Wednesday, 23 November, 2022
HomeOpinionNewsmaker of the WeekTejas, a tale of India’s nascent aerospace system with a happy ending

Tejas, a tale of India’s nascent aerospace system with a happy ending

It was in 1983 when India rolled out the project to build a new light combat aircraft as a replacement for Russian MiG 21s, which continue to fly despite being obsolete.

Text Size:

In a boost to India’s fledgling domestic aerospace ecosystem, the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the Rs 48,000-crore deal for 83 Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, which included 73 Mark 1A versions, on 13 January.

The first big order to the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for Tejas, which will become the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the coming years, is a landmark in the aircraft’s journey of over three and a half decades.

It is a culmination of India’s effort to build a frontline fighter aircraft, which began in the 1950s. It was in 1961 that HAL’s HF-24 Marut, designed by Kurt Tank, the German aeronautical engineer who built the Luftwaffe aircraft in World War II, first flew.

And that’s why Tejas is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

It was in 1983 when the government of India rolled out the project to build a new LCA as a replacement for the Russian MiG 21s, which continue to fly despite the fleet being obsolete.

The plan was to release the first aircraft by 1994. However, the first prototype of LCA flew only in 2001 — 18 years after the project started.

It was then that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee christened the LCA as the Tejas.

One of the primary reasons for delay was the fact that India wanted to develop its own jet engine, something which it has not been able to do even today.

As ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta explained, in the 1970s and the ’80s, especially after the 1974 Pokhran nuclear tests, India was caught in a terrible environment of technology denial.

The West, particularly America, denied India access to any ‘sensitive technology’. Moreover, the US imposed sanctions after India conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998.

In December 2013, the Tejas got Initial Operational Clearance and in 2019, the IAF was given the first aircraft with Final Operational Clearance.

Also read: What the Tejas deal means for IAF, and India’s chequered history with indigenous fighters

How different is Tejas Mk 1A

The new aircraft comes with four major capabilities over the current variant of LCA, which is known as the Tejas Mk 1.

These improvements include mid-air refuelling, enhancing the combat ability, and maintainability improvements through incorporation of Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Electronic Warfare (EW) suite and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile capabilities.

The aircraft will give a big boost to the domestic aviation industry since it involves extensive cooperation between the private industry and the HAL.

The front fuselage of the latest version of the Tejas will be built by Dynamatic Technologies, while the middle section has been outsourced to Hyderabad-based VEM Technologies, and the rear section to Alpha Design Technologies, Bengaluru. The wings for Tejas Mk 1A will be manufactured by Larsen and Toubro.

There are over 70 Indian suppliers involved in manufacturing various parts of the aircraft.

In all, about 500 Indian companies, including MSMEs, will be working with HAL in this deal for 83 new Tejas.

Also read: As Tejas begins flying near Pakistan border, IAF & HAL join hands to boost LCA availability

Capabilities and future plans

The new aircraft has inbuilt capability to fire Beyond Visual Range missiles such as Derby missile and is already integrated on the current Tejas itself.

Indigenously developed BVR missile (ASTRA Mk 1) will also be integrated into the Mk 1A, which will be a weapon of choice of the IAF, HAL officials said. This weapon will give an edge to LCA Tejas over its contemporaries such as the Chinese-Pakistan joint venture JF 17 in BVR warfare.

With the introduction of podded Self-Protection Jammer (SPJ) and AESA radar in LCA Mk 1A, the survivability of the aircraft gets further enhanced.

The AESA radar is capable of tracking 16 targets at a time in air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea modes.

The IAF is also looking at procuring the next generation of Tejas, which will be known as Tejas Mk 2.

However, instead of being an LCA, it would be in the medium weight category.

The Aeronautical Development Agency, a lab of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is working with the HAL to develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft called the Advanced Medium Combat Fighter Aircraft (AMCA).

The contract for Tejas is the best development for the Indian defence industry. The HAL and the ADA should ensure timebound delivery as well as manufacturing of future versions as per schedule.

This is because indigenous defence systems are the way forward for strategic independence.

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Rather than wasting precious funds on expensive Rafales , if those funds had all been put in Tejas, IAF would have had more operational Tejas than PAF has Jf 17………..unfortunately now where as PAF has about 140 operational JF 17 the 5 times bigger IAF has about 20 + Tejas in flying condition. As Feb 27th air battle showed JF 17 in combination with F 16 cannot be taken lightly !!!


