Affordable Excellence: How the Tejas Mk-1A disrupts the fighter market

Team Udayavani, Mar 30, 2024, 2:42 PM IST

The first flight of the Tejas Mk1A Aircraft series, assigned as LA5033, was effectively carried out on 28th March at the HAL facility in Bengaluru. The flight lasted 18 minutes.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has successfully delivered 32 single-seat LCA fighters and two twin-seat trainers from the Tejas Mk1 order. The total value of this order was Rs 8,802 crore. The company is now gearing up to deliver 83 Tejas Mk-1A aircraft between March 2024 and February 2028, as per the agreement worth Rs 46,898 crore signed in 2021.

India is actively working towards securing an export order for the Tejas aircraft and is utilizing diplomatic efforts to achieve this goal.

In order to further establish the Tejas as the preferred choice for the Indian Air Force, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has given approval for an additional 97 Tejas Mk-1A aircraft. It is expected that these aircraft will be ordered once they receive the final clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

The TEJAS MK-1A, an upgraded version of the MK-1, was approved for procurement in 2021. It offers improved features such as a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, a combat range of 550km, and a service ceiling of 16km.

Over the next few years, the LCA Mk 1A is set to replace outdated fighter jets like the MiG-21s, MiG-23s, and MiG-27s. The retirement of MiG-29s, Mirages, and Jaguars is also being planned. Consequently, the indigenous LCA Tejas is expected to have a significant role in the Indian Air Force’s frontline operations in the coming decade.

*Revolutionizing Radar Capabilities:*
The EL/M-2052 AESA radar endows the Mk1A with exceptional battlefield surveillance capabilities, akin to the acute vision of a hawk. It meticulously scans combat zones with exact precision, identifying and following airborne hazards from afar. This empowers aviators to respond with prompt, precise action.

The EL/M-2052 is an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a major aerospace and defense company based in Israel. It is designed for use in a variety of aircraft, providing advanced air-to-air and strike capabilities.

The Uttam AESA is a radar system developed in India that enhances the electronic protection and redundancy of the Tejas aircraft. Serving as the powerful radar for the Tejas Mk1A, it utilizes 100’s of tiny transmitters to scan the skies.With a detection range exceeding 200km and the ability to simultaneously track multiple targets, the Uttam AESA radar provides the Tejas aircraft with a significant advantage in combat. This advanced radar system grants pilots a comprehensive view of the battlefield, enabling instant reactions and precise engagements. Uttam is continuously progressing, with ongoing efforts to incorporate additional modules and advanced features, establishing its position as a revolutionary presence in the realm of radar technology.

*Advancing Electronic Warfare Capabilities :* The days of susceptibility are now a thing of the past. The Mk1A aircraft is equipped with an array of state-of-the-art defensive electronic systems. A self-protection jammer effectively interferes with enemy radars, enveloping the aircraft in a shield of electronic interference.Pilots are provided with crucial advance notice of incoming threats through the employment of a radar warning receiver, enabling them to take evasive actions in a timely manner. Additionally, the optional external ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) pod delivers a relentless stream of jamming signals, causing further confusion and incapacitation of enemy radars and missile seekers.The DRDO ASPJ (Airborne Self-Protection Jammer) pod serves as the electronic armor of the modern era, effectively impeding the tracking and targeting capabilities of enemy radars and missiles. This advanced technology renders the fighter jet more elusive and resistant to enemy attacks.The inclusion of an early warning system grants pilots valuable reaction time, significantly enhancing their chances of survival. This technological advancement elevates the Tejas aircraft to a formidable adversary in contemporary air battles.

*Breaking Boundaries of Versatility :* The Mk1A aircraft is not limited in its capabilities. Its enhanced payload capacity enables it to become a versatile force in multiple missions. It possesses the capability to engage airborne adversaries with air-to-air missiles, while seamlessly transitioning to deliver precision-guided munitions to ground targets with exceptional accuracy. Additionally, the integration of standoff weapons provides an added level of flexibility, enabling the Tejas to strike from a safe distance, reducing the risk of encountering enemy fire.

A standoff weapon refers to a type of weapon that allows an aircraft or a military vehicle to engage targets from a distance, reducing the risk of being within the range of enemy defenses.

*Unleashing Power: The Force within the Engine :* With a potential engine upgrade, the Mk1A holds the promise of the GE F404IN, offering a substantial increase in thrust. This advancement propels the aircraft to higher speeds and improves its climb rate, resulting in quicker takeoffs, swifter intercepts, and enhanced combat maneuverability. Furthermore, the upgrade brings fuel efficiency gains, crucial for extending the aircraft’s range and ensuring the success of missions.

*Igniting Agile Performance: The Power of Lightweight Engineering :* While boasting improved capabilities, the Mk1A maintains its sleek form and nimble or agile characteristics, establishing itself as one of the most lightweight and agile fighters in its category. It effortlessly maneuvers through the skies with the elegance of a ballerina , all the while possessing the powerful impact of a heavyweight contender. This exceptional maneuverability provides a competitive advantage during dogfights and grants the ability to outmaneuver adversaries in close-quarters combat scenarios.

