A third production line is being established at HAL's Bangalore facility to ultimately manufacture eight aircraft per year, contributing to the production of 24 TEJAS MK-1s

India is broadening the operational reach of its indigenously developed ‘TEJAS’ Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), extending its deployment from a regional focus to a nationwide strategy.

This expansion aims to integrate the TEJAS combat jet as a prominent component of the country’s air force, bolstering its capabilities to address potential threats from Pakistan and China.

While the definitive decision to station TEJAS squadrons at fighter air bases along the borders with Pakistan and China is pending, initial steps have already been taken by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Presently, the IAF has commenced dispatching the existing two TEJAS squadrons on temporary assignments to forward air bases along the western and northern borders. This approach was recently exemplified when a squadron was stationed in Awantipur, Jammu and Kashmir, for training purposes.

“These detachments are happening nationwide, particularly in the forward air bases. These detachments are to familiarise pilots and the ground staff about operations from these air bases and to provide them experience operating from these locations, with an eye on likely future permanent deployment,” an IAF officer told Eurasian Times. He did not wish to be identified, citing rules.

“The squadrons are actively deployed in these air bases in forward areas, and the pilots and ground staff are provided training to operate from the new terrain. This is being done with the eye on the future when the TEJAS may have to operate from these air bases in the North and Northeast of the country,” the officer said.

The air bases may also need to be geared up to deploy these aircraft in the future; hence, providing them with the experience of handling the TEJAS squadrons becomes necessary.

The state-owned aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is set to produce the 83 TEJAS MK-1A variants, including ten trainers, with deliveries expected to be completed by 2029. HAL’s delivery timeline includes three aircraft in 2024, followed by 16 annually from 2025 through two production lines.

A third production line is being established at HAL’s Bangalore facility to ultimately manufacture eight aircraft per year, contributing to the production of 24 TEJAS MK-1s.

Once the induction of the 83 TEJAS MK-1As is finalized, they will constitute a part of at least four Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter squadrons. Coupled with the two existing TEJAS squadrons operational at the Sulur air base near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India is on track to operate a total of six TEJAS squadrons soon. This would account for one-seventh of the IAF’s sanctioned 42 fighter squadrons.

Following this, plans are in place for an additional six squadrons featuring the more advanced TEJAS MK-2. These developments would see TEJAS contributing to about one-fourth of the total sanctioned squadron strength.

Currently operating various combat aircraft models such as MiG-21, MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage-2000, Su-30MKI, and Rafale, the IAF is on course to phase out aging jets like the MiG-21 and subsequently the MiG-29, while inducting the TEJAS fleet to bolster its capabilities.

TEJAS aircraft are poised to become a cornerstone of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) future aircraft arsenal, with their operational significance expected to amplify as the squadron count expands. India’s utilization of the TEJAS is anticipated to extend for a substantial span of about three decades, cementing its place within the country’s fighter fleet for an extended period.

This enduring commitment underscores the necessity for the TEJAS fleet to elevate its performance standards. It’s projected that the aircraft will be called upon for active duty in real combat scenarios as border tensions with both Pakistan and China intensify in the years ahead.

As these geopolitical conflicts evolve, TEJAS will likely find itself in direct confrontations. It might face off against Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets, crafted by Lockheed Martin, and the China-Pakistan collaboration JF-17. Furthermore, in potential confrontations along the Chinese border, TEJAS might need to compete for airspace against the J-20.