    I disagree about how the Mk1A is to be made and I consider the Mk2 will be a totally dumb solution.
    Remember that Dassault was asked to propose solutions to improve Tejas…. And came with these solutions sooner than August 2017…
    In the wake of the offset, Safran created a 98kN version of the M88 engine….
    The point is that this engine takes 1.1m³ less room than the GE F404 in Tejas Mk1/1A while being 138kg lighter… If mounted into Tejas Mk1/1A, while being as powerful as the F414 planned for Tejas Mk2, it leaves enough room to stuff as much internal fuel as in a Mirage-2000 or F-16… The point in creating the Mk2 is that Tejas Mk1/1A lacks thrust and internal fuel, but the solution HAL+ARDC come with is patterned on the Gripen-E : stretching the airframe for F414+fuel=>prototype=> No Mk.2 before 2032… M88/98kN is already validated by DRDO. Dassault even proposed internal mods allowing, at the same time you fit M88 and more fuel, you cut 500kg in empty weight and the airframe can take 11G+…

    Another point : exporting Tejas requires USA’s approval and F414 is fully built in the USA… French engine maker Safran is in JV with HAL for decades… They built most of Jaguars’ engines together. The M88 can be made in India and India will be able to export Tejas without US’ blessing! It would simplify logistics as Rafale uses the M88 too…. and… Using an aircraft with F414 costs $12,000/hour/engine… Using M88 costs $5,000-6,000/hour/engine…. Using the future Mk.2 would cost about $6M/year, more than a Rafale. If the M88/98kN is used, if Rafale does the job of three F-16s, Tejas will do the job of two F-16s for $3M/yea/unit while F-16 costs $11.4 millions/year!
    The F414 in intensive use can make 4 mission/24h… M88 in normal use : 5-6 missions. In intensive use : 10-11 missions…
    So you end with the same thrust as a 8t Gripen-E or 7.8t Mirage-2000-9 while weighting 6,1t . Gripen-E has 5.3t payload, Mirage-2000-9 has 6.8t payload

    Add to this, Thales came with a standalone version of SPECTRA’s active stealth for Tejas,
    As well as a RBE2/AA radar modified to fit in Tejas nose, so a more poweful radar than Tejas Mk1A’s Elta EL/M-2052 and it’ll make it easy to integrate the deadly Meteor missile. As we are, OSF-IT is a 2nd gen QWIP so Tejas would detect a F-22 from further than the Meteor’s max range…
    Dassault estimates a cost per unit of $45M/unit, it’s $6M than Tejas Mk1/1A but since you spare $2-3M a year in cost of use, after 2-3 years, the Tejas/M88 is cheaper than Mk1A…
    I took a look at how the armed forces in Asia+Oceania are geared and funded as well as the GDPs… Well,, considering some well known country acts with more and more bellicosity, well, there is a need as well as the potential economics for … more than 2000 Tejas in the Indo-Pacific region, thanks to the low cost of use of a single engined aircraft with M88, even some countries with no jet fighters can sustain a significant fleet, e.g. the Philippines, New-Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan or Indonesia can absolutely afford 8 squadrons…
    Since Dassault now is also an Indian company, you cab even propose Super-Tejas+Rafale

    You have to understand that the costs of use of both MiG-29 and Su-30MKI are tremendous : a MiG-29 costs $13 millions a year while Su-30 is over 15 millions, their engines need frequent overhauls and you’re happy when they reach 3000 hours before having to trash them… Actually, the biggest in costs of use comes from the engines and, if the M88 is smaller than a GE F404/414, it’s also smaller than the MiG-29’s Klimov RD-33… and M88/91kN or 98kN are a little more powerful than RD-33… Bingo, M88 can reduce the cost of use of MiG-29, as well as its pretty short range by installing it together with additional fuel tanks on a cradle that will fit into MiG-29! The cost of use of MiG-29 can be reduced to $10-12k/hour=$4.8-5.7M/year instead of $13M.
    This means $619.2-735.3 millions a year instead of $1.677 billion a year for the fleet of 129 MiG-29

    Then, the Saturn AL-31FP on Su-30MKI has a 122.6kN wet thrust for 90cm intake diameter and 128cm exhaust diameter… The M88 can be delivered in any power up to 115kN within 18 months after the order, slightly less, but also… M88 weights 623kg less than an AL-31F…. And, although no more on catalogue, Safran used to propose a vectored thrust option for M88, just like the Su-30MKI has! It’d likely cost $12-15k/h due to bigger thrust, nevertheless, Su-13MKI would end cheaper to use than a A-10 ($16.5k/h) or F-16 ($23k/h), not as expensive as a F-15E ($32k/h) or Typhoon ($40k/h) ($15.36-19.2M/year)
    This means $1.572-2097 millions a year instead of $4.193-5.242 billion a year for the fleet of 273 Su-30MKI

