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According to the plan, HAL is to deliver 73 fighters and 10 trainers by 2026. MINT
According to the plan, HAL is to deliver 73 fighters and 10 trainers by 2026. MINT

Govt to buy Tejas fighters for 48k cr

  • The IAF’s purchase of 83 light combat aircraft from HAL is the biggest contract awarded to India’s homegrown military aviation industry

The cabinet committee on security (CCS) on Wednesday cleared the 48,000-crore purchase of 83 light combat aircraft (LCA-Tejas) from state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), in the biggest contract awarded to India’s homegrown military aviation industry.

The approval by the CCS, 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 LCA.

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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 ordered by IAF in a deal worth almost 9,000 crore in 2016. The latest aircraft is categorized as a fourth-generation plus fighter jet, a defence ministry statement said.

“About 500 Indian companies, including MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) 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 in Tamil Nadu. It is looking to the Tejas to add to its dwindling squadron strength, which is currently at 30 squadrons as opposed to a sanctioned 42 required to fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China. The IAF also plans to order 170 more Tejas Mark-2 aircraft with more powerful engines and improved avionics in future.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh hailed the move as a “game-changer" for India’s defence manufacturing which has been trying to shake off the image of being seen as lacking the capability to cater to the country’s 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 a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report published in 2019. Last year, Modi, while addressing the 11th Defence Expo in Lucknow, set the domestic industry a target of $5 billion in defence exports in five years.

“The CCS chaired by PM Sh. @narendramodi today approved the largest indigenous defence procurement deal worth about 48,000 crore 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 a 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, 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 programme and acts as an umbrella organization, fostering manufacturing and design capabilities in private 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 CCS clearance 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 Mark 1A include easier maintenance and an active electronically scanned array radar. The CCS nod comes three years after India invited bids for the purchase of 114 jets in 2018, which brought in offers from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab AB of Sweden worth $15 billion.

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