By the end of this month, the skies will witness the display of prowess from the advanced variant of the Light Combat Aircraft [LCA] – ‘TEJAS’ MK-1A. However, the Indian Air Force [IAF] will only receive it upon the completion of initial training with the aerospace manufacturer according to a Bulgarian based defence portal.

Created by Indian Aerospace conglomerate Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL], the much-celebrated aircraft, ‘TEJAS,’ which translates to ‘brilliance or radiance.’ This fighter jet, a long time in the making, has indeed ignited India’s quest to ideate, create, and employ a domestic combat aircraft.

TEJAS has elevated India into an exclusive club of nations with the ability to develop 4th generation fighter jets. These sophisticated aircraft feature electronic fly-by-wire control systems, onboard situational awareness displays, and extraordinary over-the-horizon strike potentials.

HAL will now parade the evolution of this technology with the TEJAS’ MK-1A. As several sources claimed, the IAF’s ‘Cobras’, Number 3 Squadron, will be the first to operate the TEJAS MK-1A, as it retires its MiG-21 "Bisons".

An inside source informed: “The TEJAS MK-1A is slated to take its first flight by the end of February, upon which it will be immediately handed over to the IAF. Some training may be conducted at HAL Bangalore by the IAF.” MK-1A will showcase over 40 enhancements from the MK-1 variants already in operation. These include advancements such as air-to-air refuelling, beyond-visual-range [BVR] capabilities, and enemy radar interference capacity.

Orders for 83 TEJAS MK-1A aircraft were placed by the IAF in 2021, and an additional 97 TEJAS’ MK-1A aircraft have been approved by the government for procurement. The IAF welcomed the first version of this aircraft back in 2016.

Two Squadrons Fully Equipped

As of now, two IAF squadrons, the 45 Squadron and the 18 Squadron, are fully equipped with the TEJAS. In the years to follow, TEJAS will make its grand entry as the largest fleet of fighter aircraft managed by the IAF.

Currently, the rate of production for HAL is at 8 TEJAS aircraft per year. This will be increased to 16 annually by 2025, and subsequently, to 24 aircraft per year over the succeeding three years. The delivery of TEJAS MK-1A is scheduled to be distributed over the next four years. The IAF is heavily relying on the TEJAS to compensate for a shortfall in combat squadrons.

The new TEJAS MK-1A will replace the outdated MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and MiG-27 fighter jets. Plans are also underfoot to retire the MiG-29s, followed by Mirages and Jaguars. Predictably, the homegrown TEJAS will dominate the IAF’s frontline over the next decade.

AESA Radar

Approximately half of the MK-1A TEJAS fleet will be equipped with the state-of-the-art Israeli AESA radar, superior to the pulse Doppler radar outfitted on trainer jets. The rest of the TEJAS’ MK-1A, starting from around 2026, will showcase the remarkably powerful indigenous Gallium Nitride Uttam AESA radar – significantly more potent than the Gallium Arsenide radar variant.

This advanced Gallium Nitride Uttam AESA radar will allow a TEJAS jet to strike with increased power, earlier, and from incredible distances. The indigenous Astra air-to-air missile will arm these fighter aircraft. The Astra missile is among the world’s most superior and sophisticated. Back in August 2023, a successful Astra missile launch was executed from an TEJAS off the Goa coast.

An impressive investment of over $1.1 billion has been pledged for the development of an upgraded and more lethal version of TEJAS, the TEJAS MK-2. To promote further indigenization, particularly in the areas of aircraft engine manufacturing, the Transfer of Technology for manufacturing the GE engine in India was negotiated with GE during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit in June 2023.

The TEJAS Idea

Indira Gandhi conceived the concept, and Narendra Modi brought it to life. The journey to craft our own fighter jet began under the prime ministerial leadership of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Seventeen years passed before the prototype made its first flight, and another fifteen years elapsed before the Indian Air Force [IAF] incorporated this combat jet into its ranks.

Until now, the primary disadvantage of TEJAS has been its lack of combat testing. Its presence predominantly on India’s peninsula labels it as a peacetime combat jet.

Nevertheless, this perception may change if TEJAS is permanently stationed at one of India’s forward air bases on the western or northern boundaries. The jet would then be responsible for patrolling the skies above India’s often tumultuous borders.

TEJAS For Export

The IAF is currently deploying the existing two Light Combat Aircraft [LCA] squadrons to frontline bases along the western and northern boundaries for training exercises. This is evidenced by a recent sighting of a squadron in Awantipur, Jammu and Kashmir.

Simultaneously, the IAF is vigorously promoting the sale of the TEJAS to foreign air forces. Their faith in this aircraft is demonstrated by their willingness to deploy it at forward bases.

Prime Minister Modi endorsed this project when he took a memorable flight in the two-seater TEJAS at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL] in November 2023. This event marked the maiden journey of an Indian premier in a fighter jet.

Subsequently, the only remaining accomplishment for the TEJAS is to secure an export order from a foreign nation. India is backing this mission with all its diplomatic might.

No Problems In The Components Supply

Unlike regional counterparts China and Pakistan, India has encountered no issues in procuring components. This is thanks to the potent US engine powering it.

China’s attempts to develop their own jet fighter have been repeatedly hampered. One of the reasons is the Russia’s refusal to supply high-performance engines. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s JF-17 relies heavily on China for key components, including designs.

In the international market, TEJAS already presents formidable competition to the JF-17. The introduction of the MK-1A variant is poised to amplify this rivalry.