What does it actually mean?
If you have been following AviatorsBuzz, you would be aware that we reported the update of Tejas Mk1A deal last week (read the article here ) & stated the possibility of signing of the deal in the month of January. A week later, here we are again with the deal signed & sealed last Wednesday (13 Jan) by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). This is a massive news as it is not only the next major fighter aircraft deal after the Rafale deal, it is also the biggest deal till date in terms of number of aircraft procured in a single contract.
Now why ordering 83 units of Tejas Mk1A is this a big deal for the IAF & country as a whole. We deep dived into the matter & analysed the positive consequences of this step.
Firstly, IAF operates 3 weight categories of combat aircraft. The heavy weight category in which the IAF operates the Su-30MKI in sufficient number of 272 units. This is more than many mainstream European Nations air force inventory numbers combined. In the Medium weight category, the IAF operates a combination of Rafale, MiG-29UPG & Mirage 2000 in several squadrons. 114 MRFA (Multi Role Fighter Aircraft) are under consideration for procurement too. The problem comes when we look at the lightweight fighter aircraft category. Right now, the IAF operates the vintage MiG-21 Bison aircraft which were due replacement a decade back. Along with it there are 2 squadrons of Tejas (40 aircraft) of which one is operational (16 aircraft). The IAF is lacking numbers in the light category fighters. Considering the fact that these are supposed to be the workhorse of the Air Force, the situation does not look good. Here comes this order of 83 Tejas Mk1A fighters to the rescue which will sustain the numbers of light fighters by replacing the Bisons & hence this order becomes so important especially at this time. This will make sure the IAF will have sufficient numbers in all the three categories of fighters.
Secondly whenever defence analysts talk about the Tejas production, it is concluded that the production rate of the aircraft is very less. At current state the HAL can deliver 8 airframes per year from the Tejas assembly line & 4 from The Kiran hangar, thus bringing the total to 12 aircraft per year. This is partly because the previous order of 40 aircraft was very less & ramping up the production for such a small order size is not economical. On the other hand IAF did not give orders in large numbers since the Mk1 variant of the aircraft fell short of meeting all the IAF’s stringent requirements. Thus, due to a small order size & lack of confidence of IAF on the aircraft, HAL couldn’t expand the production line. That issue of solved by two factors. Firstly placing an sizable order of 83 aircraft which makes capacity expansion an economically viable option & secondly granting INR 1,202 Crore to HAL from GOI for setting up the third production line which has a churn of 8 aircraft per year, thus bringing the dedicated capacity to 16 aircraft per annum & maximum annual capacity of 20 units.
HAL is not stopping there. By 2023 the Su-30MKI production line in HAL Nashik complex will run dry after completing the final order of the aircraft. HAL is planning to utilise this idle capacity to manufacture Tejas variants at the rate of 12 airframes per year which is the same rate at which the Su-30MKI was being produced. This brings the total production capacity of 28 aircraft per year, an ambitious number which might be realised if we get any export orders of the aircraft.
Thirdly, ordering an aircraft at such huge numbers show the confidence that IAF have bestowed on HAL. This kind of trust on indigenous equipment without compromising the capabilities speak volumes about how the future will be for Made in India products. Not only will this boost the mission of Atmanirbhar Bharat but will also establish an ecosystem for aviation market to thrive & grow in India. The more confidence IAF shows & the more indigenous aircraft they purchase, the more funds & experience flows into HAL & the more they invest in R&D which will result is better products in future. We can see this trend in Naval shipbuilding, Missiles & Radar systems where in defence forces completely rely on home grown products by DRDO & various Indian Shipyards & is completely self-reliant in the domain barring few exceptions.
Finally, huge deals like this not only benefit the OEM but also their suppliers. OEMs don’t manufacture all the parts up to component level. They rely on several suppliers for components, parts, sub-assemblies & even systems. The Tejas program has over 500 suppliers across the country which are mostly MSMEs. This order of 83 aircraft will make sure the production run continues for the next couple of years & these suppliers continue to be in business. Many of these suppliers, like Alpha Design Technology learn from the experience, develop themselves & evolve into a system level manufacturer from a part level manufacturer & this is a true measure of industrial growth. HAL & these suppliers involved in Tejas aircraft manufacturing, jointly employ more than 5000 people directly & over 50,000 indirectly. This job creation is a sustained effort which, over the years upskill the employees which in turn help them sustain in the market.
It can’t be said enough about the momentum that these indigenous deals build in order to strengthen the Indian defence products market. Thankfully, this is not where the road ends. In 2021, we might see few significant orders going to HAL like the LCH (Light Combat Helicopter), LUH (Light Utility Helicopter), TAPAS Drone etc.
This article talked about the consequences of the deal but as far as the capability of the product is concerned, we have a lot of things to say. In the next week’s edition, we’ll discuss about how the Tejas Mk1A fare against the baseline variant, the Tejas Mk1 FOC as well as against Pakistan’s JF-17 Block 3 fighter. We’ll see the flight characteristics, weapons payload & new systems that make the Mk1A a deadly asset for the IAF.
All the images used in the article belong to their respective owners and we do not claim rights. We are using them under this clause: Section 107 of the copyright act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.