Bangalore: The Indian Air Force (IAF) plans to acquire 80 more Tejas light combat aircraft with powerful engines similar to those used in Boeing Co.’s F-18 fighter jet and the Eurofighter.
Tejas, designed and developed by Aeronautical Development Agency, or ADA, is a home-grown fighter conceived initially to replace the ageing MiG fleet of the IAF.
Tejas is a single-engine supersonic fighter that has delta wings and no tail, and uses fly-by-wire technology that enables a pilot to control the plane electronically through on-board computers.
Tejas (above), the light combat aircraft built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, during a test flight in Bangalore
“It shows the confidence (of IAF) in our machine,” said P. S. Subramanyam, director of ADA, the fighter development agency of Defence Research and Development Organisation, or DRDO.
“There will be changes and more improvement (in them) than what we see now”, he promised.
So far, IAF has committed to buy 48 Tejas aircraft and has already placed orders for 28 of these. These planes, to be produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), would be powered by 404-IN 20 engines made by General Electric Co., but would fall short of the required thrust for the fighter in operational conditions.
An IAF spokesman, while declining to comment on the new requirement, said: “Our commitment to indigenization is (always) there.”
Tejas, which in Sanskrit means radiance, flew for the first time in January 2001 and is currently undergoing development trials. Since then, test pilots have flown nearly 900 sorties on nine Tejas aircraft, including an LSP-2 version that reached supersonic speed on its first flight on 16 June.
IAF expects to induct the first Tejas plane by 2011, when the aircraft achieves the so-called initial operational clearance, the minimum standards set for the plane.
Then the air force would further test the plane for what it calls a final operational clearance before these fighters are deployed.
Analysts say more orders for the home-grown plane would boost India’s aerospace industry, which has till now been a licensed manufacturer of foreign planes.
“Our own aerospace industry should have the preference. The product (Tejas) will mature as they use more planes,” said Air Marshal (Retd) B.K. Pandey, a former head of the IAF’s training command here.
Another former IAF official, who did not want to be named, citing a new rule that bans former officials from talking about sensitive projects, said the air force is going for an option that could be quicker than wait for the 126 multi-role jets, for which it has floated a global tender.
India plans to buy 126 multi-role combat aircraft in a deal valued at more than Rs42,000 crore from among vendors such as Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Russia’s MiG Corp. and Gripen of SAAB Sweden.
India’s Gas Turbine and Research Establishment or GTRE, a DRDO unit in Bangalore, has failed to deliver the indigenous Kaveri engine for the Tejas fighter after nearly two decades of development.
Now, ADA has floated a tender inviting firms, such as GE and Eurojet Turbo GmbH, a German engine maker in which Rolls Royce Plc. has a stake, for higher power engines that would be modified for the Indian fighter.