Off late there has been misplaced and exaggerated case (or even outright propaganda against Tejas) to acquire foreign light fighter which needs to be countered. First it was lack of capability (“Tejas cannot fly far or cannot carry enough or takes too long to prepare”), then it is lack of capacity (“We cannot produce fast enough and squadron strength will fall to 27 by 2032 etc.”) and later it is variety of planes. All are grossly exaggerated. We need to realise that foreign light fighters compete with Tejas and handing over $15 billions to competition starving our own will be a body blow to Tejas program from which Tejas might not even recover.
Four critical questions need to be answered before we go with the proposed 114 foreign light fighters:
- Is Tejas MK 1A is good enough for the designed roles of point defence and close air support (i.e. near ground attack) – Answer is a definitive yes. MK 1A being stealthier (1/5 RCS) and with similar, if not better radar (RBE2 or EL/M 2052) and weapons (theoretically even Meteor) can detect them earlier and shoot them down. Being more manoeuvrable and if we add Spectra used in Rafale to EW System, it’ll beat them in dog fight rather easily. Range, by design, is really not of much consequence. We have heavier planes for other roles.
Can we produce ~225 planes in next 11 years (i.e. by 2028), the timeline by which proposed 114 foreign light fighters can be expected and cover the retirement of 11 squadrons of MIG 21 & 27 by 2024? – Largely YES. With the capacity 16 planes annually, existing order of 6 squadrons (123 MK 1 &1A) is to be met by 2025 and shortfall comes down to 5 (or say 6 and not 15 etc.) squadrons, which can be met in next 5 years (I.e. by 2030). 3 squadrons of upgraded Mirage good for another 2 decades takes the count to sanctioned strength of 14 light fighter squadrons. With additional investment (i.e. bigger order), 24 planes annually is doable and shortfall of all of 11 squadrons can be wiped by 2028. Theoretically, with new private production lines competing with HAL, the number can be improved further.
3.The Tejas mk1’s competition is the Gripen C , both are in active service.According to HAL and the Govt’s press release Tejas mk1 has a range of 1700 kms on internal fuel and has a payload capacity of upto 4 tons. The Tejas carries 2458 kgs of internal fuel.The Gripen C has a range of 1650 kms on internal fuel and a payload of upto 5 tons. It carries 2270 kgs of internal fuel.Now what these paid journalists and “unnamed sources” in the IAF are comparing with is the Gripen E variant. The Gripen E took its first flight in June this year and estimated to enter service by 2020. Its not in service yet .What the makers did with the Gripen E is , they altered the design to make it bigger, to enhance its fuel capacity,payload and added upgraded engine GE F414 which is more powerful. The Gripen C had an empty weight of 6800 kgs, while Gripen E has an empty weight of 8000 kgs.
True, MK 1A (12 ton class) is inferior to Gripen E (16 ton class) in range, payload and multi-role capabilities, but is MK2 (similar tonnage) comparable? If not, can MK 2 be made comparable/better with this additional $15 billion? – MK 2 is comparable to Gripen E in all areas except maturity, drag reducing aerodynamic, operational cost and sensor fusion and may even exceed in areas of payload (same GE F414 engine and with 1 ton further reduction, ~3 ton lesser Empty Weight), range (similar Internal Fuel Capacity, 3 ton lesser Empty Weight and same engine though more drag due to delta wing) and EW Systems (Spectra). MK 1 itself is better in the areas of manoeuvrability, stealth, high altitude warfare and of course, per unit cost and equal if not better in ease of flying and safety (avionics). Tejas will become better with additional investment and time.
- By not buying foreign light fighters, are we not losing on variety and putting all our eggs in one basket? Not really. We have variety of options, both Western and Russian, in the medium and heavy category that creates enough space for predominantly indigenous light fighter segment (Tejas engine, radar & weapons are western/Russian). In the light category too, we have 3 squadrons of upgraded Mirage good for another 2 decades.
Finally, we can be and must be self-reliant in light fighter category and all foreign fighter acquisitions must be limited to only medium & heavy category.
This article has been written by Alok Kumar exclusively for https://Defenceupdate.in
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