Defence

What the Tejas deal means for IAF, and India’s chequered history with indigenous fighters

By The Print

On Wednesday, the Narendra Modi government cleared the Rs 48,000-crore deal for 83 LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Tejas aircraft, which will see a greater collaboration between state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and private firms as part of ‘Make in India’.

Of these 83 aircraft, HAL will deliver 73 Tejas Mk 1A and 10 Tejas Mk 1 trainers by 2026. Tejas will only be the second indigenously built fighter aircraft in India’s history.

In episode 661 of ‘Cut The Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta talked about the Tejas aircraft along with India’s adventures and misadventures with indigenous fighter aircraft.

Tejas’ history
According to Gupta, “1983 was the first time when the Government of India cleared a project to build a new Light Combat Aircraft as a replacement for MiG 21s.” The first prototype of Tejas flew in 2001, 18 years after the project started.

In the 1970s and 80s, especially after the 1974 Pokhran nuclear tests, India was caught in a terrible environment of technology denial. The West, particularly America, denied India access to any ‘sensitive technology’, he noted.

While India’s strengths included the inherent ability in composite materials, design, math, and metallurgy, India lacked the know-how when it came to complex electronics, especially the engine. India’s project to build the engine ‘Kaveri’ for a Light Combat Aircraft failed, added Gupta.

With time, the “technology apartheid” ended and this helped India put together a complex fighter aircraft. Today, Tejas is 50 per cent indigenous. It has a GE American engine, an Israeli Elta radar, and British aerospace, avionics, and other engines.

The first prototype of Tejas flew in 2001. In December 2013, the first stages got Initial Operational Clearance. In 2019, the IAF was given the first aircraft with Final Operational Clearance.

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