And it’s done! Phew. In what will be the biggest, and most industrially crucial contract for indigenous aviation, the Indian MoD today cleared the decks for a long-anticipated $5.2 billion deal for 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas fighters in the Mk1A configuration.
In a statement, the MoD said, “While orders of 40 Tejas aircraft had been placed with HAL in initial configurations, DAC paved the way for procurement of 83 of the more advanced Mk1A version of the aircraft from HAL by finalising the contractual and other issues. The proposal will now be placed for consideration of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). This procurement will be a major boost to ‘Make in India’ as the aircraft is indigenously designed, developed and manufactured with participation of several local vendors apart from HAL.“
Significantly, the $5.2 billion price tag (it could be slightly lower finally) is a at least $1.3 billion lower than proposed cost when the IAF and HAL began sanction paperwork in 2016. Unsurprisingly, it was cost that held the deal up, with the lower unit rate helping ease the deal through. Also of significance, HAL has managed to see decks cleared before the financial year is out, though it remains to be seen if contract signature beats the March 31 FY deadline.
Livefist detailed the LCA’s Mk1A configuration in this 2016 piece, which lists the improvements and capabilities that the Indian Air Force had agreed on for the variant. As the piece says, the improvements are split between capability, systems and maintainability. According to HAL, the first LCA Mk1A will be in the air by 2022, with series production starting a year later, a full squadron delivered by 2025 and, with sustained manufacture rate of 16 aircraft or more per year, deliveries completed by or before 2029.
The Indian Air Force’s 45 Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’ began inducting LCA Tejas Mk.1 jets in 2016 in the initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration. The first final operational clearance (FOC) configured jet, which includes an aerial refueling probe and beyond visual range missile (BVRAAM Derby) capability, took off for the first time yesterday in Bengaluru. Both capabilities have been proven since 2016. Sixteen of the FOC form part of the first order for 40 jets. The 83 Mk.1A jets will add to this fleet, spawning six IAF squadrons.
A year ago, Livefist editor Shiv Aroor did a back-seat sortie in LCA Tejas Prototype Vehicle-5 with chief of the National Flight Test Centre Air Vice Marshal Narmdeshwar Tiwari. Livefist has also steadily advocated the speedy entry of the LCA Tejas into service.
With 123 LCA Tejas jets now spoken for (well, when contract signature takes place in weeks from now), the focus shifts to the future of the program. As Livefist has reported, there’s an important fork in the road: either the government can choose to press ahead with the low-risk LCA Mk.2 (designated Medium Weight Fighter last year), or look to a much more time/cost risky twin-engine ‘Super Tejas’ proposal, borne from compulsions in the Indian Navy’s deck-based LCA requirements.
Apart from the next steps in the LCA Tejas program, the IAF’s focus on the fifth generation AMCA program is all set to spike as well. Livefist has a detailed report soon on what’s ahead on that most crucial aviation project.