It has been 32 years in the making but it will be least another five years before the indigenously-built fighter jet Tejas (Mark -II) can be deployed in a combat role, a top Indian Air Force official told NDTV.
This is bad news for India which was hoping to induct the Tejas in large numbers to make-up for its ageing fighter fleet. India will have to decommission about 14 Squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters by 2022.
Top IAF officials told NDTV that Tejas (Mark -II) will be fitted with the GE - 414 engine instead of the existing GE- 404 engine to give the aircraft more thrust. "But that would require major changes in the airframe, the lengthy of aircraft will have to increased, air intake vents of the engine re-designed -and ballast - or weight - added to tail section of existing airframe to stabilize the aircraft," the officer told NDTV.The aircraft will also be fitted with an improved radar to give it the capability to take on targets that are beyond visual range (BVR). The IAF wants Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radars. The current version of the aircraft cannot fire missiles at BVR targets.
The Tejas (Mark -I) - the current version which doesn't meet Indian Air Force's combat requirements - is unlikely to get its crucial Final Operational Clearance (FOC) this December, as planned. "There are still some issues that need to sorted and the FOC will be delayed," the officer said.
Recently India opted to buy 36 - about two squadrons - French-built Rafale fighters to plug the growing gaps in capability created by aging and retiring jets. "It is a pragmatic decision" the Rafales will give the IAF some maneuvering room while the Tejas is further refined," the officer added.Despite pressure to induct fighters in large numbers, the IAF plans to induct about 40 Tejas (Mark-I) fighters in the next few years and use it mainly for training purposes. "As we see it, it is better to wait and get a good fighter then going for Mark-I in its current state of development" the officer added.