New Delhi: As the Indian Air Force (IAF) continues to operate with fewer fighter jet squadrons than mandated, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has asked Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to meet the delivery schedule of supplying 18 TEJAS MK-1A jets by March 2025.

In all, 180 TEJAS MK-1A jets are to be made by the HAL in two tranches over the next 10 years. These are to bridge the prevailing shortage and muster numbers due to phasing out of older jets from the IAF inventory.

The HAL — a Bangalore headquartered company in which the MoD owns a majority stake — is yet to deliver even one jet of the first tranche of 83 ordered in February 2021 under a ₹48,000-crore order. Deliveries were to commence three years after signing the contract, or by March this year.

In April, the MoD asked the HAL to submit its commercial bid for producing 97 TEJAS MK-1A jets in addition to the 83 already ordered, taking the number to 180.

In March, TEJAS MK-1A carried out its first flight. “It was a successful sortie with a flying time of 18 minutes,” the HAL had then said.

The MoD, after a review meeting, has asked the HAL to meet the delivery deadline of 18 jets by March 2025. Sources say the HAL is banking on getting its new production line at Nashik on track by November to shore up the numbers.

The HAL has faced some supply chain disruption which is being sorted. The production of parts and assemblies for the jets has been outsourced to suppliers. Sources say the MoD and HAL are serious about meeting the contract target of 18 jets by March 2025.

The criticality of adding more fighter jets stems from the fact that the IAF presently has 31 squadrons (16-18 planes each) of fighter jets against the mandated number of 42 to handle a collusive two-front threat from Pakistan and China.

Over the next one year, all (two) squadrons of the Soviet-era MiG 21 fighter jets will retire. The Jaguar, MiG-29 and Mirage-2000 jet fleets — all inducted in phases during the 1980s — are slated to retire in batches beyond 2029-30. These four types of jets are about 250 in number and are presently operating on an extended life cycle.

As per plan, for the next 14-15 years (till 2038-39) starting this financial year, India needs to indigenously produce some 390 fighter jets for the IAF.

The IAF already has 40 TEJAS MK-1 jets. TEJAS MK-1A is the improved version of the aircraft.

(With Agency Inputs)