The Tejas is a supersonic, lightweight, all-weather, multi-role fighter designed for air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea combat roles.
New Delhi: Scotching recent media reports that the government has “shelved” the plan to acquire the homemade Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) fighter, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said during an informal interaction on Saturday that the Tejas plan is “on” and the government has not “ditched” it.
“We are not ditching it, not shutting it down. On the contrary, we are looking at an upgraded and strengthened version of the Tejas. The IAF will have a combination of single engine fighters and India’s Tejas will hold importance. I reject the idea that Tejas has been ignored by us. We want Tejas’s Mk-II version,” the minister said, adding that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which makes the Tejas, has been asked to produce more aircraft at a faster rate. “We want them to produce much more. We have to increase production from the 6-8 that we make a year.”
The Tejas is a supersonic, lightweight, all-weather, multi-role fighter designed for air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea combat roles. It is expected to plug a vital gap in IAF’s might that is suffering from a critical shortage of fighter squadrons. The government had already ordered for 83 HAL-made Tejas fighters.
At present, about 70 per cent of the LCA components are manufactured in India.
“It is meant for the Navy as well,” the minister said. More than a year back, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba had slammed the aircraft. “The LCA Navy in its present form does not meet the naval qualitative requirements to be a carrier-based aircraft... It doesn’t meet the weight and thrust ratio requirement to be able to take off with full weapon load,” he had said.
Talking about the export potential of the aircraft, Ms Sitharaman said that many countries have evinced interest on it. “We are talking to HAL and finding out if we can outsource some of the work to domestic producers and also if we can export it to others.”
On the Rafale aircraft deal that has snowballed into a controversy on grounds of alleged corruption, the minister dismissed the possibility of the Rafale deal “going the Bofors way”.
“Do not even compare it (Rafale deal) with Bofors. There is no scam here,” she said, adding that she will only welcome it if the Congress raises the issue during the Budget Session of Parliament that reconvenes from Monday.
In the late 80s, a deal for Swedish Bofors artillery guns had severely impacted the political fortunes of the then ruling Congress.
Asked if the government was thinking of reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in operation in Jammu and Kashmir and certain areas of the Northeast, the defence minister said: “At this stage, there is no rethinking on AFSPA in J&K and the Northeast”.
The controversial AFSPA enables security forces to shoot at sight and arrest anybody without a warrant in “disturbed” areas of the Northeast and J&K. For quite sometime, there has been a demand from various quarters, including civic society organisations, to withdraw the law or at least dilute it.