NEW DELHI – India formally launched a program Wednesday to buy a fleet of 83 single-engine fighters for about $8 billion.

The light combat aircraft, dubbed the LCA Mark-1A, will be produced by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd on nomination. This is the largest Make in India defense program and the first effort to build fighters in the country without obtaining technology transfer from overseas, a Ministry of Defence official said.

The purchase of an adapted version of the LCA Mark-1 comes amid skepticism about a another effort to purchase of 105 Mark 2 versions of futuristic, homemade light-combat aircraft for $15 billion. Service officials and analysts have said that program lacks clarity.

HAL, also India’s sole fighter manufacturer was asked to submit commercial & technical offers by March 2018, and a formal contract is expected to be awarded after six months. Despite apprehensions from the Indian Air Force that the program has not attained full maturity and could face delays, MoD overruled the service, arguing that the LCA-Mark1A project will build a robust aerospace eco-system with greater participation of private defense companies, the ministry official added.

The LCA-Mark 1A program is a joint effort of HAL and the Aeronautical Development Agency under the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation to incorporate 43 improvements into the basic LCA version fighter, said a senior HAL executive.

“Once a formal contract is awarded the company will meet the target to produce the fighters in five years,” the executive added.

The LCA Mark-1 will have service-specific active electronically scanned array radar, or AESA; air-to-air refueling pods; self-protection jammers; and improved avionics and core systems. It will be “truly a fourth-generation fighter,” another HAL executive claimed, adding that the company has already carried out 27 modifications in the basic version to improve the maintenance performance of LCA Mark-1A.

The Indian Air Force has already placed an order of 20 LCAs; after obtaining final operational clearance certification, 20 more will also be ordered. Though design and development of LCA by DRDO began in 1993, only six fighters have been delivered by HAL so far.

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