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After being critical of the Tejas fighter jets for several years, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has now agreed to induct as many as 324 indigenously developed light combat aircraft (LCA), reports said on Thursday.
The induction of 324 Tejas fighter jets will make up for the IAF’s depleting number of squadron strength.
The IAF has, for years, maintained that the Tejas fighters are not combat-ready even after three decades of development given its limited range.
However, the Indian Air Force has now committed to buy at least123 Tejas fighter jets at the cost of Rs 75,000 crore from the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The IAF, however, demands that the Tejas Mark II jets should be entirely “new fighters” with “better avionics, radars, enhanced weapons carrying capacity and powerful engines”.
“The Tejas Mark-II is still on the drawing board. But if DRDO, Aeronautical Development Agency and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd deliver the required Mark-II fighter, IAF has agreed to have a total of 18 Tejas squadrons,” a highly-placed source was quoted as saying by a daily newspapers.
According to report, the IAF has already issued the request for proposal (RFP) to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the acquisition of 83 fighters which are scheduled to join the IAF from 2019-20 after completion of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) contract for 20 Tejas jests.
The existing single-engine Tejas has limited “endurance” of just an hour, with a “radius of action” of only 350-400-km and weapon-carrying capacity of 3-tonne. While the other single-engine fighters such as Swedish Gripen-E have triple the endurance and double the weapon-carrying capacity.
IAF’s readiness to buy more LCA jets is based on its assessment that buying and inducting expensive foreign fighters “in large numbers” is simply not an option.
This comes after a series of recent top-level meetings in South Block during which Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that government is “not ditching” the home-grown Tejas and “putting all its energies” into ensuring the fighter is delivered at a much faster pace.
Being critical of the fighter jets, the IAF had said, “Tejas, which has just about 50% of the capabilities of an F-16 or Gripen in terms of endurance, payload etc, will have to fly under the protection of other fighters during conflicts.”
The IAF has earlier reportedly informed the Centre that Tejas – India’s first domestically designed and produced light fighter aircraft – has several deficiencies and lags behind its foreign competitors like the JAS-39 Gripen.
In July 2017, the IAF inducted the first squadron of home-grown Tejas with two fighter planes joining the force. The squadron named – Flying Daggers 45 – is expected to have its full strength by 2018-2020. However, the IAF was not eager to expand its Tejas unit.