Two Tejas LCAs should at this moment of writing be flying over the northern Arabian Sea for a refueling stop in Muscat before taking off for the Sakhir AFB, Bahrain. At the Air Show starting January 21, the Tejas will be parked on Pad 15 between pairs of the Pak-China product, JF-17 Thunderbird, and the RAF Typhoon Eurofighter. This is actually a wonderful placement for the obvious reason that visitors will be able to compare and contrast the antique nature of the ungainly, nearly 60-year old Sino-Pakistani knock-off of the ex-Russian MiG-21 on the one hand, and the 4.5 generation (when equipped with the 2052-based AESA radar), largely composites-made and hence immeasurably stealthier and beautiful-looking Indian Tejas, sporting smooth lines and modern design with, moreover, a larger operating radius on internal fuel and bigger weapons-carrying capacity available at around the same price as the JF-17, and the Eurofighter (designed by a consortium of the most advanced aerospace European countries, including Germany, UK, and Spain) with longer range but also a price tag some four times that of the LCA. Indeed, there isn’t a fitter aircraft for India to arm itself with at lower unit cost, and amortize its investment in the Tejas programme by creating a market for it in developing countries (by initially selling a few aircraft at cost price) and then growing the market with attractive deals and “friendship” payment modes.
No bad thing at all for the internationally-known aviation experts and cognoscenti generally to inspect what is potentially a great air defence aircraft India has produced inside of 35 years from a designing and industrial base that was reduced to zero with — and I repeat this — the KILLING in the early 1970s of the Marut HF-24 Mk-II by the Indian Air Force in the main. That the Tejas that will be put through their paces over the Shakhir skies will be flying DRDO colours, and will not be operating under the IAF’s aegis, shows the level of antipathy to home-grown aircraft of the Service’s leadership that has refused to-date to take ownership of it. (A comparison of the timelines: the US F-35, some 20 years in the making, is turning out to be an absolute lemon but is nevertheless being inducted into the US Air Force!) IAF’s treatment of the Tejas is a national shame, revealing to the world the Service’s outrageously regressive fixation on imported fighter aircraft and its resistance to anything indigenous. Once the praise and good notices start rolling in, however, IAF will rue the fact it didn’t back the LCA to the full.
The Bahraini air show managers have apparently made the Tejas and JF-17 share the same exhibition space to spark interest in the regional and international media. But, along with the DRDO testing crew and maintenance personnel GOI has, by way of abundant caution, hopefully had the foresight to also dispatch a well-armed security team to mount 24/7 guard around the Tejas — the enormously capable Indian Navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS) would be best for this task — to augment whatever security is afforded the participating aircraft by Bahrain. Too many ill-wishers inside and outside the country, alas, have an interest in showing down the Tejas to not try and sabotage the Indian LCA in small and big ways and otherwise to spoil its international coming-out party.