The clearance will allow hundreds of Indian private firms to participate in the most advanced aircraft project to date in the country

Cutting-edge technology and more indigenisation - This is the mandate of the TEJAS AF MK-2 project which completed its Critical Design Review (CDR) this week. The clearance will allow hundreds of Indian private firms to participate in the most advanced aircraft project to date in the country.

ADA sources described the MK-2 as a 4.5-generation machine that will not only have 70 per cent indigenisation (as opposed to the 62 per cent of the MK-IA), but will incorporate more advanced technologies to be built in India.

“The aircraft’s increased indigenisation quotient will be increased by the replacement of imported components and systems with locally manufactured units,” said sources at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) which is the nodal agency for the design and development of the TEJAS.

“We have already ascertained that all the raw materials are available for production months ago. We will have 410 private firms across the country supplying Line Replacement Units (LRUs) and other components -- up from the 344 private firms for the MK-IA,” an ADA source said.

According to defence sources, the long-awaited CDR, which was supposed to happen in July, was finally completed on November 15, with up to 20 sub-systems being individually cleared by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

“Metal cutting will soon start. The acquisition of components will start. In addition, jigs and fixtures will be set up. We are aiming for a rollout in December 2022, although the aircraft will not be moved and a first flight tentatively is fixed for the end of 2023,” an ADA source said, adding that the programme will benefit from the earlier MK-I project as many of the core technologies will be taken from the project and superimposed on the new program.

Dr Kota Harinarayan, former programme director and chief designer of the TEJAS program noted that the project had given many Aerospace MSMEs the opportunity to involve themselves in innovation for a national defence project -- an opportunity which did not exist before the 1990s.

“But the aerospace ecosystem needs continuous innovation and structure so as to deliver consistent quality and performance. The standards should be replicable,” Dr Harinarayan said.

He added that the final third part of indigenisation is the engine. “Being that the TEJAS is a single-engined machine, there are certain safety considerations preventing the use of an indigenous engine. However, an indigenous engine may eventually power the proposed Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is a twin-engined machine,” he said.

Among the MSMEs supplying components to IAF aircraft is Aerospace Engineers Private Ltd in Salem. Sundaram R, CEO of the firm noted that 25 per cent of operations of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have been outsourced to MSME and private firms.

“HAL has become an integrator of modular components. This has allowed it to substantially increase the number of new aircraft it can build in a year,” he said.