Defence sources say the first TEJAS MK-1A squadron will be at Rajasthan's Nal air base, ready to join an existing MiG-21 Bison squadron

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is preparing to inaugurate its first squadron of the indigenous TEJAS MK-1A fighter aircraft at the Nal air base in the Bikaner district of Rajasthan, situated in close proximity to the Pakistan frontier, as per recent reports. The TEJAS MK-1A jets, set to surpass the existing TEJAS MK-1 fighters in terms of advancement, will also feature indigenous Gallium Nitride (GaN) radars and avionics.

However, the first 21 of the MK-1A will receive Israel’s Elta ELM 2052 radar as an interim measure, while the rest of the fighters slated for the Indian Air Force will receive the indigenous Uttam Radar, which, as per sources, will be based on GaN technology.

Deployment And Integration

According to defence sources, the initial TEJAS MK-1A squadron will be stationed at the Nal air base in Rajasthan and is scheduled for integration into one of the two existing MiG-21 Bison squadrons presently stationed there. The first delivery of the TEJAS MK-1A aircraft to the Indian Air Force is anticipated by the February-March timeframe, facilitated by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Production And Induction Plans

The production of the TEJAS MK-1A fleet is gaining momentum, with 83 aircraft currently in production and an additional 97 receiving clearance from the central government. The IAF intends to induct a total of 220 TEJAS MK-1 and TEJAS MK-1A aircraft into service within the next 8-10 years. HAL's increased production rate aims to reach 24 aircraft annually by 2025, which is crucial amidst the IAF’s declining squadron strength.

Role of TEJAS MK-1A Jets In IAF And Future Plans

Primarily replacing the ageing MiG series aircraft, including the MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and MiG-27s, the TEJAS MK-1A jets are set to assume pivotal roles within the IAF. While the MiG-23 and MiG-27 have been phased out, two squadrons of the vintage MiG-21 are still operational and earmarked for imminent replacement.

Looking ahead, the Indian Air Force plans to utilise indigenous fighters to supplant the Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft. The IAF envisions a formidable composition by the end of the next decade, comprising 10 squadrons of the TEJAS MK-1 and MK-1A, 12-13 squadrons of the TEJAS MK-2, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, and 13 squadrons of the Russian-origin Su-30MKI.

Firm in its commitment to 'Made in India' aircraft, the IAF aims to acquire approximately 120 Multirole Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) domestically, akin to the capabilities provided by the two Rafale fighter squadrons, fortifying its defences against threats from multiple fronts.

The indigenous fighter aircraft project received a ‘historic’ endorsement when Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a sortie in the TEJAS trainer aircraft earlier this year, signifying the government's support for the Fighter program. Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, along with the top brass from the IAF, continues to champion indigenous projects, achieving commendable milestones in bolstering the nation's defence capabilities.

Diversified Defence Plans And Future Acquisitions

The IAF's plans extend beyond fighter jets, venturing into enhancing the Su-30MKI fighters with ‘state-of-the-art’ indigenous avionics and weaponry. Additionally, the procurement of 156 Light Combat Helicopters is underway, with 90 slated for the Indian Army and 66 for the IAF.

In its latest meeting, the Defence Acquisition Council cleared three significant indigenous projects for the Indian Air Force, collectively valued at over Rs 1.74 lakh crore. These projects, spearheaded by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in collaboration with private sector firms, signify a major leap towards bolstering the country's defence capabilities.