SOURCE: IDRW.ORG TEAM
The Indian Navy, Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) program is currently undergoing significant design modifications, primarily aimed at aligning it with the Indian Navy’s requirements for a fifth generation “minus,” that is just shy of being classified as 5th gen. While these developments are well underway, it has reignited a pertinent debate within the defense circles of why the Indian Air Force (IAF) is not considering procuring an Air Force variant of the TEDBF. This debate has raised questions about potentially saving time and cost for the nation, sparing the Exchequer from the considerable financial strain required to fund foreign exchange reserves worth nearly $20 billion.
The TEDBF program, led by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), was initially intended to cater to the Navy’s need for a 26-ton Medium class deck-based fighter jet. ADA went a step further by offering to develop an Air Force variant, sans naval landing gears and featuring a hardened rear fuselage, aptly named ORCA. The proposed ORCA variant, boasting a maximum takeoff weight of approximately 23.5 tons, could have placed it in the same league as the formidable Rafale fighter jet. This proposed design, which featured more potent engines and a near-stealth configuration, had the potential to be a game-changer.
However, the IAF did not express keen interest in adopting another platform in the same weight class, citing its existing commitments and priorities. Consequently, the plans for the ORCA variant failed to materialize. Delays in the MRFA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) tender have further complicated the situation. The potential cost of procuring 114 fighter jets from a foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) at an estimated $20 billion has raised questions about the efficiency and expediency of the entire process.
Proponents of the ORCA variant argue that the substantial investment of nearly 13,000-14,000 crores required to develop the TEDBF could have been more efficiently utilized by procuring a modified version of the same aircraft for the IAF. Such a move would not only have addressed the urgent need for aircraft but also saved considerable funds earmarked for the MRFA deal.
While the TEDBF program is in advanced stages of development, its first flight, once predicted for 2026, is likely to be deferred to 2028. Additionally, it may take an additional five years before the aircraft is ready for production, potentially making it too late for the IAF. The IAF anticipates the induction of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and Tejas Mk2 fighter jets during this period. Therefore, time is of the essence, with the MRFA deal needing to be concluded within the next three years.
As programs like the AMCA, Tejas Mk2, and TEDBF gain momentum, the necessity to procure fighter jets from foreign OEMs may dwindle rapidly. This situation underscores the need for strategic decisions and expeditious actions, as India seeks to bolster its defense capabilities and meet the evolving requirements of its armed forces.
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