The Air Force variant of TEJAS Combat Jet
by Karan Khajuria

Recently Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba caused a flutter in the media by stating that TEJAS was “not yet up to the mark” and Navy would seek Aircraft from a foreign vendor. It’s not the first time that we are seeing our armed forces showing more interest to acquire imported weapons rather than domestically produced. We have already seen this in projects like Arjun MBT, TEJAS (IAF), Aakash Air defense Missile System and now TEJAS Navy. Our Armed forces have been less supportive of the Critical Indigenous projects.

The other day I read an article which says that ADA should focus on AMCA rather than TEJAS Mk-2 which should be seen as a mere Technology demonstrator which is in conjunction with Indian Navy’s current stand on this project. I would like to counter this opinion with the help of following points.

The most significant point that I observed was regarding the capabilities of TEJAS Mk-2 and its performance. The article says that “the extra thrust provided by the new engine would be neutralized by the extra fuel consumption and weight of the new engine. This is sort of a zero-sum game and would not give TEJAS Mk-2 much advantage over the current Technology Demonstrator”. Since TEJAS Mk-2 is most likely to be fitted with F414-GE-INS6 power plant which is more efficient when compared to its previous versions. Now comparing it to GE F-404 which powers TEJAS Mk-1 the dry weight difference between two engines is merely 163lbs. Given the use of advanced materials in GE F-414 and efficiency of this engine combined with greater thrust, the improvement in TEJAS Mk-2’s performance will be quite notable. The engine has an improved thrust to weight ratio of 9:1 and 3-4 % cruise specific fuel consumption improvement over F-404. This means that the extra thrust doesn’t come merely at the cost of additional fuel consumption. According to ADA the Mk-2 version is likely to have major improvements over TEJAS Mk-1 including dead weight elimination and increasing the payload by 1,000 kg to 5,000 kg which is greater or roughly comparable to Sea Harriers which TEJAS was meant to replace in the first place. 

When it comes to the fate of this project, the problem doesn’t only lie with our state-owned design agencies like ADA etc ,which are mostly blamed for missing deadlines, it has also got something to do with our armed forces. According to a report published in DNA in 2010, The then chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma had expressed firm requirement of 50 TEJAS to replace the aging sea Harrier fleet of the IN. Navy was always aware that NP-1 and NP-2 would be technology demonstrators rather than the actual platforms. Moreover CCS had sanctioned the development of TEJAS for navy in 2003 and in 2009 it gave go-ahead to the development of TEJAS Mk-2. After all these years of R&D , We have a new navy chief who, all of a sudden, feels that TEJAS is overweight and won’t meet Indian navy’s requirements even though the carrier trials of TD is yet to occur and final product is still under development. The question here is that why Navy couldn’t identify and outline its actual requirements during all these years? One can’t expect a light category fighter to carry a payload comparable to a Medium class fighter. TEJAS was always meant as a light aircraft and Tejas Mk 2 perfectly meets the payload requirement of it’s class. 

As per IN’s new RFI for 57 carrier based fighters there is no clear guideline whether the fighter should be single or twin engine. Moreover, there is no mention of whether it should feature CATOBAR or STOBAR mechanism. Instead navy has expressed desire for a fighter which can incorporate both systems without any major changes. Even it is not clear whether these aircraft will be based on INS Vishal because the specifications of INS Vishal are still not confirmed even as we speak. The category of Aircraft Carrier IN operates at present like INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, which it is supposed to operate in near future, are quite small with limited deck area when compared to USN’s Nimitz Class or even PLAN’s Liaoning. It would be better to have a mix of heavy MiG-29K and Light TEJASs on these carries given the poor availability of MiG-29k. Not to mention TEJASs were specifically designed as STOBAR aircraft. It is also important to note that Saab’s Gripen is also part of this Competition which interestingly is a single engine fighter.

In the light of above points I firmly believe that rather than sinking an ambitious project like this would not only break the enthusiasm and morale of young scientists and engineers who have put in every bit in this complex project but also have a bad effect on our aerospace industry. Navy should order 20-25 odd aircraft of Mk-2 class which is half of its previous commitment. This would not only boost the morale of development agencies but also give a push to indigenous development and also save the cost. As far as AMCA is concerned it is quite far from reality and we can’t take half blunt lessons from one project to another big project. We need to setup a benchmark for making a transition to the next level and there can’t be any better benchmark than successful operation of TEJAS Mk-2 from Indian Navy’s Aircraft carriers. India has to manufacture it’s own weapons, aircraft and ships to set up a strong defense manufacturing base and our armed forces have to play a vital role in this. We can learn from rival China which has transformed itself into a weapon exporter. India is still the largest weapons importer in the world and this is not, by any means, a good sign for an aspiring superpower.

Karan Khajuria is a defense analyst and this piece was written exclusively for IDN. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN