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An independent investigation by the CAG into the LCA programme identified 53 'shortfalls' in the Tejas combat plane. (AFP)
An independent investigation by the CAG into the LCA programme identified 53 'shortfalls' in the Tejas combat plane. (AFP)

Cabinet Committee on Security approves Tejas Mark 1A deal worth 48,000 crore

  • The approval by the CCS, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, comes 10 months after the Defence Acquisition Council in March 2020 greenlighted the procurement of 83 of the more advanced Mark 1A version

NEW DELHI : The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Wednesday cleared the purchase of 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA-Tejas) in a deal worth 48,000 crores from the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in what is seen as the biggest ever contract awarded to India’s homegrown military aviation industry.

The approval by the CCS, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, comes 10 months after the Defence Acquisition Council in March 2020 greenlighted the procurement of 83 of the more advanced Mark 1A version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

According to the plan, HAL is to deliver 73 fighters and 10 trainers by 2026. The LCA-Tejas Mark 1A will have more than 40 “improvements" over an initial order of 40 LCA Tejas aircraft already ordered by the IAF in a deal worth almost 9,000 crore in 2016. It is categorized as a fourth generation plus aircraft, a statement from the Indian defence ministry said.

“About 500 Indian companies including MSMEs in the design and manufacturing sectors will be working with HAL in this procurement. The programme would act as a catalyst for transforming the Indian aerospace manufacturing ecosystem into a vibrant Atmanirbhar-self-sustaining ecosystem," the statement said.

The IAF currently has two Tejas squadrons, the “Flying Daggers" and “Flying Bullets" at Sulur. It is looking to the Tejas to add to its dwindling squadron strength which is currently at 30 squadrons as opposed to a sanctioned number of 42, required to fight a two front war with Pakistan and China. The IAF is also plans to order 170 more Tejas Mark-2 aircraft with more powerful engines and improved avionics in the future.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh hailed the move as a “gamechanger" for Indian defence manufacturing which has been trying to shake off the image of being seen as lacking the capability to cater to Indian defence needs. India was the world’s second largest importer of major arms in 2014–18, accounting for 9.5% of the global total, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in a report published in 2019. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the 11 Defence Expo in Lucknow, set Indian industry a target of $5 billion in defence exports in next five years.

“The CCS chaired by PM Sh. @narendramodi today approved the largest indigenous defence procurement deal worth about 48000 Crores to strengthen IAF’s fleet of homegrown fighter jet ‘LCA-Tejas’. This deal will be a game changer for self reliance in the Indian defence manufacturing," Singh said in his Twitter post.

“The LCA-Tejas is going to be the backbone of the IAF fighter fleet in years to come. LCA-Tejas incorporates a large number of new technologies many of which were never attempted in India. The indigenous content of LCA-Tejas is 50% in Mk1A variant which will be enhanced to 60%," Singh said in another post.

“HAL has already set-up second line manufacturing facilities at its Nasik and Bengaluru Divisions. Equipped with the augmented infrastructure the HAL will steer LCA-Mk1A production for timely deliveries to the IAF," Singh said.

“The decision taken today will considerably expand the current LCA ecosystem and help in creating new job opportunities. HAL follows a system integrator model in LCA Mk1A program and acts as an umbrella organisation, fostering manufacturing & design capabilities in pvt. Industry,’ Singh said. The “LCA-Tejas programme would act as a catalyst for transforming the Indian aerospace manufacturing ecosystem into a vibrant Atmanirbhar-self-sustaining ecosystem," the minister added.

The clearance by the CCS paves the way for the signing of the contract, which is expected to take place next month during the Aero India Defence Expo.

The improvements incorporated in the LCA Mk 1A include easier maintenance, active electronically scanned array radar, electronic warfare suite and beyond-visual range missile capabilities including the Indian made air-to-air missile Aastra Mark1. The CCS nod for the LCA procurement comes three years after India had invited bids for the purchase of the 114 jets in 2018, which brought in offers from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab AB of Sweden worth $15 billion. The CCS move signals that India is looking at increasing procurement from domestic manufacturers in line with its “Make in India" and “Self Reliant India" programmes.

“The Cabinet has also approved infrastructure development by IAF under the project to enable them handle repairs or servicing at their base depot so that the turnaround time would get reduced for mission critical systems and would lead to increased availability of aircraft for operational exploitation. This would enable IAF to sustain the fleet more efficiently and effectively due to availability of repair infrastructure at respective bases," the defence ministry statement added. HAL has a current capacity to manufacture 8 LCA at its Bengaluru plant with news reports quoting HAL officials as saying that it would be increased to 16 aircraft.

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