The Cabinet Committee on Security on Wednesday approved the acquisition of 83 indigenously manufactured fourth-generation Tejas jet fighters from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd for the Indian Air Force. This is the biggest ever indigenous military deal worth Rs 46,898 crore. Delivery of the single-engine Tejas Mark 1-A fighter jets will begin in three years.
This will give a big boost to the indigenous military production sector with HAL working with nearly 500 other companies to meet the order. It will also boost the number of fighter squadrons in the Indian Air Force. The deal also includes delivery of 10 Tejas trainer aircraft to the IAF.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, announcing this acquisition, said “this deal will be a game changer for self-reliance in Indian defence manufacturing. It would act as a catalyst for transforming the domestic aerospace ecosystem. The LCA-Tejas is going to be the backbone of the IAF fighter fleet in the years to come.”
The new Tejas Mark 1-A jet fighters will have 43 improvements over the 40 Tejas Mark-1 fighter jets ordered by the Indian Air Force earlier. The crucial major additions are AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars to replace existing mechanically-steered radars, air-to-air refuelling facility, long-range BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missiles with a range up to 80 kilometres and advanced electronic warfare to jam enemy radars and missiles. It can fly up to a maximum speed of 1,000 kmph and carry more than 5,000 kg of bombs and missiles. It is the smallest and lightest among the fourth-generation fighter jets.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed a report from our Defence Editor Manish Prasad who visited the HAL unit in Bengaluru where the Tejas fighter jets are being manufactured. The new Mark 1-A version will be equipped with electronic warfare suite, and the chief test pilot of HAL told our reporter that it is one of the finest fighter jets in the fourth generation series. Coming soon is the Mark 2 version which will be equipped with a more powerful engine, can carry more bombs and will be equipped with the latest avionics like radar and sensor. The new version of the jet will weigh 17 tonnes, whereas the present version weighs only 12 tonnes, P. Jayadeva, general manager of Tejas project told our Defence Editor.
Presently, the Indian Air Force has only 30 fighter squadrons, each squadron having 16 to 18 jets, but the requirements are for 42 squadrons which can act as a deterrent to the twin threats on our borders. With the new acquisition, the number of Tejas fighter jets in the IAF will increase to 123. At present, the IAF has 20 Tejas fighters and 20 more are in different stages of production.
The acquisition of Tejas fighter jet has come after a 37-year-long torturous wait. The Centre had approved the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project way back in August, 1983 with an initial investment of Rs 560 crore. It was to replace the ageing MiG-21 jets. The first prototype of Tejas was flown after 18 years in January 2001, and 12 years later, in December 2013, the single-engine Tejas jet got the Initial Operational Clearance.
The Indian Air Force got the first Tejas jet in January 2015, 32 years after the project was launched. The first Tejas squadron was raised a year later with only two jets. Tejas got the final operational clearance in February 2019, and the second Tejas squadron was raised by the IAF in May last year. After the induction of 83 Tejas jets in the IAF, the HAL is set to develop the fifth-generation stealth fighter jet called the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). The Indian Air Force wants at least 126 such stealth fighter jets for its arsenal.
Every Indian should hold his head high in pride after the HAL achieves its aim of manufacturing stealth fighter jets. I am now reminded of the vicious allegations made by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which he said that Narendra Modi wants to wind up the HAL to help foreign defence companies. Rahul had then said that thousands of HAL employees would be rendered unemployed if the 36 Rafale jets are acquired from France. I still remember how the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rebutted each and every charge made by Rahul Gandhi. She had then promised that HAL would be given the entire Tejas project to complete. Her words have now come true today. The approval given by the CCS on Wednesday has proved how Rahul Gandhi made baseless charges inside Parliament.
I think Rahul Gandhi should sometimes introspect about the allegations that he levels against the Modi government. He should try to understand the connotations of Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India), an India which is capable of defending its borders with weapons manufactured on its own soil, a strong and capable India. Not only Tejas, there are many other indigenous weapons in the people. He should go and watch this year’s Republic Day parade in which the Indian Army will showcase Uzi-type ASMI machine pistols, universal bulletproof jackets, Switch drone vertical microcopters, and other indigenous weapons all developed by Indian army officers with the ‘Made in India’ label. Modi’s vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ has made a spectacular beginning.
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