*Expanding the Boundaries: Beyond the Skies of India* : Beyond being a mere symbol of India’s military strength, the Tejas Mk1A has the potential to revolutionize the international arms market. With its exceptional capabilities and cost-efficiency, it may garner attention from countries eager for an advanced yet affordable fighter jet solution. HAL, the manufacturer of this aircraft, is actively preparing for possible export prospects, indicating a promising future for the global presence of the Mk1A.

_*Mastering Technical Excellence: Impressive Skills in Action*_

*1. Advancing Power: The Evolution of Engine Technology* : The potential transition to the GE F404IN engine offers more than just increased horsepower. It brings forth improved agility and endurance to the Tejas Mk1A. Picture the Mk1A effortlessly cutting through the air with a significant increase in 20% thrust, enabling swift ascents and quicker intercepts. With its supercruise capability, the aircraft can maintain supersonic speeds without relying on afterburners, resulting in extended combat missions and enhanced fuel efficiency. This advanced engine propels the Tejas to the ranks of high-performance fighters known for their sustained supersonic capabilities.

*2.Harmonizing Sensor Fusion:* The Symphony of Integrated Technology : The combination of the EL/M-2052 AESA radar and Uttam AESA creates an incredibly powerful pairing. Picture a vivid battlefield image, finely crafted with meticulous precision. These AESA radars scan, track, and prioritize multiple threats simultaneously, granting pilots an unmatched situational awareness bubble. Operating alongside advanced data fusion algorithms, these sensors seamlessly amalgamate information from various onboard systems such as electronic warfare suites and communication channels, generating a holistic tactical picture for well-informed decision-making. The Uttam AESA radar will also integrate with the Angad electronic warfare suite, a sophisticated system currently under development by the DRDO. This suite will equip the Tejas Mk1A with a comprehensive electronic warfare capability, including the capacity to disrupt enemy radars and communications through jamming techniques.

*3.Variety and Versatility of Weapons* : The Mk1A is more than just a simple attack jet. With its ability to carry a larger array of weapons, it can handle a wide range of combat tasks. Imagine it first taking out enemy planes with air-to-air missiles in a dogfight, and then quickly switching to drop laser-guided bombs on targets on the ground with great accuracy. It can also fire BrahMos missiles from a safe distance, staying out of reach of enemy defenses. This mix of weapons makes the Tejas a highly versatile fighter, ready to adapt to changing situations on the battlefield.

_*Comparative Analysis: Assessing Competitiveness*_

*1.Gripen E vs. Tejas: Evaluating Nordic Competition :* The Gripen E offers similar speed and agility, thanks to its turbofan engine. However, the Tejas competes well in maneuverability, aided by its lighter weight and delta wing design. The Gripen’s strength lies in its advanced electronic warfare suite and integration with NATO systems, whereas the Tejas emphasizes cost-effectiveness and use of indigenous technology, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious countries in need of a capable fighter jet.

*2.Rafale: Blending French Elegance with Military Strength* : The Rafale stands out for its powerful arsenal and advanced sensor fusion abilities. Its SPECTRA radar and RBE2-AA active array offer a broader field of vision and exceptional target tracking. However, the Rafale is expensive. On the other hand, the Tejas, while not matching the Rafale’s firepower, provides a cost-effective alternative that still offers good value for its capabilities.

_*Looking Ahead: The Unfolding of the Future*_

*1.Nurturing Local Expertise, Expanding Global Horizon* :The Tejas Mk1A signifies a significantly milestone in India’s pursuit of aerospace independence. With a growing focus on indigenous components like the Uttam AESA radar and Kaveri engine progress, India is establishing the groundwork for future versions that will decrease reliance on foreign technology. This progress has the potential to position India as a significant contender in the international fighter jet market.

*2.Setting Sail Towards Maritime Aspirations* : The prospect of a naval variant adds an intriguing element to the Tejas narrative, envisioning a version capable of safeguarding India’s maritime interests while operating from aircraft carriers. Although there are obstacles to overcome in adapting the Tejas for carrier operations, its inherent maneuverability and compact design position it as a viable candidate in the realm of naval fighter aircraft.

*3.Forging a Lasting Legacy* : Moving Beyond Mk1A:The Mk1A marks a significant stage in the ongoing evolution of the Tejas. Future enhancements are anticipated, emphasizing advanced stealth technologies, next-generation sensors, and the potential inclusion of hypersonic weaponry. This ongoing development pathway highlights India’s dedication to constructing a cutting-edge fighter jet that will ensure the protection of its airspace for future generations.

This is just a glimpse into the intricate realm of the Tejas Mk1A. I invite you to explore in greater detail any particular aspect that captures your interest. Whether it involves delving into the complexities of its electronic warfare capabilities, comparing its performance statistics with other competitors, or examining the obstacles and possibilities of its naval aspirations, let’s elevate this discussion to a more comprehensive level of understanding!

Girish Linganna
Defence & Aerospace Analyst
Mobile +91 9845099196

( _The author Girish Linganna of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected]_ )

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