NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will have to scale up production of Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), asserting that the government has not "ditched" the project for any other fighter jet.
Sitharaman also said the government was eagerly awaiting the "Mark II" version of the Tejas and that a number of countries have shown interest in the aircraft indigenously developed by HAL. "We are not ditching the LCA. We have not gone for anything instead of Tejas. The HAL has to increase production capacity of LCA," she told reporters.
Currently, the HAL is producing around eight Tejas, a single engine multi-role aircraft, annually and the defence ministry wants it to increase the number to 18 planes per year. "We are very confident that Tejas Mark II will be a big leap forward to fulfil the single-engine fighter requirement of the forces," she said, adding the government was also considering export potential of the aircraft.
Official sources said the government is likely to soon launch the process to float a global tender for procurement of a fleet of fighter jets to augment IAF's depleting fighter squadrons. The IAF currently has 31 fighter squadrons against the authorised strength of 42.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) had ordered 40 Tejas Mark-1 version. A request for proposal (RFP) was issued to HAL by the IAF two months back for the procurement of 83 Tejas of the Mark-1A version at a cost of around Rs 50,000 crore.
Sitharaman said the government was examining how to increase the production of the LCA, adding a number of countries have shown interest in procuring the aircraft.
The defence minister's remarks came amid reports of a view in the defence establishment that Tejas was not enough to maintain IAF's 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 wake of the dwindling size of its fighter fleet.
The HAL has been maintaining that Tejas is a world class fighter jet and can effectively play its "defined" role in securing Indian skies.
The HAL is investing Rs 1,300 crore to augment the existing infrastructure so that production of Tejas can be increased to 24 aircraft per year by 2021.
Official sources said no decision could be taken on the long-pending fifth-generation fighter jet project with Russia due to high cost involved in it. The cost of the project is very high. It is still under consideration, they said.
A high-level committee set up by the government to examine various aspects of the project had submitted its report last year and the defence ministry is likely to take a call on it soon.
In 2007, India and Russia had inked an inter-governmental pact for the FGFA project. In December 2010, India had agreed to pay USD 295 million (Rs 1,897 crore) towards the preliminary design of the fighter, which is called in India as the 'Perspective Multi-role Fighter'.
However, the negotiations faced various hurdles in the subsequent years. In February 2016, India and Russia revived talks on the project after a clearance from the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar. The sources also said that Vietnam has shown interest in procuring Brahmos missiles.