Indian Air Force

Tejas MK1 Vs Tejas Mk1A: Sharpened claws

On March 28, 2024 India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program achieved a significant milestone with the successful first flight of the Tejas Mk1A. The 18-minute test sortie, conducted at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facility in Bangalore, marks a crucial step towards bolstering the Indian Air Force (IAF) with a next-generation, domestically produced fighter jet. The LCA was piloted by Group Captain K.K. Venugopal (Retired). The Tejas Mk1A is the next iteration of India’s indigenously developed Tejas Mk1. It is the nation’s second homegrown fighter aircraft and the first supersonic lightweight fighter. This advanced variant is designed to replace aging fleets of MiG-21s, Mirage 2000s, MiG-29s, and Sepecat Jaguars currently in IAF service.

Enhanced Capabilities For Modern Warfare

Tejas Mk1A, HAL facility Bangalore.
Tejas MK1A LA5033- Picture Credit-HAL

While the Tejas Mk1 has served the IAF with distinction since 2016, the Mk1A boasts significant upgrades. The IAF already placed an order for 83 Tejas Mk1A in February 2021 at the value of Rs48,000 crore, slated for delivery in 2024 following a brief delay from the initial schedule to mid-2024 due to supply chain disruptions.

Key Improvements in the Tejas Mk1A

The Tejas Mk1A incorporates over 40 significant advancements compared to its predecessor, while retaining 80% commonality. A closer look at some of the key improvements:

  • Enhanced Situational Awareness: A slightly enlarged canopy and subtle aerodynamic modifications provide pilots with improved visibility.
  • Advanced Avionics: The integration of an EL/M-2025 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar by Israel significantly elevates the aircraft’s situational awareness and combat effectiveness. Moreover, Uttam AESA which is India’s homegrown AESA will be integrated in future.
  • Increased Survivability: An externally mounted Self-Propelled Jammer (SPJ) bolsters the aircraft’s electronic warfare capabilities.
  • Improved Endurance: An onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS) developed by India’s Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL) enhances pilot endurance.
  • Expanded Weaponry: The Mk1A boasts an expanded weapon suite, including the beyond-visual-range (BVR) Astra air-to-air missile and the ASRAAM missile.
  • Increased Indigenization: The Mk1A reflects India’s growing self-reliance in fighter jet development, with its indigenization content raised to 65% from 58% in the Mk1.
  • Other Improvement: There are some visible changes such as increased size of auxiliary air intake for better airflow and placements of external antennas.

TEJAS Mk1A in comparison to JF-17C Block 3

JF-17 and Tejas Mk1A
JF-17C Block III (top); Tejas Mk1A [ Image credit: ANI (below)]

For a long duration a comparison between Pakistan & China’s joint venture JF-17 and HAL Tejas is in trend, as JF-17 is a fighter aircraft belonging to same category and both are available for purchase in international market.

Also Read, In Depth Analysis: Tejas MK2 or MWF

Difference Between Tejas Mk1A and JF-17C BLOCK 3

CategoryTejas Mk1AJF-17C Block 3
Year of IntroductionFirst flight of Production variant on 28th March 2024.
Delivery of first Tejas Mk1A is expected in Mid-2024.
First prototype flight was conducted in China on 19th December 2019.
Went into serial production at PAC, Kamra in 2020 and first batch was inducted into Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in March 2023.
EngineUS made General Electric (GE) F-404 supply chain challenge of the engine is a significant contributor to the delayed delivery of Tejas Mk1A. However, it has been assured that this issue is now resolved.Powered by single Russian RD-93 engine. Same engine is used for India’s MiG-29k/UPG. RD-93 required proper time-to-time maintenance and due to ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, countries operating JF-17 face maintenance issue.
Safety RecordOn 12th March 2024 during a regular training sorties Tejas Mk1 of Flying Bullet squadron crashed. This crash is the only crash since the first flight of LCA Tejas in 2001. Moreover, PM MODI took a sortie in trainer version of LCA Tejas on 25TH November 2023, showcasing trust in homegrown LCA aircraft.As per multiple Reports so far there are 4 reported crashes of JF-17 variants except Block3. Additionally, Myanmar’s media report of early body crack, technical glitches and lack of spare-parts forcing them to ground their JF-17 fleet after 4 year of Induction raise questions of reliability on the fighter jet.
SurvivabilitySurvivability of an aircraft depends on multiple factors. Tejas Mk1A is lighter than the previous version, can carry variety of munition for multirole missions.
Mk1A is highly maneuverable due to its aerodynamics. Delta wing design can contribute to faster climb rate, making it suitable for Air Defence Role.
JF-17 is the cheapest fighter aircraft in it segments and is integrated with majority of Chinese components. This sole factor adds questions to the survivability rate of the aircraft.
In comparison to Tejas Mk1A, JF-17 is less maneuverable and despite many changes in Block 3, it might still not be able to compete against Western and Russian counterparts in an effective manner.
Cost per UniteEstimated cost of LCA Tejas Mk1A is around 40 million USD per unit.Pricing of JF-17C block 3 cannot be justified due to lack of credible information. But looking at the maintenance challenges with JF-17 fleets makes it more expensive than Tejas Mk1A.
PM Modi Fly High
PM Modi gets first-hand experience of Tejas (trainer)/ Image Credit: PM MODI X(Twitter) handle.

LCA Tejas Mk1A is a symbol of self-reliance. While major components are being imported for Tejas, India is progressively replacing them with domestically manufactured parts. Future variant Tejas Mk2 will come with more indigenous components such as engine, avionics, and indigenous weapon. One major change will be General Electric (GE)-414 fighter jet engine. This engine will be manufactured under Transfer of Technology (ToT) within the country.

On the other hand, JF-17 is a joint venture of China and Pakistan with poor service record, high maintenance cost and Spare parts supply chain issues. Pakistan’s contribution to JF-17 development is limited in numbers, between 10%-40% and rest goes to China. Additionally, JF-17 relies on foreign components making it harder to meet with timely maintenance.  All these factors make Tejas Mk1A a worthy fighter aircraft for any country looking for a light combat aircraft.

Also Read, LCA Tejas – Soaring to New Heights

Conclusion: A Brighter Future for Indian Air Power

Mk1a First Flight
Image Credit: HAL

Indian Air Force currently have 32 squadrons which is lower than 42, required no. of squadrons as per IAF. The successful maiden flight of the Tejas Mk1A signifies a critical step for the IAF. IAF will receive the first production variant after it clears additional testing. This will pave the way for the establishment of the first Mk1A squadron at Nal Air Force Station. With its advanced avionics, enhanced capabilities, and expanded weaponry, the Mk1A strengthens the IAF’s arsenal and underscores India’s growing self-reliance in fighter jet development. Looking ahead, we can expect to see over 300 Tejas aircraft and its variants bolstering the IAF’s capabilities in the upcoming year and fulfilling the requirement of additional 10 squadrons. The lessons learned from the Mk1A program will be instrumental in the development of the even more advanced Mk2 variant which is initially planned to be India’s first medium combat aircraft.


Bobby Yadav

A researcher in the field of Defence and International Relations, driven by a passion to make complex security issues understandable for the everyday citizen. With a belief that an informed public is essential for a healthy democracy and a peaceful world.

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