Facing depleting squadron strength, Indian Air Force has decided to induct 324 units of indigenously-built Tejas jets in the long term. As of now, the IAF has agreed to buy 123 present-day Tejas fighter jets at the cost of more than INR 75,000 Crores.
However, the Indian Air Force wants the remaining 201 Tejas Mark-II jets to be “entirely new” with upgraded avionics and radars, greater fuel with a greater weapon carrying capacity and more powerful engines.
It’s important to note that the IAF is not happy with the capability and quality of the present Tejas fighter jets. Even after 35 years of giving a green signal to the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project, the Tejas jets are not combat-ready.
Besides, the present jets have many drawbacks like low endurance limit of just an hour, weapon carrying capacity of just 3 tonnes, and radius of action limited to 350 to 400 kms. Contrary to this, single fighter engines like Swedish Gripen-E and the American F-16 have not just the double carrying capacity but also triple the endurance.
In order to deal with China and Pakistan, IAF requires squadron strength of at least 42 but currently, the strength is down to 31. This is what made the top IAF Brass realize that instead of inducting expensive foreign fighters “in large numbers”, the induction of indigenous jets would be more logical.
Notably, under a September 2016 deal with France, India bought 36 Rafale fighter jets at the cost of INR 59,000 Crores, including maintenance cost and a weapons package.
Reportedly, the IAF has agreed to set up 18 Tejas squadrons if the agencies involved in the development deliver the Tejas Mark-II fighter jets, as per the standards.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has assured that the government hasn’t ditched the LCA project. In her words, “We have not gone for anything instead of Tejas.” She also asserted that Tejas Mark II will be a big leap forward to fulfill single-engine fighter requirement of the forces.