As per Chief of Air Staff (CAS), TEJAS with all its refineries matches up to any contemporary fighter in service with our adversaries

by Wing Commander Amit Ranjan Giri (Retd)

Figuratively speaking, the ink on the contract for the 83 TEJAS MK-1A, recently signed, has not even dried as the TEJAS is being touted as India’s next big export to the world. Would this machine live up to the expectations of being perhaps, India’s first defence export involving credible wares or would it just go down the annals of history as another attempt by a developing country, more like its, not so lucky, now out and forgotten, elder cousin, the HF Marut.

The Historical Perspective

Decades back, the Indian defence production industries were at a similar crossroads. The Marut was designed and produced at home but despite being one of the most aerodynamically efficient platforms, it faded into oblivion, aided by inhospitable policies of the time and a pair of incompatible engines cannibalised from the Gnat, well mostly.

The fledging industry, which needed hand-holding and some gentle nursing, failed to find much support and trust required to stand up abeam the global giants. India started its race for buying foreign military wares forgetting its own ‘kitchen garden.’

The next step for the industry was to design the TEJAS. The environmental conditions not having changed much over the years, the project took its own sweet time to bear fruits. Only in the recent past did pro-homegrown policies kick in and this benefitted the industry to no extent.

Meanwhile, the IAF was being plagued by dwindling fighter strength and deadlocked foreign deals. Faced with the prospect of a two-front war it decided to embrace the homegrown TEJAS, albeit with some 100-plus shortcomings in the initial model. It was a common sight to see the scientists, technicians, and test pilots of the OEM rubbing shoulders with the Squadron pilots and working tirelessly to polish off the TEJAS into a world class fighter.

Does The TEJAS Match Up To Its Contemporaries?

In the words of the present CAS, TEJAS with all its refineries matches up to any contemporary fighter in service with India’s adversaries.

The TEJAS MK-1A is an upgrade of the basic and is considered to be more potent. The MK-1A version essentially comes with the same airframe and engines but with upgraded avionics and weapon systems.

The notable ones are the AESA radar and the EW systems both being bought off the shelf from Israel but are being integrated indigenously. Other advancement would be an enhanced pilot-vehicle interface and an excellent ‘fly by wire’ system, both homegrown. Inputs from pilots who have flown and worked on the project, indicate that both systems are “to kill for.”

The indigenous ALAR (advanced auto low speed recovery) function of the fly by wire system is one of the most advanced in the world. All these, along with a varied arsenal of both imported and self-made weapons would certainly make the MK-1A a formidable platform.

The Targeted Market

With USA showing interest in the machine as a cost-effective trainer for ‘deck landings’ the days to come seems to be rather sunny. The cost of the TEJAS as projected now is competitive and would certainly suit developing countries with limited budget and looking for a conservative deal.

The Israeli pedigree of some of the key components of the machine would probably hinder a few prospects in the Middle East, but then, the soon to come homegrown version of the radar – UTTAM and the in-house built EW system could easily overcome this aspect on the export version. The fast developing indigenous weapons to be integrated with the TEJAS would ensure that foreign buyers get a composite deal to suit their needs.

Marketing The Bird – What’s Needed Now?

Like all wares up for sale require marketing, the TEJAS is no different. In the fast-growing global fighter export world dominated by a handful manufacturers, it would be a worthy task to market the Indian version. If memory serves right, the TEJAS is not as well known as other players, just having being to a very few countries and a handful of air shows.

The world needs to see the machine and not just in air shows in a stand-alone mode but in action as a composite weapon platform. The IAF can ‘pitch in’ to a great extent here.

Inclusion of the aircraft in international exercises both inland and abroad, demonstrating its prowess against and along with foreign machines would definitely make the world take notice.

Inputs gleaned out of the reports from IAF’s last big exercise ‘Gaganshakti-2018’, indicate the TEJAS did not miss a single planned mission and as compared to other fighters, achieved launch success rates of over 95 percent. Interesting to note, this was the base version being operated by the IAF almost immediately after induction. A good performance in the exercise actually boosted the IAF trust on the TEJAS. Similarly, international exposures for the TEJAS would do a lot of good for export aspirations.

The TEJAS  may be the first baby steps towards the global arms market, no suggestions here that this can be accomplished overnight, however, with the right steps in the correct direction and with the current rate of progress being sustained, it should be a ‘sure shot’ in the near future. The associated spin offs from the TEJAS market would certainly pave the way for the AMCA project similarly, not to mention other indigenous defence related projects in the pipeline.