India’s homegrown Tejas fighter program is all set to get a major boost with decks cleared today by the country’s MoD to order 97 more Tejas Mk1A fighters for the Indian Air Force. Once ordered, the deal puts the intended Tejas Mk1A fleet at 180 aircraft, across nine squadrons. The IAF placed its first order for 83 Tejas Mk1A jets in early 2021, a deal valued at $6.5 billion.
To be sure, today’s clearance by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) only paves the way for potentially long-winded procurement paperwork, but all indications suggest it could be on a fast track. In months, India heads into a national election cycle, and hardware procurements from India’s military industrial base have proven to be politically sticky in the past.
Few will miss the fact that MoD clearance for 97 more Tejas Mk1A jets comes days after India’s Prime Minister, the target of political attacks concerning Tejas maker HAL, flew in a Tejas last weekend, becoming the first political leader to fly the homegrown plane. Indian Presidents and Defence Ministers have in the past flown the twin-engined Su-30 MKI fighter. Incidentally, the MoD meeting that cleared the acquisition of 97 Tejas Mk1A fighters also approved next steps in India’s long-awaited upgrade program for its vast Su-30 MKI fleet, starting with about 80 aircraft.
A section of the Indian Air Force has for long advocated ordering more Tejas jets, even as other acquisition programs cruise uncertainly forward. In this detailed chat three years ago, aviation writer and researcher Angad Singh recommended quick orders of more LCA Tejas variants to bolster numbers on the bumpy road to meaningful force accretion. That appears to be precisely what has driven the IAF’s case and today’s important clearance.
The Tejas Mk1A order figure takes the total intended Tejas fleet to 220 aircraft, counting the up to 40 aircraft already in service, populating two operational squadrons. A meaty order for Tejas Mk1A jets has also triggered doubts over whether the bigger, more capable Tejas Mk2 project could be impacted or scaled down. The more powerful Mk2, which begin drawing officially sanctioned funds last year, is deep in development, with a first flight slated for 2027. The Indian Air Force leadership has also indicated plans to operate up to 12 squadrons (over 200 aircraft) of the Mk2 variant.