After months of speculations, India has finally revealed a scaled model of its Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) which now comes with several additions from the baseline design carried forward from LCA-Tejas light class aircraft. 17.5-tonne aircraft clearly already is in the league called Medium-Class of fighter jets so the previous name of Tejas Mk-2 also has been dropped officially to avoid confusion and is also likely to get a new name too.

According to the engineers and scientist present at the Aero India 2019, MWF will make its first flight by end of 2023, yet many of the Defense analysts and retired air-force officials are quite optimists of the timeline declared by DRDO and ADA at the Airshow since MWF might look like an LCA externally but Internally is completely a new fighter aircraft and literally won’t be carrying forward anything from the baseline LCA in terms of technology into MWF.

MWF will be getting new AESA Radar, on-board oxygen-generating system, Internal advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite, larger Multi-functional displays, the upgraded digital flight control computer (DFCC), Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST). Missile Approach warning system (MAWS) and Higher thrust engines which makes it distinctively class apart from the baseline LCA-Tejas fighter jets.

Not to forget several changes to the air-frame itself from increased length and breadth of the air-frame to the addition of close coupled canards, changes to the wings to allow wingtip pylons and redesigned canopy position all will require extensive developmental flight trials which many now thing will take over 5 years even if MWF is able to have its first flight before end of 2023 which in fact is also a very tight deadline for the developing agencies.

Other than the details of the first fight in 2023, most of the senior officials of the ADA and DRDO have been tight-lipped to reveal when the aircraft will be ready for production but it seems that IAF and Developing agencies already have a tactical understanding between them and MWF is likely to replicate the Gripen E Developmental Model to keep it short and fast.

Gripen-E which made it first flight in mid of 2017 will start delivering initial batches of aircraft by end of this year to Brazil which is its launch export customer. In less than two and a half years, the programme has moved to the production stage. But the program is yet to achieve Initial operational capability which is only set for 2023 while the program continues to make good progress.

LCA-Tejas programme has thought us that chasing milestones like IOC and FOC which are not actively followed world over for the production or induction of a new aircraft, to begin with. MWF should not see a repeat of LCA-Tejas developmental regime which can seriously derail the program.

ADA plans to develop at least four pre-production MWF fighter aircraft which will be used to clear in-flight performance benchmarks and also to test new on-board equipment. Gripen E was able to achieve quick turnaround development timeline only because of tight schedule which was managed pretty well due to SAAB’s instance to make sure that most of the full spectrum flight software development which often is time-consuming was already developed before the first flight had happened so that with new addition of equipment over the course the program is not delayed .

Perfect coordination between software and hardware development team and a tighter developmental timeline along with few exemptions from the end user is only way MWF will come out in time and enter production by 2025-26. Delays, poor planning and running behind time-consuming milestones will only make sure that MWF will remain a perfect Mirage for the customer and the developers which they will keep chasing leading to substantial delays in the program.

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