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The indigenously developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft is a world class fighter jet and can effectively play its "defined" role in securing Indian skies, its manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) said on Sunday as the Indian Air Force looked at acquiring a fleet of foreign single-engine jets.
HAL chairman and managing director T Suvarna Raju said most of the 42 modifications in Tejas sought by the IAF, including weaponisation of the aircraft, had been carried out and asserted that the production of the jet could be stepped up depending on the requirement.
"Tejas is a four-and-half generation world class fighter jet. There is no doubt about it. We can improve its various parameters. We are proud of Tejas. Every Indian will be proud of it. We will ensure enhancement in its quality and performance," Raju told PTI in an interview.
His remarks came amidst views in the IAF that the Tejas aircraft was not enough to maintain its combat readiness and it needed to quickly procure a fleet of foreign single engine fighters to deal with any possible security challenges facing the country in the backdrop of the dwindling size of its fighter fleet.
The IAF believes it has to have a wide mix of aircraft to maintain an operational edge over its adversaries.
The IAF has placed an order for 40 Tejas and is likely to seal a contract "very soon" with HAL for another 83 aircraft. However, Raju said HAL was looking at supplying higher numbers, adding that it was ready to carry out further upgrades, modification and improvements on the jet "very quickly".
The HAL CMD said the four-and-half generation Tejas would be able to deliver what is expected of it, insisting that the lifespan of the jet would be a minimum of 30 years just like any other frontline combat aircraft.
The combat jets are classified under various generations depending on their avionics, capability and weapons systems. The current fleet of fighter jets with the IAF range from three-and-half generation to fourth generation.
Rejecting criticism of a delay in the delivery of the jet to the IAF, the head of the state-run aerospace behemoth said HAL was ready to "significantly speed up" the delivery of the 83 jets as the public sector entity was investing Rs 1,300 crore to augment the existing infrastructure for manufacturing the aircraft.
"If I know the numbers, the investments can go (up). Rate of production can be increased to any extent. It depends on what cost economics you are looking at. I can create capacity for any number," Raju said.
Currently, HAL has the capacity to produce eight aircraft annually and Raju said it would go up to 24 aircraft per year by 2021.
"Another way to speed up production is not by HAL investment but by encouraging the vendors, the local Indian industry to supply us with the major components," he said, adding HAL was giving contracts to L&T, WhAM and two other firms to supply the main components of the aircraft such as the front fuselage, centre fuselage, rear fuselage and wings.
"So this process will make us the integrator," he said.
Asked about questions being raised on the endurance, weaponisation and other key parameters of Tejas, Raju suggested that any comparison between Tejas and Gripen (Sweden) or F-16 (US) was unfair as Tejas was manufactured following a defined role and specific requirements of the IAF.
"The specifications of Tejas are world class. If you are trying to compare the role of this (Tejas) with what is the role of a Gripen and role of F 16... they differ in their requirements. The requirements are defined for Tejas and we are meeting them. I really do not know how one can compare a Tejas with a Gripen saying they are of the same class," he said.
Asked if the IAF was reluctant to go for more Tejas aircraft, he said it was not a correct assessment adding that almost all leading countries in the world had a mix of aircraft fleet which includes the "best of the best" as well as other jets.