#DefenseDiaries: IAF believes Tejas isn't enough to protect Indian skies
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has told the government that the indigenously-developed Light Combat Aircraft Tejas isn't enough to protect Indian skies. The IAFs assessment is based on a comparison with the larger single-engine aircraft, the US-made Lockheed Martin F-16 and Sweden's Saab JAS-39 Gripen. The F-16 and Gripen are competing for an IAF requirement. Does the Tejas lag behind its competitors? We answer.
Govt. had asked IAF to scrap single-engine fighter acquisition plans
India Today has reported that the government recently asked the IAF to cancel plans to acquire around 114 foreign single-engine fighters (F-16 or Gripen) and instead only buy the Tejas. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval also raised the issue with the IAF, which responded with a presentation on the Tejas' shortcomings and why it's not sufficient to meet Indian's requirements alone.
History of LCA Tejas' development
The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was first conceptualized in the 1980s as a replacement for the IAF's MiG-21 fighter jets. The LCA's design was finalized in 1990. A demonstrator aircraft was first-flown on January 4, 2001. India's then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee named the LCA Tejas (radiant). Several improvements were made till the IAF inducted its first Tejas in 2016, after a 33-year wait.
What is the HAL Tejas?
The Tejas aircraft has been jointly developed by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and the Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL). The Tejas is the world's smallest lightweight multi-role, single-engine tactical fighter aircraft. Single and twin-seater variants are being developed for the IAF and the Indian Navy. The Tejas has seven pylons for weapons and external-fuel. It's powered by the US-made General Electric-404 jet engine.
Why the IAF needs foreign single-engine aircraft
The IAF currently has 35 active fighter squadrons as opposed to a sanctioned strength of 42. Each squadron has between 18-20 aircraft. The IAF's fleet strength is depleting due to obsolescence of vintage platforms such as the MiG-21 and MiG-27. The IAF has ordered 123 Tejas, including 40 Mk.1 and 83 upgraded Mk.1A variants. Besides this, 36 Dassault Rafale fighters have also been ordered.
IAF says Tejas has lower endurance and payload capacity
In its presentation, the IAF reportedly told the government that the Tejas' "endurance" is just 59 minutes while the Gripen's is three hours and F-16's is four hours. The Tejas can carry a three-ton payload compared to Gripen's six tons and F-16's seven. Hence, if a target needs 36 bombs to be destroyed, six Tejas must be deployed compared to three Gripen or F-16.
IAF says Tejas' maintenance costs more, has lower life cycle
The IAF contends that 20 hours of service are needed for every hour of Tejas' flight compared to six hours for Gripen and 3.5 hours for F-16. The Tejas' maintenance costs are also higher. The IAF said the LCA has a life cycle of 20-years while Gripen and F-16 have 40 years. In some areas, the ageing MiG-21 performs better than the Tejas.
Tejas designed for a different role than F-16/Gripen
The criticism against the Tejas must be taken into context. The Tejas was developed to play the role of a lightweight, low-cost multi-role replacement of the MiG-21s, a role it performs well. The Gripen and F-16 belong to a near medium-weight class allowing them to carry more fuel and weapons. This justifies their higher payload and endurance compared to the Tejas.