    M88/98kN can also reduce the hourly cost of Mirage-2000 to $6k/h => $2.88M annual cost (same as improved Tejas) => $130M for the M-2k fleet.
    A squadron of 18 Tejas/M88-98kN would yearly cost the quarter of a MG-29 one with a spending of $54M and would have performance on par with MiG-35 and Mirage-2000-9 (UAE version with 6.8t payload), the operational capability of 2.25 F-16 and stealth+ant-stealth measures allowing to challenge J-20, FC-31, F-35 or F-22!!!!
    For sure, it wouldn’t have the capabilities in rabnge or payload a Rafale brings but would definitively ruin most of grim projects. With a Make in India Rafale, India may even sell Super-Tejas+Rafale packages, then providing full defensive+offensive capabilities, Rafale is even technically capable to carry the huge BrahMos, even submarines…
    India can do REALLY BIG and become a major player, just by taking the right decisions.
    Moreover, the French are very supportive since they don’t want an unipolar world as in US or Chinese POV, and they’re OK for a non zero-sum game. Time to start thinking out of the box : if such a Tejas can be provided at $45M/unit, it can end with 200-300 sales a year and by 2030, more than 2000 Tejas into the Indo-Asia-Pacific area, each of them able to challenge a full PLAAF/PLANAF squadron. 180 Tejas can carry more Meteor BVRAAMs than there are combat aircraft in PLAAF+PLANAF in a single flight with an annual cost of use of $540 millions. At $1.62 billion for 2 squadrons, even the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh or New-Zealand can consider inducting 10 squadrons into 5 years then afford to use them for decades….
    WAKE UP!

  3. Tejas is an antique airframe of 1984 specs contracted to France De-Assault. Its not optimized for performance. With dozens of global vendors to stitch up, its a mixture of non optimized non integrated platform. Cost is extremely high for a LCA, double of F16, 1.5 of SU30MKI that are both much better.

    It will not able to match 30yrs younger PAF JF17 that was designed by Col Yang Wei, who also designed J20. He was given task to make one that is optimized specifically for PAF vs India. Low cost, highly equipped with BVR PL10 & 15, in module that can be upgraded.

    Moreover JF17 already in mass production and operational with progress to Blk3. Whereas Tejas is still not in production, it may take another 5~10yrs per India speed. By then its like another MiG21, completely obsolete and a liability that bleed IAF resources.

    The price tag of Tejas can buy Rafael or F35.

    • You obviously don’t know about the subject: there is no company named “De-Assault” in France, it’s Dassault. The Tejas design was dev’d in parallel to the Rafale and the SOKO Novi-Avon by them and it’s not more antique than the F-22 design which is contemporary! F-15, F-16 and Su-30 are much older designs.
      JF-17 reuses the airframe of MiG-21, some elements from the J-8 and stretched wings/tail from F-16. As for the J-20 taking elements from MiG-1.44 and F-35, col Yang Wei designed nothing, he does Frankenstein aircraft and everybody knowing aviation knows that all attempts at making Frankensteins taking elements from several aircraft ended with fiascos see Rockwell XFV-12.
      BTW, JF-17 block.3 will have the same AESA radar as J-10C, and J-10C was ridiculed by Gripen-C during drills in Thailand, despite Gripen-C only has a PESA radar…
      Tejas Mk1 costs $23 millions. Mk1A will cost $39M. JF-17 block2 costs $32-33M and block3 will surely be more expensive.
      It’s up to India to listen to Dassault’s advising and make Tejas a mini-Rafale that can, jut like its elder brother, ravage F-22, J-20, FC-31, Su-57, Su-35, F-35, J-10C, J-11D, J-15, J-16, Typhoon, etc…

  4. TEJAS Atmanirbhar approval is a proud moment for INDIA; SIMILAR TO THE BIGGEST vaccine inoculation drive launched today across India against COVID19 or WUHAN PANDEMIC VIRUS.

    • More than Pm modi. It is late shri parikkar who deserves the credit.
      After Antony nearly killed the project with his apathy and neglect. It was parikkar who made this a reality. Would’ve been great if he lived to see this deal.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular