SOURCE: Satyajeet Kumar/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) till a few months ago had nothing much to do after Government of India and Indian Air Force became non-committal on the development of a stretched version of LCA-Tejas MK-2 post-Aero India 2017 held earlier this year.
At Aero India 2017 ADA has shown scale models of the LCA-Tejas MK-2 and confirmed that the final design of the new aircraft will be frozen soon but rise of upgraded Tejas MK-1A promoted by HAL and IAF’s keen interest to acquire Single-engined fighter jet in a separate tender meant LCA-Tejas MK-2 project took backseat and almost on the verge of been shelved .
Single-engined fighter jet tender saw the participation of Swedish Saab Gripen-NG and American Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70. The government of India was very much keen on acquiring cheaper 114 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 for Indian Air Force but off lately IAF Chief and other senior officials have been seen praising and favouring Saab Gripen-NG instead.
Purchasing more expensive Saab Gripen-NG which is a similar class to Tejas-MK2 has not gone well with National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Kumar Doval and few key people in Prime Minister’s office (PMO). While IAF still insists that purchase of Single-engined fighter jet is need of the hour for the force which is facing acute shortage of aircrafts due to shoddy tendering and lack of new purchases in last two decades, there is also growing chorus within Government to back purchase of 105 units of Tejas-MK2 fighter jets instead for $15 billion.
India is yet to issue Request for Proposal (RFP) from the Saab and Lockheed Martin even though it is pretty much clear now that no new contender is likely to enter tender process due to lack of competition in the Single-engined fighter class. the deliberate delay in issue for RFP is seen as part of the second round of internal deliberations to come up with other alternatives.
IAF’s has not rejected proposed Tejas-MK2 but is adamant that new aircrafts meet a certain level of operational requirements and specification which might see Tejas-MK2 lacking behind in certain areas. According to Defence analysts following LCA-Tejas project for a long time now, ADA might be asked to carry out technical review along with consultation with IAF to gauge if Tejas-MK2 can become reality while also meeting requirements set by IAF.
While the Final design of Tejas-MK2 was never frozen, it is believed that ADA may take it back to the drawing board to make changes in the aircrafts to meet IAF’s Air Staff Requirements. Defence analysts believe ADA can carry out minor performance improvements in the design within 2-3 years if required and can also come with further design improvements if IAF and ADA can meet midway.
By mid-2018 we will have a clear picture if India decides to go ahead with the purchase of Single-engined fighter jet from a foreign vendor or decides to backs Tejas-MK2 project with great private sector participation to fasten up the project. With India’s AMCA 5th Generation fighter jet project failed to go official even in 2017, now we can safely assume that AMCA will not enter production by 2035 and with LCA-Tejas MK1A to go into production by 2021, there is an opportunity for India to develop Tejas-MK2.