NEW DELHI — The Indian government has decided (No specific date) to will increase orders for its on thehome homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), called Tejas, which is still in development, stage, from 20 to 120, but Air Force officials question the plane's capabilities, and the scheduled arrival of a more advanced model remains murky. to check the falling fighter aircraft fleet strength.

However, Indian Air Force (IAF) officials said in private that the move (increase in order ) to increase reliance rely heavily on the Tejas, delayed by over more than 15 years, would can severely compromise India's combat worthiness because this would lead to total dependence on state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. imited (HAL), which the officials said has a poor record of delivery and quality.

Besides, LCA-Mark1 will be able to meet only the low end of Air Force requirements, of the IAF, a senior Air Force IAF official said. say in private.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) official, however, said the Air Force IAF has ordered additional increased numbers of LCAs with additional features more advanced than the over LCA-Mark 1, and including a self-protection jammer, an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to be procured from Elta of Israel, and air-to-air refueling capability. This version of the aircraft would be labeled  , and will meet the requirements of the IAF. LCA with increased features is named LCA-Mark 1A, he said.

But an Air Force IAF official said in private that the decision to boost the order for increased numbers of LCA-Mark 1s was forced has been thrust on them by in line with the government to support its policy of "Make in India" defense projects.

A decade ago, Air Force officials said IAF had said a decade ago that its combat needs would will be met only with the LCA-Mark 2, which will be powered by a higher thrust GE 414 engine, compared to the GE-404 engine currently powering the LCA-1 and LCA-1A. , the official added.

HAL not only has a poor delivery record or delivering on time, the Air Force officials said, but produces gives inferior products, the Air Force official said. , the IAF official said.

Retired Air Marshal of IAF Subhash Bhojwani said that while the AESA radar jammer and air-to-air refueling capability would compensate for make up most of the LCA's operational deficiencies, of LCA, "with regard to day-to-day line maintenance I understand Tejas is still an engineer's nightmare."

Explaining further Bhojwani said,"I have yet to see any HAL aircraft where the canopy of one aircraft fits another without a lot of adjustments, the same for any other airframe component. Each aircraft seems to be ever so slightly different; this is a major shortcoming. US- and French-origin aircraft are designed from drawing board onwards to be easy to repair and parts are freely swappable. If HAL has made Tejas more maintenance-friendly than its predecessor products, then my stated opinion would need to undergo modification," Bhojwani  said.

Analysts, however, said purchase of additional increased numbers of LCA-Mark 1As might could be the best solution to meet immediate the pressing fighter aircraft requirements.

"With the IAF's fixed-wing fighter fleet witnessing an alarming decrease, the homegrown LCA-Mark 1A seems to be the quickest solution to arrest this decline. However, a more long-term solution needs to be found in terms of offensive capability," creation," said Ankur Gupta, a defense analyst with Earnest and Young India.

Nitin Mehta, a New Delhi-based defense analyst, said, "After canceling the 2007 tender for the purchase of 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) and purchasing 36 French Rafales instead, combining with an increase in orders for the LCA-Mark1A is the best decision to check the falling fleet strength of fighter aircraft."

Another Air Force IAF official (another one) said in private said that HAL cannot be relied on to deliver the additional increased numbers of LCA-Mark 1As in a timely fashion., given their track record adding that the quality of the HAL product is also satisfactory.

"It would have been much better to either procure fighter combat aircraft from overseas on a fast-track basis or set up another aerospace agency other than HAL to manufacture the increased numbers of LCA-Mark 1A," the official said.

Hal officials have said they do not respond to such criticism, and that but say they will meet the delivery schedule. 

A HAL official said the Air Force , IAF has given an initial order of 20 LCA-Mark 1s with the Initial Operational Certification (IOC) and thereafter more than over 100 LCA-Mark 1As will be ordered after the final operational clearance is achieved, (FOC) expected next year.

The official said HAL will increase production capability from the current level of four aircraft to eight. Over the next three years, the HAL official said, the company will increase production capability will be increased from the current level of four aircraft annually to seven in 2016-17 and eight in 2017-18. Afterand all the 20 LCA with IOC certification will be executed by 2017-18. From 2017-18, HAL will boost its capacity to 16 each year. at a cost of $200 million.

"I can only presume that the Tejas [upgraded with better sensors and avionics] now meets the low-end needs of the IAF, although I think it will be largely utilized in its own airspace, thus freeing up more capable platforms to do the more challenging cross-border missions," Bhojwani said.

The low-end needs refer to certain mission requirements being more challenging than others, i.e. requiring more on board resources to meet operational tasks and objectives.

The Air Force IAF had earlier said that its combat needs will be fulfilled only by LCA-Mark2 which will be powered by a higher thrust GE 414 engine compared to the GE-404 engine currently powering the LCA-1 and LCA-1A.

With increased orders for LCA-1A, the fate of LCA-Mark 2, still in development stage, is now uncertain, the Air Force official IAF official said.

"To the best of my understanding, the LCA-Mark 2 is many, many years away. I don't think a single prototype has been built yet so the earlier projected timelines do not stand true," Gupta said. Initial operational certification (IOC) and thereafter more than over 100 LCA-Mark 1As will be ordered after the final operational clearance for is achieved, (FOC)  The IOC and FOC (of LCA Mark-2 could stretch well into 2025, says Gupta said.

The MoD official, however, said with the addition of an AESA radar, a jammer and air-to-air refueling capability, the LCA-Mark 1A should meet has met the operational needs of the Air Force, but declined IAF but refused to say when the LCA-Mark 2 will be completed.


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