Super Tejas — what’s the point? Opinion on twin-engine Tejas from Shiv Aroor
We met up with leading Indian defence reporter Shiv Aroor to find out more about the mysterious ORCA artworks revealed by a Tejas test pilot.
What is the point?
“Well to start off, these aren’t official renders by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) that administers Tejas, but, as I understand it, from some folks at HAL which builds the Tejas. Now to the point. The ADA tells me it was ‘forced’ to propose a twin-engine Tejas design specifically because the Indian Navy has put a hard stop to ambiguity over whether it will operate the existing N-LCA. The sense I got directly from the top is that the team isn’t particularly pleased with the idea of ditching the N-LCA for the twin-engine configuration. So the point, if there is one, is to meet the Indian Navy’s requirement under existing commitments to supply a carrier-compatible fighter. That this will involve an air force variant is obvious. But it’s important to acknowledge that there would be no twin-engine Tejas design of any kind if there was no Indian Navy stipulation to the effect. So this springs from the Indian Navy, not the Air Force.”
Is it a good idea?
“Like a lot of things, this looks like robust on paper. I’ve seen reports that there’s a six-year development path to first flight and highly optimistic pathways to getting this project off the ground. If those timelines are even remotely realistic, it could be a good idea. ”
Will it happen?
“While I fully support indigenous aerospace design, I very much doubt this will be a reality for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I don’t think Indian Navy requirements have ever compelled major aircraft design decisions in the country — and they’re not about to start. Even the N-LCA was an afterthought. The Indian Air Force might be more inclined towards a lower-risk LCA Mk.II/MWF that was revealed in concept form a year ago. The IAF has only just begun warming to the Tejas Mk.1 and looks forward to the Mk.1A. I doubt it’ll be looking to see another development path towards a fourth-gen fighter. My sense is it would rather see design hours and resources dedicated to the stealthy AMCA. And I agree with that inclination. Finally, budgetary resources are already stretched thin between committed purchases and existing projects like the AMCA. Adding a new one will merely slow things down.”
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The Indian Navy has 44 relatively young MiG-29K/KUBs in service as of now. The oldest of these was delivered to the IN in 2007. That’s just 12 years old. Yet, the IN wants the Govt. to buy 57 new Multi-role Carrier Borne Fighters which would be either the Super Hornet or the Rafale. The cost for 57 of these with weapons and associated equipment is estimated to be an astronomical $12 billion if the IAF’s 36 Rafale purchase is anything to go by. I haven’t even accounted for inflation.
So how does it make sense to spend such a massive amount buying 2.5 squadrons of an entirely imported 4.5 gen fighter when the 45 MiG-29Ks are still not even at Mid-Life level? The IN plans on retiring the MiG-29Ks starting from 2032 (25 years service life) and needs either the MRCBF or TEDBF to be in service by then. I would vote for the TEDBF given how the Tejas Mk1 has shaped up and where the Mk1A and MWF are going. It is the logical evolution that is far more feasible than the more ambitious 5th gen AMCA.
Shiv Aroor might be a defence reporter, but he is no defence expert and certainly not an aviation expert. Asking a reporter whether the concept is feasible or not, is utter stupidity. I guess no one wants this to materialize, and the best way to put doubts in the minds of Indian people is to ask questions to reporters like Shiv Aroor, whose site, Livefist is followed by large nos. of people for defence news. This guy certainly has his own biases for not advocating for the ORCA. Is he going to guarantee that we will not go for another 4++ gen fighter from another country ?? Is fifth gen AMCA going to be inducted in large nos ?? AMCA is going to more than a fifth gen fighter, with a protracted development. Then how do you fill in 4++ gen fighters in your inventory till AMCA comes, if you don’t develop your own fighters ?? Naval fighter is a requirement. If the designers insist that they can develop the Tedbf as well as the Orca as an offshoot, why not support it wholeheartedly ?? We are a large country with a need for large nos of fighter aircrafts, and if this indigenization process of 4++ gen fighters stops, i am sure as hell, the same reporters advocating for skipping the 4++ gen and moving to fifth generation fighters, will be clamouring for imports of foreign 4++ gen fighters in the future, to fill up our inventory to meet numbers until the AMCA arrives.