India’s Single Engine Fighter (SEF) Tender for procurement of 114 Modern 4++ Generation fighter jet through local partnership for the first time with Private Aerospace Sector Company is facing a unique dilemma after the collapse of MRRCA Tender. Single Engine Fighter (SEF) Tender lacked clarification on several fronts especially on key specifications but IAF drafted Tender documents did require higher payload carrying capabilities, which clearly hinted that IAF was still chasing for procurement of Medium-Multirole Aircraft on a tighter budget. Development of Tejas MK-2 was largely based on shortfalls of Tejas MK-1 which required same lightweight fighter platform but with enhanced thrust engine and modern avionics. SEF tender saw just two aircraft F-16 and Gripen-E on offer to India but both aircrafts came with higher Maximum take-off weight (F-16/19,200 kg-Gripen-E/16500 kg) respectively which places both the aircraft in the Medium-Multirole Aircraft Class. Beefed up Tejas MK-2 could have seen higher thrust F414-GE-INS6 engine, Unified EW Suite (UEWS), Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), New Cockpit with larger size smart displays and Smart HUD with Maximum take-off weight less than 10000kgs. Tejas MK-2 could have got a 500mm plug in the fuselage to make it bigger than Tejas MK-1 but it still came with similar range and payload capacity as MK-1 due to use of heavier and higher thrust engine along with the addition of new pieces of equipment, a trade-off IAF was willing to accept until HAL proposed Tejas Mk-1A. As we know Tejas Mk-1A came with 43 improvements over MK-1 which meant Tejas Mk-1A came with minus 14 improvements than planned Tejas MK-2, which was agreed by IAF. HAL successfully negated requirement for developing MK-2 concept and IAF is already discussing with HAL to procure 83 Tejas Mk-1A aircrafts and may decide further orders in future with incremental improvements, while it remains non-committal on Tejas MK-2 since it is still a class apart from proposed F-16 and Gripen-E on Range, Payload capabilities while it is still comparable in Avionics and technology on offer with Tejas MK-2. For Tejas MK-2 to fit as Single Engine Fighter for Indian Air Force, aircraft will required to be larger than the proposed Tejas MK- so that it can boast of a higher number of hardpoints thus also able to carry higher payload and go further, which will require many airframe changes and improvements which basically will mean it will be a new airframe design at the end. While Tejas MK-2 carried the same core airframe design as MK-1 which meant even though it was slightly bigger, they were no major improvements in range and payload carrying capabilities. while it is still not clear if India can still use same basic core airframe to further enhance it to create a bigger and better aircraft then proposed Tejas MK-2 but it will not be easy nor it can be accomplished in short duration like 2-3 years. For IAF to accept Tejas as Single Engine Fighter (SEF) aircraft then ADA and HAL will need to go beyond proposed MK-2 concept and come with a new concept or a new design or maybe even an MK-3 concept. MK2+ or MK3 will need to have a higher Maximum take-off weight of 16-19000 kgs. MK-3 can also become a test-bed for development of India’s 5th Generation AMCA fighter aircraft further shortening its development time.
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