Working on Rs 38,000-crore deal to sell 83 jets to IAF, says HAL chief

State-run aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is hoping to hammer out a Rs 38,000-crore deal with the Indian Air Force by April for 83 Light Combat Aircraft Mk-1A jets, HAL chairman R Madhavan told Hindustan Times on Wednesday.

He said the order was crucial for the HAL to prevent a complete halt of production at its facilities. HT reported on January 11 that HAL’s order books are empty beyond 2021-22 and new orders from the armed forces are critical for continuity in production.

“Price negotiations are over. We estimate the deal to be worth around Rs 38,000 crore. We hope to sign the deal in two months. It’s an important deal for both HAL and IAF (which is battling a shortage of fighter squadrons),” Madhavan told HT at DefExpo 2020, a defence systems exhibition being attended by more than 1,000 Indian and foreign firms.

The deal was earlier expected to be worth around Rs 50,000 crore but it had turned out to cheaper as the air force had reduced its requirements for spares and support facilities for the fighter jets, he said.

Military affairs expert Air Marshal (retd) PS Ahluwalia said the LCA Mk-1A would be an important asset in plugging the shortfall in combat potential of the IAF. “These will be state-of-the-art aircraft to replace the retiring ones,” he said.

The IAF plans to buy 83 LCA Mk-1A jets, taking the total number of Tejas variants ordered to 123.

The 40 LCAs already ordered by the IAF, of which 16 have been delivered, are in the initial operational clearance (IOC) and the more advanced final operational clearance (FOC) configurations. The LCA Mk-1A will come with additional improvements over the FOC aircraft, making it the most advanced Tejas variant so far.

The Mk-1A variant is expected to come with digital radar warning receivers, external self-protection jammer pods, active electronically scanned array radar, advanced beyond-visual-range missiles and significantly improved maintainability. HAL is expected to deliver the first Mk-1A jet to the IAF three years after the deal is signed.

Madhavan said only two fighter production lines were open at HAL — one for Sukhoi-30s and the other for LCA Tejas. “We have to keep one line running,” he said.

The Sukhoi-30 line is expected to shut after HAL delivers 12 fighter jets to IAF as part of an order likely to be signed later this year.

Another order that HAL is eyeing is the supply of 70 locally produced basic trainers to the IAF. If it gets the order for the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40), HAL could begin production of the trainers by early 2021.

In a report tabled in Parliament in December 2019, the Parliamentary standing committee on defence said “all-out steps” should be taken to ensure that the “order book position” of defence public sector units such as HAL improved in the coming years and the ministry should extend full cooperation to achieve that.