New Delhi desperately needs new planes
India is buying up more troubled, domestically-produced Tejas Mark 1A fighter jet. In a neighborhood where China is cooking up numerous stealthy designs and Pakistan is buying more capable JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from the same source, the Indian Air Force desperately needs new planes.
Originally known as the Light Combat Aircraft, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has been working on the delta-wing design for more than two decades. After its maiden flight in 2001, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee dubbed the airplane the Tejas — a Sanskrit word for a powerful, spiritual light.
The Tejas Mark 1-A is slightly more proficient than the first-cut home-made LCA, the Tejas, but the aircraft still has some flaws. For one, there are doubts about its ability to carry the required payload of weapons. Also, its Indian-made radar needs to be replaced with an Israeli radar.
The IAF has agreed to induct the Tejas Mark 1-A as it urgently needs more than 120 lightweight fighters to be used for air defense and to intercept enemy aircraft. A squadron has about 16 to 18 aircraft each.
It had earlier agreed to induct 40 Tejas’, an aircraft that India’s national auditor CAG said had severe flaws with “shortfalls in meeting the engine thrust and other parameters such as weight of the aircraft, fuel capacity, pilot protection from front against 7.62 mm bullets.”
The IAF agreed to induct the flawed aircraft to keep the Tejas program alive.
The original Mark 1 Tejas could carry less than 8, 000 pounds of ordnance and extra fuel tanks on seven hardpoints. The Indian Air Force’s advanced Sukhoi Su-30MKIs can carry twice that payload. Not even taking the radar and armor issues into account, the Tejas is significantly slower and less maneuverable than the Russian-built jets.
New Delhi’s air arm only has 200 high-tech Su-30MKIs. The service still needs to replace hundreds of aging and increasingly dangerous fighters and fighter-bombers such as the Soviet-era Mig-21 and Mig-27. The country’s Anglo-French Jaguars and French-built Mirage 2000s are having trouble too.
Between January and June 2015, the Indian Air Force lost six jets in accidents. In August, another Mig-21 – known in the Indian Air force as either Vikram or Trishul, valor or trident, depending on the specific variant – came down in Kashmir. Pilots and the public are increasingly referring to the Cold War planes as “flying coffins.”
In 2012, then defense minister A.K. Antony gave India’s parliament some shocking numbers regarding crashes since the 1970s. Over four decades, the country’s military lost almost 500 Migs and nearly 200 pilots, Antony told the appalled lawmakers. The accidents killed nearly 40 civilians on the ground.
Between this and other delays, the Indian Air Force pilots and Navy aviators are in a serious situation. NDTV added:
The Tejas Mark 2, expected to address the flaws in the Mark 1-A, will not be ready for induction or series production before 2024-2025.
The Air Force will find itself very short of fighters after it decommissions three squadrons of its MiG 21 and one MiG 27 squadron this year; it will lose the rest of its 10-odd squadrons of the vintage Russian-made MiGs by 2022.
The government is buying 32 Rafale fighters from France to be delivered in the next five years.
And don’t get Indian officials started on how disappointed they’ve been with the progress of Sukhoi’s perpetually upcoming T-50 stealth fighter. These shortfalls could easily put India at a serious disadvantage in the near future.