HAL is in advanced discussions with Argentina and Egypt for the sale of its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS MK-1A. Argentina is interested in acquiring at least 15 aircraft, and Argentine pilots have already tested the fighter jet in India

by Girish Linganna

India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is in advanced discussions with Argentina and Egypt for the sale of its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS MK-1A. The acting chairman of HAL, CB Ananthakrishnan, confirmed at the Aero India 2023 event that talks with Argentina are progressing positively, and a small contract is expected soon. Ananthakrishnan said Argentina is interested in acquiring at least 15 TEJAS MK-1A aircraft, and Argentine pilots have already tested the fighter jet in India.

The Indian government signed a contract for 83 TEJAS MK-1A with HAL in 2021, and the delivery of the first aircraft is expected in 2024. HAL is working to ensure that the delivery is faster than the contract terms. The manufacturer is focused on executing additional orders for the TEJAS MK-1A and the upcoming TEJAS MK-2.

HAL is also in talks with Egypt to sell 35 TEJAS MK-1A aircraft and establish a Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility in the country. The proposed facility will aid Egypt’s local defence ecosystem.

Apart from Argentina and Egypt, the Philippines is another country where HAL is soon to sell six Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), said Ananthakrishnan. In 2022, the ASEAN member nation signed a contract with India for the supersonic BrahMos cruise missile.

However, HAL has not been able to finalize an export deal with Malaysia, even though the Indian government has admitted that over seven countries have shown interest in procuring its indigenous TEJAS. HAL was shortlisted in Malaysia, but the country is considering South Korea’s FA-50, manufactured by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI), over HAL’s TEJAS. Other competitors in Malaysia included the Sino-Pakistan JF-17, Russian Yak-130, and M-346 from Italy’s Leonardo.

According to sources, the TEJAS MK-1A came with the most advanced features and was preferred over other competitors in Malaysia. Although the South Korean FA-50 is more expensive than what HAL offered, KAI is trying to match HAL’s offer, as reported by Financial Express Online.

The contentious issue of the Falkland Islands has impacted HAL’s efforts to sell its TEJAS MK-1A fighter jet to Argentina. Argentina claims the islands, which the UK controls. The UK actively restricts the sale of defence equipment that carries any part made by a British firm, which has stalled Argentina’s attempts to purchase weapons systems from other countries. In 2020, specific reports claimed that Argentina would award a contract for its JF-17 fighter jets to China, but no official announcement was made.

The TEJAS is a fourth-generation, lightweight, single-engine multi-role fighter aircraft. The aircraft is designed to operate in air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea combat roles. It has been developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by HAL. The TEJAS has been inducted into the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy.

The TEJAS MK-1A is an upgraded version of the Tejas Mk1, with additional features such as air-to-air refuelling, advanced avionics, and electronic warfare suites. It is equipped with modern weapons systems, including missiles, bombs, and guns, and has been designed to reduce the pilot’s workload during missions. The TEJAS MK-1A also has an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which provides better situational awareness and target-tracking capabilities.

Overcoming Obstacles: HAL’s Journey To Indigenous TEJAS MK-1A Production

HAL has been working to increase the production rate of the TEJAS MK-1A to meet the IAF’s operational requirements. The current production rate is 8-10 aircraft per year, but HAL aims to increase it to 16. The Indian government has also approved the purchase of 83 TEJAS MK-1A aircraft, which will boost HAL’s production capacity.

However, HAL faces some challenges in ramping up production of the TEJAS MK-1A. One major challenge is the limited supply of critical components, such as engines and avionics, imported from foreign suppliers. To address this issue, HAL has been developing indigenous alternatives to these components, such as the Kaveri engine, which has been under development for over three decades. In addition, HAL has been expanding its network of domestic suppliers to reduce reliance on foreign suppliers.

Another challenge for HAL is the need to improve the efficiency of its production processes. To achieve this, the company has implemented various measures, such as using digital technologies to enhance manufacturing processes and adopting lean manufacturing techniques. HAL has also been investing in developing new facilities and infrastructure to support the production of the TEJAS MK-1A.

In addition to meeting the IAF’s requirements, HAL is also looking to export the TEJAS MK-1A to other countries. The aircraft has already generated interest from countries such as Malaysia, Egypt, and Argentina. HAL has been working to obtain the necessary certifications for the TEJAS MK-1A to enable exports to these countries.

The TEJAS MK-1A represents a significant achievement for India’s aerospace industry. The aircraft’s advanced capabilities and indigenous design and production demonstrate India’s growing expertise in aerospace technology. As HAL continues to ramp up production of the TEJAS MK-1A, it will provide a major boost to the IAF’s combat capabilities and strengthen India’s position as a major participant in the global aerospace industry.

Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defence at Frontier India