Tejas Mark 1A production to start in 2023, BEL gets 2.4k cr order

Plans to bring out a more improved version of India’s indigenous fighter aircraft, Tejas, have moved a step closer to fruition with the award of a Rs 2,400 cr contract by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL).

The contract has been awarded for the supply of 20 types of airborne electronic systems for 83 aircraft belonging to the upcoming Tejas Mark 1A category starting from 2023.

Tejas Mark 1A is one of the two upgraded versions of the first generation Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, which is currently in the process of being inducted into service with the Indian Air Force.

The Tejas Mark 1, while no less of a success as an initial attempt at coming up with India’s own indigenous fighter aircraft, suffers from some key drawbacks.

In addition to falling short of indigenization goals, Tejas LCA Mark 1 suffered from “53 significant shortfalls” resulting in reduced survivability and operational employability, according to a CAG report that was prepared six years ago — before the aircraft had been given final clearance.

This led to two programs — Mark 1A — aimed at retaining the overall structure and carrying out whatever modifications were possible — and Mark II — which is a complete redesign of the aircraft with a new engine and airframe.

The latest contract given to BEL is for the Mark 1A program, which hopes to incorporate 40-plus improvements over Mark 1, and is scheduled to begin production in 2023.

The BEL order will be fulfilled over five years from 2023 to 2028 and involves the supply of critical avionic Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) related to Digital Flight Control Computers, Air Data Computers, Weapon Computers, LRUs related to Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and Head Up Display.

BEL is the government of India’s in-house firm that is in charge of developing and manufacturing all kinds of electronic solutions for weaponry and other defence equipment.

The Bangalore-based company said the line replaceable units have been indigenously designed and developed by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), DRDO Labs, Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Combat Aircraft Systems Development and Integration Centre (CASDIC) and Central Scientific Instruments Organisation (CSIO).

“This is the biggest ever order received by BEL for Avionic Systems and will go a long way in ensuring the Indian Air Force’s Air Superiority and giving a boost to Atmanirbhar Bharat,” it added.

The order will be executed by two Strategic Business Units (SBUs) of BEL: Electronic Warfare & Avionics, Bengaluru, and BEL Panchkula, Haryana. All the systems will be delivered by BEL to HAL in a ready-to-board condition.

HAL, the Indian government’s in-house aircraft manufacturing firm, said the LCA Tejas programme is an “excellent example of the synergy between eminent Indian Defence establishments such as HAL, DRDO and BEL”.

“The current order for the development and supply of 20 types of critical Avionics LRUs for Tejas Mk1A is a shot in the arm for the Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat initiatives of the Government of India,” it added.

The Mark 1A aims to address concerns around increased weight and reduced speed by increasing the use of composites in manufacturing and using more aerodynamic pylons. It will also have AESA radar, a self-protection jammer and updated avionics and electronic warfare capabilities, while retaining the basic Mark 1 airframe.

Meanwhile, the Mark 2 is being developed with a complete redesign and structural modifications around Mark 1.

It will come with a more powerful General Electric F414 INS6 engine and other design changes, and boast of an increased payload and internal fuel capacity, more external hardpoints, improved combat range, a completely redesigned cockpit, and an integrated IRST system.