Growing Fangs of TEJAS Jet; Evolution of Its Potential
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Growing Fangs of TEJAS Jet; Evolution of Its Potential

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by Atul Kumar

To enhance the operational capability of the TEJAS, the IAF has planned to equip it with advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Just before Aero India 2019, the TEJAS received its interim FOC certification and includes some advanced features, being flight envelope expansion, improved AoA, mid-air refuelling, BVR capability, some air-to-surface weaponry, plus a more capable braking system.

Weaponry

The IAF is considering equipping the TEJAS with more advanced weaponry including laser guided bombs and short range cruise missiles. In February 2019, DRDO also announced that the TEJAS would be fitted with the new Brahmos NG, a lighter version of the Indo-Russian Brahmos supersonic cruise missile with a range of some 300 km which is 50% lighter and some 3 metres shorter than the standard version.

Apart from this, the IAF has considered some additional indigenous options, including a number of smart air-to-surface munitions such as SAAW, High Speed Low Drag Aircraft Bomb (HSLD), 1000 kg guided bombs and the Sudarshan LGB, New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile (NGARM) Rudram-1.

DRDO labs, essentially the ADE and IRDE, are developing the next-generation Sudarshan laser-guided bomb (LGB) with improved rolling capability, accuracy and also enhanced glide-range with GPS. This new LGB will allow the TEJAS to hit targets more precisely at ranges of up to 50 km while the NG-LGB Sudardhan is claimed to be comparable, or possibly even better than the GBU-12 Paveway which has been in service with IAF’s Mirages and Jaguars for some time. The DRDO has also successfully developed an advanced Laser Designator Pod to guide laser bombs such as the Israeli origin Spice and Sudarshan LGB.

The ARDE is in process of developing a new family of High Speed Low Drag Bomb (HSLD) bombs that can exploit higher supersonic carrying speeds and extensive flying envelopes of various fighters in IAF inventory. ARDE has successfully designed and developed 250 kg, 450 kg, and 500 kg HSLD bombs; which are effective against ground targets including railway yards, bridges, bunkers, and other hardened targets. The ARDE has contoured these weapons with two different tail units according to different mission profiles including retarder tail unit (RTU) for highspeed, low-level bombing and ballistic tail unit (BTU) for high speed, high altitude bombing. The precision-guided version of the 450 kg and 500 kg HSLD are designed for carriage by the Su-30MKI and TEJAS. The 500 kg Precision Guided High Speed Low Drag Aircraft Bomb (PGHSLD) features a nose extension unit (NEU), a smart tail unit (STU), and fixed canard on the nose to elevate and stability. The guided weapon also incorporates a semi-active laser seeker, a fibre-optic gyro (FOG) based inertial navigation system, GPS module, a GPS antenna and anti-jamming GPS antenna for guidance and anti-jamming.

The DRDO had successfully tested the 500 kg PGHSLD bomb at the Pokhran test-firing range in May 2019. The inertial guided bomb is a smart version of 500 kg GPB (general-purpose bomb), the PGB developed being similar to the Israeli Spice 2000 which is in IAF service (and was reportedly employed in the strike at Balakot on 26 February 2019).

Furthermore, DRDO has developed and test-fired India’s second air to surface missile Rudram-1, which can neutralise enemy radars 100 km away, this 600 kg missile to be equipped with a PHH (passive homing head) for mid-course guidance, while a MMW active seeker will guide the missile during the end-phase. NGARM could well be one of the most potent antiradiation missiles in world, adding further teeth to the TEJAS as well other existing IAF platforms. Other air-to-surface weapons which can be integrated on TEJAS in the future are Rudra MK-II and ALCM Nirbhaya cruise missiles although these projects are at the initial development phase.

Besides improving the TEJAS’s air-to-ground attack capability, the IAF is also working to enhance the type’s air-to-air prowess and is in process of acquiring new Clos Combat Missiles and BVRs for its Tejas fleet. Currently the Russian R-73 and Rafael Derby are integrated on the TEJAS MK-1 and the IAF is considering the MBDA ASRAAM and possibly the Russian RVVMD for close combat. At the planning stage is the indigenous Astra BVR, Israeli I-Derby ER and, subject to the considerable clearances, the MBDA Meteor for extended range air combat. While the ASRAAM and I-Derby ER could well get clearance, the Meteor looks rather doubtful as of now. Apart from integration of foreign AAMs, the indigenous Astra is planned to enter service with IAF’s Su-30MKIs and the Tejas as well. The DRDO is also testing an SFDR (solid-fuel-ducted-ramjet) based propulsion technology for long-range surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles but this technology could still take 8-10 years to mature but could be in time for the TEJAS MK-2 (Medium Weight Fighter) and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) which is a 5+ generation stealth fighter platform.

Radar & Avionics For TEJAS MK-1

Apart from weaponry, the IAF and HAL are in discussion for advancing the TEJAS’s avionics and subsystems including integration of more capable, longer-range AESA radar, an electronic warfare suite, Transparent Radome, giving clear view of the AESA radar in the TEJAS an upgraded large SMFD with advanced graphics generator and high processor, a new improved canopy, satellite navigation system, advanced software upgrade for more modern systems integration, more composites, accessibility for easy and low-maintenance, as also provision for hot refuelling, all these features to be incorporated in the TEJAS MK-1A. HAL has already selected Elta’s EL/M 2052 AESA radar through a competitive bid, the radar to be manufactured by HAL through ToT. The fully solid-state active phased array radar will enable a longer detection range, a multi-target tracking capability of up to 64 targets, and high mission reliability; the radar also features an improved air-to-air, air-to-surface, and air-to-sea detection and operation modes with superior anti-jamming capability owing to its advanced AESA technology.

At Aero India 2019, DRDO had unveiled a model of the TEJAS equipped with LRDE’s Uttam AESA radar. A contract for developing a new advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) systems worth Rs 177.43 crore has been awarded to another Israeli company (ELISRA) by HAL after the indigenous unified EW system failed to fit inside the TEJAS airframe. The EW systems will consist of a new generation digital Radar Warning Receiver, missile approach warning, a laser warning receiver, an ECM suite, state of the art CMDS and a self-protection jammer pod. This EW suite will enhance combat survivability of the TEJAS and besides the weapons package, such integration further enhancing capabilities of the TEJAS. These new weapons and avionics packages, will assuredly boost the combat plus defence capabilities of the Tejas and help to meet IAF expectations. In IAF planning, the TEJAS MK-1A and MWF are to meet its single engine fighter requirement for up to 300 numbers and surely this will spur the DRDO to achieve success within the timeline specified. Future integration packages may also invigorate export potential of this 4+ generation indigenous fighter and enable HAL to establish itself as a major player in the global aerospace and defence market.

Atul Kumar is a defence journalist with wide-ranging experience

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