The first squadron of the Indian HAL made LCA Tejas Mark 1 got inducted into IAF this week. Marred by inordinate delays in development, the Tejas has been much ridiculed in defence circles by many naysayers. It’s quite obvious that it’s not as lethal or as cutting edge as the current crop of 4++ or 5th generation aircraft like the Dassault Rafale or the F-22 Raptor. It is a single engine aircraft which is termed an interceptor in some places, and a multi-role fighter in some other instances. The LCA gets modern avionics, all-weather capability and adaptability to spawn a variant that serves the navy as well.
Even with all its limitations, however, the Tejas impresses in some areas such as its fully carbon composite construction, a fly-by-wire system for all axes, a small cross section, modern avionics and the promise of future upgrades including an AESA radar. Most importantly, it’s been largely developed in-house by India except primarily for the engine and the ejection seats which are sourced from America and UK respectively. This gives us Indians an immense capability to modify and improve it for its future variants, which would likely be much superior to what the Tejas is in its Mark-1 version.
All images : Wikipedia
We should, however, remember that at this point the Tejas is a good way to fill the gap that the Indian Air Force has developed with the fast depleting fleet of the almost obsolete Mig-21 aircraft. The Tejas will play the role of a support fighter for the Russian SU-30 MKi and the soon to be inducted (hopefully) French Rafale fighters for India. On the other hand, the JF-17 is almost the first line of defence for Pakistan, which doesn’t have many other superior alternatives except for a small number of American F-16 fighters.
The one question, however, that everyone has on his mind is, whether the Tejas is good enough to compete with what would likely be its most likely competitor, if god forbid, a war broke out between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani (well, Chinese) JF-17 Thunder aircraft provided to the country by China, and which it calls its own is the mainstay of our neighbour’s air force in terms of numbers.
Let’s compare the two aircraft specs wise and see which of the two wins on paper
|Specs||Pak JF-17 Thunder Block 1||Indian LCA Tejas MK-1|
|Length||14.0 m (45.9 ft)||13.20 m (43 ft 4 in)|
|Wingspan||9.45 m (including 2 wingtip missiles) (31 ft)||8.20 m (26 ft 11 in)|
|Height||4.77 m (15 ft 8 in)||4.40 m (14 ft 9 in)|
|Wing area||24.4 m² (263 ft²)||38.4 m² (413 ft²)|
|Empty weight||6,411 kg (14,134 lb)||6,560 kg (14,460 lb)|
|Loaded weight||9,100 kg (20,062 lb)||10,500 kg (23,100 lb)|
|Max takeoff weight||12,700 kg (28,000 lb)||13,300 kg (29,540 lb)|
|Powerplant||1 × Klimov RD-93 or WS-13 turbofan||1 × General Electric F404-GE-IN20 turbofan|
|Dry thrust||49.4 kN /51.2 kN (11,106 lbf / 11,510 lbf)||53.9 kN (11,250 lbf)|
|Thrust with afterburner||84.4 kN/86.36 kN (18,973 lbf / 19,391 lbf)||85 kN (19,000 lbf)|
|Internal Fuel Capacity||2300 kg (5,130 lb)|| 2458 kg
External 2x 1,200 litre drop tank at inboard, 1x 725 litre drop tank under fuselage
|Maximum speed||2,205 km/h||2,376+ km/h|
|Combat radius||1,352 km (840 mi)||3,000 km (1,840 mi) without refueling|
|Ferry range||3,480 km||3000km|
|Service ceiling||16,920 m (55,500 ft)||15,250 m (50,000 ft)|
The JF-17 has a higher thrust to weight ratio, a higher service ceiling and higher range. Except for these advantages, the LCA Tejas is superior in every other parameter. The Tejas has a higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) and its carbon composite airframe is far superior to the metallic JF-17 airframe.
In terms of weapons, the LCA has 8 hardpoints where the missiles and other weapon systems can be mounted, while the JF-17 has 7 hardpoints. However, the LCA Tejas can carry a much larger variety of Western, Russian, Israeli and Indian weapon systems, as compared to the JF-17 which can handle a limited variety of Chinese and American weapons.
One of the most important parameters in modern aerial warfare is avionics. The LCA has better avionics with a hybrid Multi Mode Radar (MMR) developed with Israel. The plane also has an indigenous electronic warfare suite known as Mayavi (illusionist). The targeting pod on the LCA Tejas is also the superior Litening unit, as compared to the FLIR used on the JF-17
The Tejas, which qualifies as a fourth generation aircraft, being indigenously developed is also a more suited platform for modifications and improvements, while the JF-17, being a third generation Chinese bird, doesn’t leave Pakistan with many options to upgrade it. Pakistan’s contribution to the design and development of the project is close to nothing. It does not have any Pakistani systems. It is at best a low-tech Chinese aircraft that can help Pakistan amass numbers.
The JF-17 has been in production for some time, while the Tejas has seen only its first squadron inducted in the IAF. However, with the Indian government’s revitalized focus on self reliance for the defence sector, we can expect the Tejas production to gather more momentum over the next years.
Going forward, even the JF-17 will get a more modern suite of electronics and other improvements when it gets upgraded to the Block 3 variant. However, roughly by that time, HAL would also have upgraded the Tejas to its Mark-2 version, which would have a lead over the JF-17 in almost all parameters.
Another important development is the willingness of the French Dassault and American Boeing to set up their manufacturing facilities in India for meeting Indian defence requirements. The deals, if they go through, would include technology transfers and would help a fast growing Indian aviation ecosystem to equip the country with more knowhow and a superior production infrastructure. If some recent reports are to be believed, France has also offered to revive India’s abandoned Kaveri indigenous fighter jet project.
While all the above factors point at the Tejas LCA being a superior fighter than the JF-17, one should understand that the Tejas is a relatively new fighter, while the JF-17 has been around for some time and has proven its dependability. We hope the LCA Tejas turns out to be a reliable and effective fighter jet for India, which fills the gap the Indian Air Force has been complaining about for ages.
Do share your thoughts and opinions about the topic. We’d also appreciate if you could enlighten us about some points we may have missed. You can use the comments section below or one of our social channels to voice your thoughts.