NEW DELHI ― The ruling National Democratic Alliance government’s Make in India policy could suffer a major blow as the Indian Air Force mulls the purchase of 105 Mark 2 versions of futuristic, homemade light-combat aircraft for $15 billion.
Service officials and analysts say the program faces uncertainty due to a lack of clarity and other immediate priorities.
As of now, the Air Force wants to place an order with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, or HAL, for only 83 Mark 1 versions of the LCA for a cost of about $7.81 billion to meet the immediate fighters requirement.
“LCA Mark 2 is a far-fetched vision. The service wants improvement on existing LCA to address all issues of looms, improvement in performance, interchange ability, improved U.S.-made GE 414 [engine], improved avionics and missiles to be fitted on it,” a senior Indian Air Force official said.
Daljit Singh, a defense analyst and retired Air Force air marshal, said that the Mark 2 effort ”was proposed by the IAF to ensure that the LCA complies with majority of the air staff requirements. However, that would involve major design change of fuselage to accommodate more powerful engine.”
A senior executive of HAL said the production line of the LCA Mark 1A could be used for the Mark 2 version, but the executive refused to comment if there were plans to execute an LCA Mark 2 program.
The Air Force had initially sought 105 of the Mark 2 versions, which would come with fifth-generation fighter elements; improved propulsion system; a mounted, homemade Uttam active electronically scanned array radar; and the capability to carry 5,000 kilograms of armament.
A Ministry of Defense official said the LCA Mark 2 cannot be abandoned because it’s an important Indian-made project. The official added that efforts will be made to set the program on track for the Air Force.
On the future of the LCA Mark 2, Singh noted: “The project does not appear to have formal sanction, even though a lot of deliberations appear to have taken place.”