New Delhi: Amid a slump in India’s bilateral ties with Malaysia, state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is eyeing the possibility of selling its Tejas fighter jet to the south-east Asian country, ThePrint has learnt.
The Malaysian Air Force has shortlisted the Indian jet as a contender for the contract of its 36 new Light Combat Aircraft. If the deal goes through, it will be HAL’s first foreign sale.
While Malaysia has shown interest in the Tejas in the past too, its air force is now likely to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the new contract next year, defence sources told ThePrint.
The main contenders against the Tejas include China-Pakistan’s JF-17, South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle, Russian YAK-130 and the BAE Systems’ armed Hawk. The Swedish Gripen, which is in the race for India’s proposal to buy 114 medium multi-role combat aircraft under the Make in India initiative, is also in contention.
Sources said HAL will respond to the RFP as and when it’s issued to them. Asked what version of the Tejas they will be pitching for, the sources said the proposal will depend on the Malaysian Air Force’s requirements.
A Malaysian team had visited the HAL headquarters in September-end and interacted with officials on the Tejas project.
The diplomatic hurdle
HAL’s Tejas sale could get affected by the deteriorating diplomatic relations between India and Malaysia over the Kashmir issue.
It was reported last month that India, the world’s top palm oil consumer, was shunning purchases from Malaysia, the second largest producer, after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticised the Modi government’s Kashmir policy, sparking the latest trade spat in the region.
In April this year, Malaysian defence minister Mohamad Sabu had said the country was negotiating with several countries to acquire military assets through barter trade.
Avionics and weaponry edge
What works in favour of HAL’s Tejas LCA is that it has better avionics and weapon system than other fighter jets in the fray for the Malaysian Air Force contract, the sources said.
Tejas can be integrated with both Russia and Western weapons and this would be hugely beneficial to Malaysia which otherwise uses both Sukhoi and F/A-18 Hornets, added the sources. Tejas’s use of the GE F404 engine which is also used by the F/A-18s is another positive factor.
In March, Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief General Datuk Seri Affendi Buang had said that the new LCA requirements would enable the air force to keep up with advanced technology and capability.
‘No impact on IAF delivery’
HAL sources sought to allay the fears that any possible deal with a foreign country would impact the Tejas delivery schedule to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The production of Tejas with Final Operational Clearance (FOC) will start this month. While the jet’s annual production rate currently is of eight aircraft per year, all arrangements have been done to scale it up to 16, said the sources.
“But we are waiting for the IAF to sign the contract for 83 Tejas Mark 1-A,” said a source who didn’t wish to be named.
The IAF is expected to place an order for 83 Mark 1A aircraft soon. This will be in addition to the 40 LCAs already ordered in two batches — 20 each in the Initial Operational Clearance configuration and the FOC configuration.