Originally intended to replace the sizeable fleet of Mig-21s and other obsolete birds from the Indian Airforce’s service with fourth-generation capabilities, the LCA Tejas program lacks decades behind the original schedule where it was supposed to replace Mig-21s by the early start of the twenty-first century. Where in reality, its first prototype took to the skies in 2001. Only a few units have been built since then. That includes 2 technology demonstrators, 5 prototypes, 8 limited serial production aircraft, and two naval prototypes. Introduction to operational service took another 16 years until the first squadron was handed over LCA Tejas jets in July 2016. No.45 Sqn, “ Flying Daggers “ based at Bengaluru, was given LCA Tejas replacing Mig-21s. In 2018 the Squadron was moved to Sulur Air Base in Tamil Nadu.
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16 LCA Tejas Mk.1 aircraft were delivered to No.45 Squadron in IOC (initial operational clearance) configuration interim grant for induction in service that could very well be a political move to save the project from falling altogether. Tejas Mk.1 didn’t get FOC (Final operational clearance) until 2020. In May 2020, No.18 Squadron “ Flying Bullets “ was reequipped with LCA Tejas Mk.1 at Sulur Air Force Base, when 1 airframe of Tejas Mk.1 was delivered in FOC configuration. While two more aircraft in FOC configuration have undergone test flights.
Tejas as a replacement for Mig-21 was a perfect choice if it had met the originally scheduled timeline. With time newer technologies have evolved new systems and sub-systems have been introduced in fighter aircraft. Tejas Mk.1 seems obsolete for introduction in operational service as of 2020. Full glass, NVG supported, Helmet Mounted Display compatible cockpit is great for man-machine interaction but active sensor avionics package is relatively inferior to the standard of the jet being brought into service in 2020. FOC Tejas have Inflight refueling probes.
LCA Tejas has RWR (Radar Warning receiver) but lacks the MAWS (Missile approach warning receiver). Lacking a MAWS in modern-day air battle is a huge drawback that can be costly as RWR provides advance warnings against tracking radars but not against infrared or electro-optical guided weapons. Which are among the primary threats in the air as well from the ground.
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Tejas has pulse doppler radar with a range of only 150kms which is not enough to detect and act accordingly against modern-day supersonic fighter planes.
Tejas has an Integrated Radio Communication Set (INCOM) which is a standard radio communication set. But LCA Tejas lacks a Datalink altogether. Datalink is an essential capability that a fourth-generation jet is supposed to have. Datalink helps to share essential battlefield information about targets and threats, it helps in sorting targets as a group of fighters and avoiding threats that are not visible to your aircraft but other aircraft on the same data link can see. Data linking helps in integrated operations, the standard modern air war doctrine. But LCA Tejas lacking the data link capability is a drawback that can be costly against pro adversaries.
Lack of properly integrated weapons and other systems make LCA Tejas of no good use in either air to air or air to ground roles. Mig-21 was essentially a supersonic interceptor, LCA Tejas having relatively shorter combat range and speed than Mig-21, doesn’t fit the role as a lead interceptor of IAF. Delta wing designs usually opt for strike role aircraft as they are faster and stable but Tejas doesn’t have such payload capacity to be employed in the strike role. DRDO’s SAAW (Smart Anti Air Field Weapon) and Glide Bombs are good on paper but actual integration into combat aircraft is whole another story. Electronic Warfare is a fundamental element of modern-day fighter employment but LCA Tejas lacks in the domain as it doesn’t have an integrated Electronic Warfare suite. Tejas is said to be capable of carrying Self Protection Jamming pod but no pod has ever been spotted or verified to be integrated and operational on aircraft.
LCA Tejas has not been successful in gaining any foreign buyer’s interest.
The Tejas project is already decades behind schedule, yet the project is being insisted on evolving as a top-notch 4.5 generation fighter, which theoretically seems great. Still, practically it has meager chances of any success. THE current FOC version of LCA Tejas, the Tejas Mk.1, lacks many essential capabilities. The way modern air war is evolving, Tejas looks like something from the late 90s. The overall project is horribly delayed, yet injecting resources into theocratic propositions of evolving Tejas doesn’t seem to be a good approach.