The Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had on August 31 cleared the much-awaited project for the development of TEJAS MK-2 that is expected to form an important element of future air combat

The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS MK-2, the most advanced warplane set to be built in India, will come with enhanced survivability, better situational awareness for pilots, high payload capacity, improved range, network centric capabilities, integrated avionics, and an ability to quickly switch from one role to another, officials familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

The Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had on August 31 cleared the much-awaited project for the development of TEJAS MK-2 that is expected to form an important element of future air combat.

The new aircraft, being developed at a cost of around ₹10,000 crore, will have a payload capacity of 6.5 ton and be able to carry a mix of weapons, including beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, heavy precision guided weapons and conventional bombs, said one of the officials, asking not to be named.

The 17.5-ton fighter, to be powered by the higher thrust GE F414-INS6 engine (earlier TEJAS variants use the F404), will have a maximum speed of 1.8 Mach and service ceiling of 50,000 feet.

The other upgrades on the TEJAS MK-2 include a superior radar, enhanced fuel capacity, unified electronic warfare suite, indigenous flight control actuators, improved digital flight control computer and better cockpit displays, said a second official familiar with the project.

The new fighter jet will cater to the future requirements for the Indian Air Force (IAF), which has already inducted several of the 40 earlier variants of TEJAS and ordered 83 improved MK-1A variants. The MK-2 fighter will be the most advanced variant of the LCA designed and developed indigenously by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA)

The first flight of the TEJAS MK-2 fighter could take place in two years, setting the stage for its production and subsequent operational availability by 2028-29 to replace the Mirage-2000s and Jaguars.

The TEJAS MK-2 will be a further development of the MK-1A fighter. Last year, the defence ministry awarded a ₹48,000 crore contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for 83 TEJAS MK-1A jets for IAF. The first MK-1A aircraft is expected to be delivered to the air force by March 2024, with the rest slated to join its combat fleet by 2029.

“IAF is grappling with a shortage of fighter squadrons, and TEJAS MK-2 will play a key role in plugging capability gaps. At the same time, it is important to ensure that production rate of TEJAS MK-1A is ramped up,” Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd), director general, Centre of Air Power Studies, said when CCS cleared the TEJAS MK-2 project.

The aircraft will be equipped with advanced avionics with smart large area display, sleek head up display, infrared search and track capability to detect threats at long ranges, missile approach warning systems and countermeasure dispensing systems for self-protection, the officials said.

IAF could order more than 210 TEJAS MK-2 fighters in the long term, as previously reported.

Of the 123 TEJAS variants already ordered, 20 each are in the initial operational clearance (IOC) and the more advanced final operational clearance (FOC) configurations. The remaining 83 TEJAS MK-1A fighters will come with additional improvements over FOC aircraft.

The MK-1A will come with digital radar warning receivers, external self-protection jammer pods, advanced beyond-visual-range missiles, and significantly improved maintainability.

TEJAS MK-2 is expected to fill the gap between MK-1A and the indigenous fifth-generation fighter programme - the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) – which is also being pursued. There is a possibility of equipping AMCA with directed energy weapons, superior anti-missile systems, and teaming it with unmanned systems.

The TEJAS MK-2 project will provide a significant boost to the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) campaign, one of the government’s foremost priorities, the officials said.

A new import ban imposed by the government on hundreds of military subsystems and components last month brought India’s quest for indigenisation into sharper focus, set goals for the local defence manufacturing industry, and turned the spotlight on the journey so far and the long road ahead for attaining meaningful self-reliance.

The main steps taken to inject momentum into the self-reliance drive include bringing out a series of positive indigenisation lists (six have been published so far to ban the import of major weapons, platforms, subsystems and components), creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware, and earmarking research and development budget for the private industry and start-ups.