HAL Tejas : “India’s small multi-role fighter
In 1990, the Indian Air Force announced its intention to acquire a new fighter aircraft to replace its old Hawker Hunters and part of its MiG-21 Fishbed fleet. The aim was to rejuvenate a military aircraft that no longer seemed capable of clearly opposing the Pakistani air force, particularly its General Dynamics F-16A/B. Only its handful of MiG-29s and Mirage 2000Hs could maintain a precarious balance with its powerful neighbor.
In response, the national aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aircraft Limited (or HAL) proposed to launch a new light multi-role combat aircraft program called LCA (for Light Combat Aircraft), using both indigenous and Western technologies.
For the occasion HAL had American, French and Israeli support.
At the design level, the LCA program seemed clearly inspired by the French achievements of Dassault Aviation, historical supplier of the Indian Air Force. A first model was presented at Le Bourget in 1997. The aircraft was based on certain aspects of the Mirage 2000.
However, in 1998, the American government decided to end industrial support for the LCA program. The governments of the two countries were in disagreement following the resumption of atmospheric nuclear tests by India. So the program took a certain delay.
At the end of 1999, however, HAL began the construction of the first prototype. This assembly spread out over a good part of the year 2000, before the first tests of running in November of this year. Then on January 4, 2001 the LCA carried out its first flight. In the stride the manufacturer modified the designation of the plane, granting him the name of baptism of Tejas.
Externally, this prototype has the shape of a monoplane with a delta-shaped mid-wing. Built in metal and composite materials the Tejas prototype is propelled by a General Electric F404-IN20 turbojet engine generating a thrust of 5493 kg dry and 9171 kg with afterburner. Its internal armament consists of a GSh-23 gun of 23mm calibre of Soviet design but built under Indian license since the 1970s. Its external armament was designed to carry a whole range of weapons, from air-to-air missiles to air-to-ground missiles, including laser-guided bombs, or more classic smooth-bore missiles, and rocket baskets. Clearly its armament demonstrates the versatility of this machine. In terms of avionics, the Tejas carries an Israeli-made EL/M-2032 multimode Doppler radar. It also has an IRST-type tracking system including a FLIR and a Litening laser targeting system.
In June 2002, the second prototype of the aircraft made its first flight. This marked the beginning of the pre-production aircraft testing phase. A total of seventeen machines of this type were built between 2003 and 2013. Some were built to test the armament and the avionics, others to test certain aerodynamic improvements, or to consider an embarked version. Finally, two of these machines were tested in two-seater tandem, prefiguring an advanced training and operational transformation version.
At the end of 2013, the first production aircraft made their appearance in the Indian Air Force at Squadron 45 based in Bangalore in the southwest of the country. Intended for training future instructors, the aircraft in this unit were not declared operational until May 2014. However, until the Squadron reaches its allocation of 40 Tejas, it will not be engaged in air defense or combat missions, and will remain in charge of training missions.
In 2010 it was decided to build a more powerful version, designated Tejas Mk-2, with new F414 engines identical to those fitted to the US Navy’s Super Hornet. This version is a precursor to the naval Tejas that will join the Indian Navy in 2018-2020 on the INS-Vikramaditya aircraft carrier, alongside the MiG-29K twin-engine aircraft and the Russian Kamov Ka-31 helicopters.
Eventually, the Indian Air Force and Navy are expected to field 260 to 300 aircraft for the former and 40 for the latter. These aircraft will replace those acquired in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Tejas is the first fighter designed and built in India since the Marut, and is considered the only single-engine multi-role fighter outside of the Gripen. However, its land and naval design brings it closer to the French Rafale. Of course, India is also aiming for export contracts for its aircraft until around 2050.
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