Battling its notorious and long-spiralling depletion in fighter aircraft squadron strength, the Indian Air Force is is believed to have firmed up plans to order at least 50 more LCA Tejas Mk1A jets from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. These would be in addition to 83 Mk1A jets currently on order as part of $6.5 billion contract signed in February 2021.
The IAF operates two squadrons of the LCA Mk1 in Sulur in southern India, with a total of 40 aircraft across operational capability tiers on order. The Mk1A is a significantly improved iteration of the Tejas that’s better armed, better performing, superior survivability and avionics and crucially easier to maintain and turn around. You can read our detailed piece on improvements the Mk1A brings to the table here. The first LCA Mk1A jets are slated to be delivered to Indian Air Force in the first half of 2024.
Adding numbers to the LCA order book has been obvious option in front of the IAF for years now, though Air Force HQ has preferred to hedge amidst frictions with HAL on production rates and ongoing ambiguity over the faltering MRFA contest, a quest to add 114 foreign fighters from among a stack of seven competitors from the US (F-15EX and F-21), Russia (Su-35 and MiG-35), Sweden (Gripen E), France (Rafale) and Germany (Typhoon).
In this detailed chat two years ago, aviation writer and researcher Angad Singh advocates quick orders of more LCA Tejas variants to bolster numbers on the bumpy road to meaningful force accretion.
In a column in 2019, Livefist founder Shiv Aroor had advocated that it was time for the Indian government to commit resources to getting the LCA inducted in larger numbers to replace legacy fleets like the MiG-21 as quickly as possible. The plans we’re reporting now for expanded Mk1A contracts appear to be in line with that intent.
Given budgetary constraints, it’s unclear if the IAF will commit to the 50 additional LCA Mk1As before most of the 83 from the original 2021 contract are delivered. The IAF has been in extended discussions with the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA — the agency effecting the Mk1A improvements) and HAL on the planned additional order. HAL hopes to close a deal for 50 more Mk1As by 2024-25, though there remains little clarity on when that will happen. The original contract for 83 Mk1A jets took eight years to come to fruition. This Livefist tweet from 2013 was from a time before the Mk2 was watered down to an Mk1A variant.
The need for additional Mk1As is clearly to minimise timeline risk on the far more capable LCA Mk2 jet that’s expected to be ready for service in the latter half of this decade. The Indian government and IAF have made it clear that the Mk2 will be the truly combat capable iteration of the Tejas. The Indian Air Force has revealed plans to order 108 of the type. The LCA Mk2, currently under a prototype fabrication phase, will be a true blue ‘fourth generation’ fighter, sporting an AESA radar, the more powerful GE F414 engine, canard foreplanes for greater agility and several additional systems across the spectrum of capability, survivability and maintainability.
Finally, and perhaps most anticipated of all, the Indian Air Force has quantified its intended orders — 126 — of the stealth fifth generation fighter AMCA currently under development with a rollout unlikely before the end of the decade. In 2020, Livefist scooped plans for the AMCA to be taken forward as a public-private partnership between HAL and Indian private sector giant Larsen & Toubro. You can read about that here and watch our video interview about the program here: