Tejas Mk1A Deal – Update so far
If you have been in the business of defence news lately, you would know that there has been quite a buzz going on with the deal between IAF & HAL of purchasing 83 units of Tejas Mk1A. There have been two sects, one which is accusing HAL of poor delivery schedules of the Tejas Mk1 FOC variant which has caused the delay in signing the Tejas Mk1A deal & the other which sympathises with HAL & attributes the delay to some other causes.
Before discussing both these issues, understand the Tejas Mk1A aircraft & its reason for existence. The initial variant of Tejas (Mk1) is on order with IAF which is committed to buy 40 units of the aircraft in two squadrons, No 18 Squadron (Flying Bullets) & No 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers). Now even though the IAF has placed a firm order, the organisation was not fully satisfied with the aircraft’s performance & cited some deficiencies like lack of electronic warfare capabilities, performance shortcomings of radar warning receiver or missile approach warning system, limited internal fuel capacity, non-compliance of fuel system protection, inadequate forward-facing pilot protection, and performance shortfalls due to under-powered engine. These are serious operational shortfalls but the IAF agreed to accept the initial 40 units of Tejas aircraft with some deficiencies just to keep the programme going.
All these issues will be fully resolved in the Mk2 variant or the MWF (Medium Weight Fighter) which is going to be an extensively redesigned aircraft with a higher thrust engine, redesigned air intakes & an elongated length. But this redesigning, prototyping & validation was going to take a long time, so IAF & HAL decided to agree upon an interim variant between the Tejas Mk1 & Mk2 & called it the “Mk1A”. This variant will be based on the same Mk1 Airframe but will have most shortcomings solved except the one pertaining to changes required in the airframe.
The Mk1A will be a stop-gap measure that will be quickly developed in the existing airframe. This will keep the production running till the Tejas Mk2 (MWF) is ready for production.
The deal for the Mk1A was supposed to be signed in mid-2020, thanks to the bureaucratic delays & time consuming paperwork, the signing date got postponed to the end of 2020. As we write this article, it is 2021 & the deal is yet to be signed. Now a lot of people who understand defence procurement are reasoning this with conjunction to the delay of Tejas Mk1 FOC deliveries to the No. 18 Squadron of IAF. The squadron currently has one fighter, there are few on flight trials & few more on final assembly. With the delivery schedules, HAL was supposed to deliver 6 aircraft as on date but it delivered 1, the rest being in flight trails or final assembly. The reason for this delay can be attributed to the Covid-19 lockdown which caused a halt in the production & operations of HAL as well as numerous SMSEs which are a supplier to HAL. This group of people believe that IAF is retaliating by making a deliberate delay in signing the order because their previous order is not delivered on time.
While we saw the facts with a neutral standpoint with no emotional favouritism to HAL or IAF, we discovered some perspective. IAF is in agreement of purchasing the aircraft on an ASAP basis. The Air Chief is a part of the DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) which deals with defence procurement. The DAC is headed by Defence Minister & it has already given the principal approval for the purchase of the 83 Tejas Mk1A aircraft & the paperwork is currently with the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which is headed directly by the Prime Minister. The CCS meeting is due this month (January 2021) & it won’t be a surprise if the deal is signed this month.
Though it is important to note that the delay in deal signing is not causing any delay in production as HAL is currently busy with the production of Tejas Mk1 FOC variant which will continue till the end of 2021. After that, the first batch of 16 aircraft i.e Tejas Mk1 IOC will be upgraded to FOC standards. Post that the 8 twin seat aircraft will be assembled & by this time it’ll already be 2023 when the order of 83 Tejas Mk1A will be processed to put into production. The production run will continue to 2027-28.
Having said all this we also believe that the production rate at HAL has to be expedited & the procurement process has to be made more agile by cutting the bureaucratic wastes which will allow both HAL & IAF to stick to the timelines.
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