Bolstering the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, India is all set to begin full-scale production of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas by 2017. “As per my primary report, it is appreciated by other countries who are interested… By next year, we are starting full-scale production,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said recently.
Tejas has been in the making for over three decades. It is taking part in the ongoing Bahrain International Air show. India aims to explore potential export opportunities through participation in the event. The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is a single-engine, light-weight, highly agile, multi-role supersonic fighter plane. Besides, it is also a 4.5 generation aircraft with supersonic capability at all altitudes.
As the Indian Air Force plans to acquire 120 Tejas aircraft, it plans to have some major modifications for 100 of them. The IAF has asked for better radar, new electronic warfare suit, refueling capacity and improved missiles. The training of IAF pilots on LCA has already commenced.
A naval version of Tejas has also been developed by DRDO. However, the navy has been seeking a more powerful engine, besides other changes. Six aircraft will be made this year and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will subsequently scale it up to eight and 16 aircraft per year from 2017. It is estimated that 20 aircraft will be built by 2017-2018. By 2018, the Navy plans to make the first squadron of the aircraft.
Initiated in 1983 by the Indira Gandhi government to replace the ageing MiG-21s planes in IAF’s combat fleet, the LCA programme has missed several deadlines due to various reasons. With India focusing on promoting Tejas, it is expected to face competition from Pakistan’s JF 17. The JF 17 has been built in collaboration with China.
The JF 17 has already been placed in the open market. This led to speculation that one of the Asian countries had evinced interest in the aircraft. During Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to Sri Lanka, it was speculated that Sri Lanka would be interested in the aircraft. However, Islamabad denied these reports.
Make in India
US, Russia, Israel and France have all been seeking to make India as their major defence and space manufacturing hub. By manufacturing indigenous LCA in India, the government’s ‘Make in India’ programme is set to get the required thrust it needs. Defence manufacturing is being viewed as the key to making ‘Make in India’a success. Manufacturing Tejas in India would make it more feasible for India apart from strengthening its squadrons.
The government has awarded 56 defence manufacturing permits to private sector entities since it came to power in May 2014. The government had increased the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limit to 49 percent, even up to 100 percent in some cases, in India’s defence sector.
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