Why does the IAF deploy HAL Tejas near the borders, even when it is not yet ready?
While there is a massive military buildup on the India-China de facto border, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has strengthened its western border and deployed its indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas jets.
“The LCA Tejas was deployed by the Indian Air Force on the western front close to the Pakistan border to take care of any possible action by the adversary there,” said a government source and quoted by ANI.
According to the report, the first squadron of the home-developed fighter – 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers), which was based out of Sulur under the Southern Air Command was deployed for an operational role in the area.
Why IAF Deploy HAL Tejas IOC near the borders?
01. Advanced Combat Training
In many Air Forces, a newly formed squadron sharp it skills and adapt with fighter aircraft in peace time, away from conflict or possible conflict zones. Once the squadron completes the training, it is deployed on a Forward Operating Base (FOB) to gain some real combat experience. In case of Tejas, the No.45 “Flying Daggers” squadron is operational since 2016. But it was based in Sulur, Tamil Nadu, in South India. Therefore, miles away from North and Western Indian regions, where combat aircrafts armed with missiles fly everyday. A new squadron can’t practice in such regions, because it may be an easy target for hostiles.
Once the pilots and personnel of the squadron master the aircraft, there are low chanes of unexpected events. For example, a mid-air failure occurs and if the pilot has high flying hours in the record, he is surely trained to handle such situations. With 4 years of experience, it looks like IAF is impressed from No.45 squadron and ready to deploy the indigenous aircraft for important roles.
Note that we are talking about an interceptor aircraft, not an attack aircraft like Jaguar. It is essential for interceptors to be placed at FOBs, so that in case of scramble, aircraft can reach the site of action in less time possible.
We can also take an example of Su-57 5th generation fighter aircrafts of Russia. After completing major flight and weapon trials, it was deployed in Syria for an advanced combat training. To test it’s performance in combat zone. Well, it is unclear whether the aircraft performed any strikes or not.
02. India is preparing for war
In a situation where war is inevitable, a military doesn’t have any other option than pushing every available unit in combat. Since 70s, India is facing two major powers, one is western neighbour and arch rival Pakistan, and other is China. So, military planning needs to be done by keeping in mind that India is facing two fronts. In current scenario, the two best friends in the region, China and Pakistan, treat India as a mutual enemy. The major disturbance in relations indicates that both Pakistan and China are quite ready to take action against India whenever possible. And military action is also a possibility.
It is a well known fact that IAF is facing aircraft shortage and it needs more aircrafts to handle air superiority in a two front war. With PLA stretching it’s muscle, Pakistan is also preparing to assist its ally whenever it demands. So IAF needs to be prepared for both fronts. Therefore, a squadron of Interceptor Tejas can provide a little help to IAF against Pakistan. It is better than MiG-21 atleast.
Is Tejas ready?
For me, it is the main point of interest in the question.
It is 100% true that the “Flying Daggers” doesn’t operate a complete Tejas. That means, it is still in Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) variant, and hence, has a lot of shortcomings. Three critical one are as follows:-
01. Lack of Guns
The majority of IOC aircrafts are flying without guns. Guns are only valuable in close combat situations. But these days, fighter jet guns have negligible value because of increasing dependence on AAMs. However, guns can be used as a last option. For example, if aircraft runs out of missile, and there is a bandit still flying in front of it, pilot can switch to guns and try it until he goes Winchester (a term used to define that the aircraft is out of weapons). Due to lack of guns in Tejas, it may not able to do something if it runs out of missiles. I would like to mention an important incident occured in 1965. An Indian Air Force MiG-21 failed to shot a Pakistan Air Force Sabre only because it ran out of missiles, and unfortunately, there was no guns in that particular MiG-21 variant, that was F-13. The Indian pilot was really frustated after the incident. For a detailed account, you can click ‘For just a bloody cannon’: How a MiG-21 nearly took down a PAF Sabre on debut for IAF in 1965
(I said “majority of aircrafts are flying without guns” because few units, 1 or 2, are integrated with guns, and used during trials)
02. Lack of OBOGS
This is really critical because it reduces flying hours of Tejas once it takes off. As the name suggests, OBOGS provides regular oxygen supply to the pilot. Without OBOGS, pilot has to rely on oxygen cylinders that provides limited amount of oxygen. If I remember correctly, IOC Tejas can fly 1.5-2.0 hours (corrections are welcome in this regard) max once it takes off. However, Tejas is an interceptor, and unlike Strike/Attack aircrafts, hours per flight doesn’t affect it’s combat capability because it is going to remain in Indian airspace and protect it from intruders.
03. Lack of EW equipment
Unfortunately, it is completely incapable of carrying a Self Protection Jammer (SPJ). Integrated EW suite is also not a possibility because of small size of airframe and hence small apace to accomodate equipments. A jammer is only planned for variant Mk-1A and beyond. Without any SPJ, active radar missile like AIM-120 or PL-12 are tough challenges for aircraft. So it needs to rely on chaff, and maneuverability to evade any incoming missile.
Now please note that except jammer, everything is integrated in FOC Tejas. Unfortunately, only 1 FOC Tejas is inducted while 1 is in final stage of testing. Therefore, only 2 and new aircrafts may serve more as a liability than the asset in such conditions.
But IOC Tejas is not completely an incapable aircraft.
It features Israeli Elta-2032 pulse doppler radar that comfortably supports Derby BVRAAMs. The Derby BVRAAM with 50-60km. Please note that it is Derby variant. Alongside Derby, it has R-73E IR CCM, and when used in conjuction of DASH-IV, it is highly lethal during dogfights. Small size and hence small Radar Cross Section (RCS) also favours the Tejas in long range or beyond visual range combat.
So overall, there are shortcomings in Tejas IOC but it fulfills the requirements of an interceptor. A jet equipped with Israeli BVRAAM and experienced pilot is no joke. There must be a wise reason why IAF placed it for combat role in a disturbed region.
But I am pretty sure that if someday JF-17 comes close to the border, a Tejas pilot will be first to tell him on the comms: “Return back to your airspace or you will be shot down!”
Source:- Rishav Quora