It was welcome news, early in January when the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi granted its approval for the purchase of 83 Tejas Mk-1A fighter aircraft from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Procurement approval has been granted for the purchase of 73 LCA Tejas Mk-1A single-seat fighters and 10 LCA Tejas Mk-1 twin-seat trainer aircraft at a cost of ₹45,696 crore. The majority of the contract amount will go to Indian firms in the defence and aerospace sector. When viewed along with the success of indigenous defense programmes such as BrahMos, Akash Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system, which have also received large orders, it is clear that the government’s efforts to create a credible defence manufacturing base in India are bearing fruit. Another important order that is expected to fructify soon will be the procurement of 56 C-295 transport aircraft from Airbus, which has partnered with Tata Group as its Indian production agency for the manufacture of 40 aircraft in India. The entire deal will be for 56 aircraft and the first 16 aircraft will arrive as fly-aways. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently announced that the deal was at the CFA approval stage and a contract was likely to be signed in the near future. The C-295 deal will provide a massive boost to Indian private sector industry and its progress will be watched closely.
There is now a much greater emphasis on procurement of indigenously designed and developed defence equipment than ever before, along with a strong push to promote defence manufacturing within India. Modernisation of defence equipment also provides useful work and skill-building opportunities to Indian firms. HAL is now in the midst of a Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) for 17 Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Dornier Do-228s. There will be a substantial amount of work for Indian companies as part of the contract signed with HAL Kanpur in February 2020. HAL will receive the first Do-228 for upgrade work in September 2021 and is slated to complete the upgrade by July 2022. As part of the MLU, HAL will fit several modern sensors and upgrade the aircraft with a glass cockpit, new Mission Management System, Pollution Surveillance System (PSS), 12.7 mm Gun, five-blade propellers etc. HAL is planned to complete the MLU of all 17 aircraft by December 2025.
According to data announced by MoD, in the last five years alone (2014-2019), the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has delivered 45 different systems/equipment such as sonars, radars, software-defined radios (SDR), missile systems, gun systems, munitions, bridging equipment, etc. In a further boost to the Indian industry, since 2014, the MoD has inked more than 180 contracts worth more than ₹ 1,96,000 crore. Between 2016-2019 Indian defence exports for the supply of Patrol Vessels, Helicopters, Sonars and Radars, Avionics, Radar Warning Receivers (RWR), Small Arms, Small Caliber Ammunition, Grenades, Telecommunication equipment, Coastal Surveillance, Simulators, Bullet Proof Jackets and Body Armour have amounted to ₹10,690 crore. According to the Govt, defense exports have crossed ₹17,000 crore in the last two years.
Fighter aircraft programmes
The latest announcement of CCS clearance for Tejas Mk-1A procurement paves the way for HAL to move ahead with greater speed on production-related activities. Along with the contract for 83 Tejas fighters, the Government has also approved an expenditure of ₹1,202 Crore for development of maintenance infrastructure for the fleet. The large Tejas order will allow the Indian defence industry to not only build their skills in the realm of supersonic fighter aircraft production but also provide much-needed economies of scale. ₹1,202 crores has been allocated for the development of maintenance infrastructure for Tejas by the IAF that will enable them to handle repairs or servicing at base depots. This will not only help enhance flight line availability but also reduce aircraft repair turnaround times.
Tejas Mk-1A aircraft will be substantially improved on the earlier Mk-1 variants due to incorporation of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar supplied by Elta of Israel, incorporation of new weapons including MBDA’s ASRAAM Close Combat Missile (CCM) and DRDO Astra Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), a new Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite and Air to Air Refuelling (AAR). The Mk-1A will also benefit from extensive feedback provided by the two IAF squadrons operating the Mk-1. A key component in future Tejas fighters will be the Uttam AESA radar. The multimode, solid-state active phased array fire control radar with scalable architecture is being developed by DRDO and will be capable of tracking multiple targets with high accuracy suitable for firing missiles with interleaved air to air, air to ground and air to sea modes for all-terrain operation.
HAL has already received orders for 40 Tejas Mk-1 aircraft, split across 20 in Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) versions and another 20 in Final Operation Clearance (FOC) versions. The contract for 20 IOC standard Tejas Mk-1s was signed in March 2006 and deliveries, were original to have been completed by December 2011. The order for 20 FOC standard aircraft, was placed in December 2010 and deliveries were to be completed by 2016. These orders consisted of 16 fighters and 4 trainers in each contract.
IOC for Tejas Mk-1 was obtained in 2013 and the first IOC standard aircraft were inducted into the IAF’s No. 45 Squadron, in July 2016. The production of 16 fighters in IOC configuration was completed in March 2019 and deliveries of FOC standard aircraft are now underway and FOC was obtained in February 2019. The value of the IOC contract for 20 Tejas aircraft eventually amounted to ₹5362.17 crores, while the value of the FOC contract for 20 Tejas aircraft was ₹5989.4 crores.
HAL has almost completed the production of its order for the manufacture of 222 SU-30 MKIs under license from Russia. Deliveries are under the final Block IV contract were to have been completed last year. HAL is now focussing on the SU-30 MKI overhaul and also the pending upgrade of SU-30 MKIs. It is also awaiting a final batch of orders for the SU-30 MKI at Nashik and it is expected that at least 12 more aircraft will be ordered. HAL also played a key role in integrating the BrahMos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) on the SU-30 MKI, in addition to clearing the use of the Astra BVRAAM on the SU30 MKI. This experience will be of vital importance when it comes to the integration of a lighter variant of the BrahMos for Tejas. BrahMos integration on Su-30MKI was fully completed in 2019 and IAF engineers undertook software development and integration of the missile on the aircraft, while HAL carried out the complex mechanical and electrical modifications that needed to be done on the airframe. The air-launched BrahMos missile is a 2.5-tonne supersonic air-to-surface cruise missile with ranges close to 300 km.
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