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SOURCE: NARAYAN APTE/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

Russia’s first single-engine supersonic low observable light tactical fighter aircraft was unveiled at the MAKS show by Rostec that identifies several countries by name including India, Argentina, and Vietnam, as well as some elements suggestive of Middle Eastern states as its potential export customers. Rostec also confirmed that what was unveiled was an actual prototype and not a mock-up and the first flight has been planned for 2023. Rostec presentation also confirmed that stealth at a much lower price point is the ultimate goal of the company and many takers will do emerge even when the flyaway unit cost of the F-35A has now fallen under $80 million but it has failed to keep its operating cost per hour same as that of the legacy type of the F-16, EA-18G, and F-15E.

Indian Air Force (IAF) back home has committed to procure as much as 170-201 units of the Tejas Mk-II fighter jet that will have also have its first flight sometime in 2023 and will enter production in 2027-28 if HAL and other DRDO associate labs can stick to the schedule-timeline that has been shared by the company. Back home many have criticized need for a 4.5+ Gen fighter aircraft when India can join 5th gen bandwagon by fast tracking its AMCA program. IAF Chief in past has hinted that this number mutually agreed with the DRDO and IAF verbally might change if the aircraft is not able to stick to the schedule, as IAF’s fighter fleet already is at its lowest point and will further slide due to retirements of Mig-21s by 2024, IAF chief has hinted that it will be open to procuring fighter jets from elsewhere to make up the number if indigenous programs face delays.

Indian Air Force is closely monitoring both AMCA and Tejas Mk-II program with later being developed to replace main three fighter types in the airforce starting with Jaguar, Mig-29 fleet and post 2030 will be also replacing the Mirage-2000 fleet. IAF has set the benchmark for the Tejas Mk-II program that it needs to be better than the upgraded Mirage-2000 that is true to be used as a Multi-role aircraft. HAL to meet the high requirements of 170-200 jets will not only need to upscale its present rate of the production line but also need to revise its earlier plan to use the present Tejas Mk1A production line when it is vacated after its production run is over in 2028 to be replaced by the Tejas Mk-II program but also needs to invest in the third production line to ramp up its production to 24 jets per annum.

Russians with their Light Tactical Aircraft (LTA) aircraft will target India’s Tejas Mk-II program that is actually in the same class of under 20tons aircraft. Tejas Mk-II is not designed to be a low observable aircraft but ADA designers have confirmed that it will have a lower Radar cross-section than its predecessor Tejas Mk1A even after being a bigger aircraft. HAL and DRDO not only need to meet various deadlines for the program but also ensure that the 5th generation AMCA program also stays as per schedule to keep Russian checkmate from harming its local fighter programs in the long run.

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