LCA Tejas Mk2 v/s. Kfir Block 60 ? Which one is best choice for Indian Airforce??

India’s very own indigenous LCA-Tejas program will see a development of Tejas Mk-1A variant which is a stopgap measurement initiated by Government of India and India Air Force to meet immediate needs of the air force and will fall in between Tejas MK1 and Tejas MK-II . The fate of Airforce version of Tejas MK-II is yet to be made clear but has now Indian Navy plans to continue development of LCA Navy MK-II based on new stretched airframe powered by new GE-F414IN engines developing more thrust while IAF will take a call on the MK-2 program at a later stage.

The Indian manufacturer of the Tejas aircraft recently announced that it is pegging the price of that aircraft at USD 26 million,1 which puts it near the price range of the Kfir Block 60 which is selling at USD 20 million. The relatively low price of the Tejas means it is more affordable for our budget-conscious Air Force and thus worthy of consideration, hence I am starting this informal evaluation of the Tejas by comparing it to the Kfir Block 60.

‘Aircraft Background’

The Kfir is based on the Mirage III/5 delta-winged aircraft whose blueprints were stolen by the Mossad (as is now detailed in various spy books and articles2), and is described as an all-weather, Multi-Role Fighter aircraft. It was made by the Israel Aircraft Industry (IAI) and first entered service in 1975, seeing extensive combat duty with the Israeli Air Force before finally being retired by the IAF in 1996.

A total of 220 Kfirs were built, and currently the air forces of Colombia, Equador and Sri Lanka are still operating the aircraft. All Kfirs being sold now are taken from the mothballed stocks of the IAF, but are refurbished and upgraded with advanced avionics plus a 40-year manufacturer’s guarantee. The latest version in the market is the “Block 60″ equipped with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the EL/M-2052.3

The Tejas was developed indigenously by the Indian company, “Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)” and is described as a light, multri-role combat aircraft. It is intended to replace the MIG-21 Bison in the Indian Air Force (IAF) inventory, and had a very long development history, first being conceived in the early 1980s with the first prototype flying only in 2001. Despite that first flight over a decade ago, the aircraft is only scheduled to start entering service in 2015 with the IAF who ordered 40 aircraft. No export orders have yet been received for the Tejas, and only the Indian Navy is projected to be its next customer with an initial order of six aircraft. The current version is the “Mk1“, with an improved “Mk2” version in development with a longer fuselage, larger wing, a more powerful engine and higher payload.4

Engine

Tejas using GE 414 with Dry thrust 62 kn and wet thrust 98 KN. So, both the derives the power from same engine. However, India is working on Kaveri engine. They are taking consultancy from France and France has promised to make plane operational within 18 month. New engine is supposed to have same power as GE 414. Hence, LCA MK2 will have an additional engine option and most important of all is that it is a desi option.
LCA Mk2 will be a 14.2 M long plane.LCA MK1 has 500 m take off distance and it will reduce 15% atleast in Mk2 Speed at sea level is concern, MK1 has a speed of 1350 KM/Hr at sea level so LCA mk2 with lower weight, better aerodynamic and almost 20% higher dry thrust engine and 9% higher after burner thrust.

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The Kfir’s estimated 13% more fuel consumption of its J79 Turbojet Engines as compared to its later, more efficient version, the F404 Turbofan Engine.

The F404 engine was developed from the J79 engine. They have the same thrust rating and specific fuel consumption, but the F404 Turbofan engine is 1,470 lbs. lighter than the J79 Turbojet engine, hence the F404 is more efficient as it will need less thrust for the same amount of weight to fly in the air. To reflect this efficiency, the weight savings is divided by the dry thrust or non-afterburning thrust rating (10,900 lbs) of the engine as the aircraft operates most of the time in dry thrust.

‘Manueverability’

The Kfir already has a lower wing loading than most aircraft I compared so far, but the Tejas can turn even tighter due to having the same wing area, but having a lighter weight, thus driving that wing loading value lower even more.

In terms of TTWR, the Tejas not only is lighter, it has a slightly more powerful engine, hence providing a TTWR of more than 1 even with a full internal fuel load. Overall, the Tejas is the more maneuverable aircraft.

The Tejas can travel further, but the Kfir can carry more load, so this would be somewhat even in my book. The Tejas’ 4,282 kg payload capacity is no slouch, though.

Air Combat-related Avionics and Weapons’
Here I am comparing the capability of both aircrafts in terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air combat thru their Avionics and Weapons available to them. Just some notes, though:

  • Radar Cross Section (RCS) data are for “clean” aircraft, with no armaments or fuel tanks.
  • No solid references for the RCS and detection ranges for the Kfir B60. RCS is taken from an obscure internet reference, while detection range is just estimated to be 25% higher than the detection range of the EL/M-2032 Radar.
  • Tracking range is assumed to be 85% of the Detection Range.
  • Closing velocity of 3,000 kph (equally divided to each aircraft) used to compute for First Look, First Shot advantage.
  • Missile impact is based on the top speed of its mai BVR missiles.

Avionics

Advantage for the Tejas because of its Fly By Wire (FBW) system

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BVR COMBAT: Practically EVEN for both aircraft because while the Tejas has less capable radar, it has a much lower RCS than the Kfir, and actually giving the Tejas a theoretical two second advantage in terms of Firs Look, First Shot capability.

The Tejas’ low RCS is impressive at an estimated one-third that of a Mirage 2000, thanks to the extensive use of composites and computer modelling for the shaping of the aircraft’s external structures. This is probably why HAL declared recently that the third version of the Tejas, the Mk3, will be a stealth version.

 

‘Availability and Service Record’

The more serious issues are AVAILABILITY and SERVICE RECORD. HAL is scheduled to ramp up production of the Tejas soon, but will it be able to meet its schedule?

In terms of service record, how reliable will the Tejas be once it goes into military service? How will its accident rate be like, will it be just average, or higher than normal? Remember that the Tejas is not officially based on any fighter design, it is a brand new aircraft design reportedly loosely or unofficially based on the Mirage.

The Kfir is also only “unofficially” based on the Mirage, but at least it already has a track record in military service, a generally fair one, and is still in service in a couple of air forces around the world right now. IAI also commits to be able to deliver the first Kfir within a year upon receiving an order.13

‘Parting Shot’

The Tejas Mk1 can climb or dive faster, turn tighter, has a much longer range and much lower radar cross section than the Kfir. The Kfir’s only advantages are its payload capacity and its AESA radar. HAL took their time developing this aircraft, but you have to give them credit for coming up with a pretty good performer.

India needs more than 250 light aircraft – therefore the indigenous LCA TEJAS is the best aircraft that we can manufacture – taking cues from the SAAB. The Mk-II variant will be the ideal aircraft for INDIA – even though we may have to learn from any mistakes – because that is the only way to progress.

Second Production line

IAF and MOD are exploring feasibility of starting Second production line for Tejas MK2 while IAF is still not put a final figure on MK-2 aircrafts they want but it is estimated that final figure might be close to 300 aircrafts till then IAF is committed itself in procuring another 83 MK2 combat jets to meet the shortfall in requirements of Indian Air force light class fighter jets after the retirement of Mig-21s and if ordered LCA-Tejas order table will be 40 MK1,83MK1A and 83MK2 which will add up to 206. Indian Navy also has a requirement for 56 carriers based fighter jets.

 

 

 

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