rs 48,000 crore order for 83 indigenous Tejas Mark-1A light combat aircraft (LCA) on Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in February 2021, the Bengaluru-headquartered aerospace manufacturer is gearing up to deliver the first improved variant of the fighter this year.


With the first Tejas Mark 1A fighter having successfully test-flown in March, HAL’s chief says the first delivery would be completed “in the next few months.” Thereafter, the production of 180 Tejas Mark 1A fighters and successive variants would generate the bulk of HAL’s income for the foreseeable future.


“That is our priority. The build of the aircraft has started and we will ensure that 16 Tejas Mark 1A aircraft are delivered in this financial year, i.e. before March 31, 2025,” says HAL Chairman and Managing Director, CB Ananthakrishnan.


Business Standard was granted an exclusive visit to HAL – the country’s biggest defence public sector undertaking (DPSU).


HAL has almost completed delivery of its first two IAF orders of 40 Tejas Mark 1 fighters. Nine Mark 1s were left to be delivered this year, of which five twin-seat trainers have been delivered and the remaining four will follow, said Ananthakrishnan.


Meanwhile, Ananthakrishnan says HAL is completing the integration of five major upgrades to the Tejas Mark 1, which will grant it the designation of Mark 1A. 


Two of the five major improvements, which are practically complete, are to the airborne radar and the electronic warfare (EW) suite.


The Tejas Mark 1’s earlier, manually scanned array radar has been replaced by a far more capable AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar that makes the Mark 1A far more capable and versatile in air-to-ground and air-to-air combat.


The second improvement to the Tejas Mark 1 involves the integration of new, self-protection jammers, and mission computers.


Backing up these improved avionics are new-generation, beyond visual range, air-to-air missiles. Most notably they include the indigenous Astra missile and the Advanced, Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), supplied by the European missile-maker, MBDA. 


Transforming the Tejas Mark 1 into the improved Mark 1A is also the integration of air-to-air refuelling across the fleet, which will greatly enhance the combat range of the Mark 1A.


“The mid-air-refuelling probes have been fitted. The drogue lights and final testing has to be done and it has to be demonstrated. This is being done together for the entire fleet of Tejas fighters as a part of the contract for the second batch of 20 fighters,” says Ananthakrishnan.


Finally, the Tejas cockpit has been tailored to the size and shape of 90 per cent of IAF pilots. “We have completely met the anthropometric requirements for the LCA, which requires the cockpit to be suitable for the 5-95 percentile of pilots,” said the HAL chief.


Despite all these modifications, the Tejas Mark 1A will require further modifications and testing before it is in full operational mode. 


“Some integrations involving the fighter’s ordnance will be required, such as the firing of twin ASRAAM missiles. We have discussed the minimum deliverable configuration with the IAF so that they can start flying and suggest improvements and modifications,” said the HAL chief.


“We will be able to address those issues and deliver the 16 aircraft in 2024-25 as fully configured aircraft that the air force can use,” he said.


So far, the two Tejas Mark 1 squadrons currently in service have been based by the IAF in Sulur, near the south Indian city of Coimbatore. As the IAF brings into service more squadrons of Tejas fighters, especially the more capable Tejas Mark 1A and Mark 2, its doctrines and strategies will evolve making it likely that it be deployed to the Chinese and Pakistani borders.


Next: Part 2:  The Tejas Mark 1A has already been ordered in large numbers. In addition to the 83 already ordered, and 97 more being processed, the Tejas Mark 1A will require an enhanced assembly line.

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