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With the big ‘Make in India’ push in the country’s defence sector, exports of indigenous platforms are gaining momentum, with the chairman of government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), C B Ananthakrishnan, revealing in a press facility at Aero India 2023 on 14 February that Argentina is considering the purchase of 15 Tejas Mk 1A Light Combat Aircraft (LCAs). He additionally noted that Egypt, Malaysia and the Philippines have also expressed an interest in the aircraft, with Egypt reportedly considering a purchase of 20 aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) order for 83 Tejas Mk 1A LCAs is ongoing, with the first batch due to be delivered in February 2024. This order was placed with HAL last year.

HAL Chairman C B Ananthakrishnan answers questions about HAL products during Aero India 2023. (Photo: Suman Sharma)

Advanced-level discussions are reportedly also taking place with the Philippines regarding the purchase of six HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) Dhruv, while the prospective Tejas deal with Egypt also includes setting up a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility there.

The Philippines has already signed a contract with India for procurement of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, which India co-produces with Russia.

Malaysia, meanwhile, has also shown interest in purchasing 36 Tejas LCAs, but the Indian jet is facing competition in Kuala Lumpur from the South Korean FA-50, which is manufactured by Korean Aerospace Industries.

“We have good leads for the LCA,” said HAL’s Ananthakrishnan at Aero India 2023. “In Malaysia we are one of the shortlisted ones. We were hopeful because there was a slight setback. We have not been told anything yet, but we are hearing that the Koreans are likely to get the order. Notwithstanding that, we are still trying.”

The South Korean FA-50 and India’s Tejas also have competition in Malaysia from the M-346 from Italy’s Leonardo, Russia’s Yak-130 and the Sino-Pakistani JF-17.

A scale model of the Tejas Mk 2 at Aero India 2023. The aircraft is due to be rolled out in December 2024 and make its maiden flight in the third quarter of 2025. (Photo: Suman Sharma)

Given Argentina’s interest in the Tejas, Argentinian test pilots have travelled to India to test the aircraft. Interestingly, the Argentinian Air Force chief was in Bangalore attending the air show and holding discussions with IAF and HAL officials.

Meanwhile, the IAF will soon start receiving the LCA Mk 1A, with 16 aircraft being delivered per year according to the contract. With the follow-on Tejas Mk 2 on the horizon, HAL has expressed its desire to complete the order for the 83 Mk 1As as soon as possible to maximise the chances of securing a new order.

The Tejas Mk 2 is expected to roll out December 2024, with its first flight due to take place in the third quarter of 2025, after which flight certification will begin.

Australia and Indonesia are other countries that have expressed an interest in the Tejas fighter, according to the Indian government.

Suman Sharma