Not ditched Tejas jet, looking to speed up production: Nirmala
New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday 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 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.