IAF Modernisation 2035: Is The Upcoming Tejas MK2 Overhyped & Where Does AMCA Feature?

As the Indian Air Force (IAF) undertakes a massive modernisation effort, just how much of an edge do two of its much-touted 'Make-In-India' projects really give?

IAF Modernisation 2035: Is The Upcoming Tejas MK2 Overhyped & Where Does AMCA Feature?

A program for developing a new Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to replace the Indian Air Force's (IAF) ageing fighters was initiated in 1983, while in 2001, the Tejas Mark 1 came into service. As a continuation of the LCA program, Tejas MK2 was authorised in 2009 under the Phase-III of the full-scale engineering development process. For the supply of 83 LCA MK1A, the defence ministry had signed a ₹48000 crore deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) last February, and the first three aircraft shall be delivered by 2024.

The first four prototypes will be available by the end of this year, and the aircraft is expected to make its first flight in the upcoming year.

Reports said that the comprehensive design review (CD-R) was accepted for the Tejas Mark 2, which involves evaluating the airframe design so that the aircraft gets all set for fabricating the prototype of the plane. On the other hand, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited integrates the Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile onto the Mark1A jet.

What Makes The Tejas MK2 A More Sophisticated Variant?

Tejas Mk2 will have more manoeuvrability and advanced technology than the early variants. It is a medium weight Delta wing aircraft or Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) and shall carry a payload of 6,500 kgs, which is almost double what LCA Tejas could handle, i.e. 3,500 kgs.

Tejas Mk2 shall be guided by indigenously developed Uttam AESA radar capable of detecting and neutralising hostile electronic Warfare attempts and is thought to be advanced enough to give the aircraft an advantage over Israeli made radars currently installed on the previous variants. The glass cockpit will be dominated by a touch-sensitive wide area display placed in panoramic orientation with a wide-angle holographic head-up display (HUD) system.

To compensate for the rapid decrease in oxygen levels at high altitudes, the aircraft's cockpit shall feature self-sustainable oxygen generating technology that the Defence Research and Development Organisation has used for the Indian Air Force Pilots who fly the LCA Tejas. This technology is known as an onboard oxygen generating system (OBOGS).

Integrating various sensors onboard the aircraft shall also feature a health and usage monitoring system and an infrared search and track system along with the Missile approach warning system. The aircraft is expected to have a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and a range of 2,500 km with a service ceiling of 56,758 ft which is better than earlier variants.

Weapon Capabilities

Tejas MK2 shall have 13 hardpoints with an expected capacity of around 6.5 tons. Powered by a more powerful General Electric F414 INS6 engine and will be equipped with Crystal Maze, Scalp and Spice-2000 missiles. However, even MICA, Meteor, Astra and NG-CCM air-to-air missiles are also planned for the aircraft.

The Tejas MK2 can also carry the BrahMos-NG Air-Launched Cruise Missile, and Storm Shadow missiles are also under consideration. Some reports suggest that the MWF will also equip Rudram 1/2/3 air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles in the future.

Other Armaments

The aircraft can carry the other armaments among the precision-guided munitions, Spice, DRDO Glide Bombs, DRDO SAAW and HSLD-100/250/450/500.

Apart from the above, MK2 can also deliver Laser-guided bomb Sudarshan, Cluster munitions, Loitering munitions and Unguided bombs.

AMCA Waits In Line

Apart from the Tejas, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is also in line and is expected to have its first flight by 2025-26, while serial production might begin by 2030. The program is initiated for developing 5th generation fighter jets for the IAF, while the naval variant shall include 6th generation niche Technologies.

The aircraft is intended to perform many missions, including suppression of Enemy air defences, electronic warfare, ground strike and air superiority missions, and would be a complete replacement for the Sukhoi Su 30 MKI superiority fighters, which forms the backbone of the Indian Air Force fighter fleet. After HAL Marut and Tejas, this would be the third supersonic jet of Indian origin.

Mission Victory India's Contributing Editor, Joseph P. Chacko, who is the author of 'Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm' & 'Warring Navies - India and Pakistan' apart from being a noted security analyst & columnist had this to say:

"AMCA is the Indian attempt to create a fifth-generation aircraft. If the qualitative requirement writers manage to get the tonnage and weapon systems right by the time it is ready, it will boost IAF. IAF will have a comparable fighter as per the world standards."

Is Tejas MK2 A Good Deal?

In a 2019 report released by The Print, Yusuf T. Unjhawala, editor of Defence Forum India, said, "The Indian Air Force (IAF) has to consider the timeline and the investments being made from an ever-shrinking budget."

Yusuf T. Unjhawala went on to note, "The LCA is a fourth-generation fighter jet and the LCA Mark-2, which is now being converted to the Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) programme, is an entirely new fighter jet that is expected first to fly around 2023. That is if the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), and others involved in the project manager to deliver on time."

"This is simply not good enough for the IAF, which is grappling with both a drop in its squadron strength and its qualitative edge over adversaries," Yusuf T. Unjhawala concluded in his assessment.

On the contrary, Joseph Chacko says that the LCA Mk2 addresses aerodynamic problems and the aircraft's weapon carrying capacity compared to MK1A:

"MK2 features canards which were lacking in the previous model. In the obsession of creating the smallest fighter, Indian Qualitative Requirement writers didn't factor in the weight and dimensions increase of weapon systems which require a larger aircraft and more powerful engine."

"A nimble small fighter has no use for today's scenario as dog fights have paved the way for Beyond Visual Range tactics. India requires a mid-sized aircraft now and not a Mig-21 replacement. With MK2, India is now achieving the required capability," Joseph Chacko conlcuded in his analysis.

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