The Indian Air Force (IAF) will set up the second squadron of indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas by month-end, said Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria on Monday, while the “high priority” deal for 83 TEJAS-MK1A jets was expected to be signed in three months.

Stressing on the effort to shift to indigenous production as much as possible, the IAF chief said the challenge was for the domestic industry to catch up.

“We will get the first TEJAS in Final Operations Clearance (FOC) standard likely by next week. We are targeting formation of the second TEJAS squadron at Sulur next week, before the end of the month. We have already done the resurrection of the squadron but induction of aircraft and inauguration got stalled due to COVID,” ACM Bhadauria said in an exclusive interaction with The Hindu.

Tender For Fighters

On the tender for 114 fighters to be built under Make in India, stating that it was a “different class” of fighter than the TEJAS which would be built in India and not imported, he said the global responses to the tender were being analysed after which they would go to the government for the grant of Acceptance of Necessity (AoN). “We will finalise the way forward on the 114 tender.”

Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat had earlier said large imports could not be done and they had to be staggered.

On the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China which saw some face-offs recently in Ladakh and Sikkim, ACM Bhadauria said that on the air side, they monitor developments closely, and if any aircraft was getting close to the LAC it gets monitored and if there was a need to respond it was decided in real time. “Wherever there is a requirement to respond, the response is there,” he said without elaborating.

Elaborating on the 83 TEJAS-MK1A deal, estimated to cost around ₹39,000 crore, he said the deal had already been delayed. While the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had done the ground work on development of the MK-1A variant, they could not work on incorporating additional capabilities till the contract was signed.

It would also boost the industry which had already been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Similarly, the IAF is about to place orders for over 200 Astra indigenous Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and emphasised on the need for adhering to time line and quality. “These are high risk decisions. We go indigenous and they fail to produce on time and we run out of missiles, it is very tricky. So we have to balance. They really have to meet deadlines in terms of time and quality,” ACM Bhadauria said.

On the negative import list that the Finance Minister last week said would be formulated, he said there was already a list and it was being revised. “All the areas where we have set up indigenous capabilities will come on the negative list,” he said, identifying some areas such as radars, electronics, networking issues, some weapons and also the indigenous HTT-40 basic trainer under development. “So for any trainer of this class, we will not go out,” he added.

To mitigate budgetary constraints, the IAF is looking to prioritise its revenue and capital expenditure and some priority areas have been identified while some others would be deferred. “Our initial focus is the revenue expenditure and target is to prioritise it so we save 20-25% there,” ACM Bhadauria said.

In the capital component, the immediate attention was on some critical weapons and technologies such as BVR missiles, guided Air to Ground weapons, networking and data linking issues, he said. In addition, international exercises had been stopped till the year end as also all large-scale planned exercises.