The Tejas MWF (Medium Weight Fighter) is a planned single engine 4.5 generation delta wing (tail less) multi role fighter jet designed by ADA (aeronautical development agency) along with HAL for IAF (Indian Air Force) intended to replace the aging Mirage-2000s, SEPECAT Jaguars, &MIG-29s presently in service with IAF.
DEVELOPMENT AND HISTORY
In 2009, MOD (Ministry of Defense) sanctioned the Mark 2 iteration which was to serve merely as a direct upgrade to Tejas mk 1. The primary stated objective was to replace the less powerful GE F404 engine was with the much more powerful GE F414. A concurrent objective was to incorporate better avionics while substantially increasing indigenous components involved in manufacturing.
However, later in 2016 when Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) AKA MRCA tender, was withdrawn in July 2015 , the IAF, increasingly disconcerted by the depleting squadrons and dwindling numbers of its operational strength, decided to change its qualitative requirements and opted to increase Tejas mk 2’s weight from light to medium category (17.5 tonnes) , and HAL-ADA was sent back to drawing board to redesign the airframe to incorporate more advanced systems so that the Tejas 2.0 could become a true successor to the existing and rapidly ageing mishmash of combat aircrafts available( Mirage-2000s, SEPECAT Jaguars and MIG-29s). In effect, the HAL-ADA was instructed to design a completely new machine.
Since it was going to be a Sub 17.5-ton aircraft, the decision was taken to install the UTTAM AESA radar onboard the new MWF (Medium weight fighter) by adjusting the T-R modules count. That was a deliberate and prescient choice because first planned flight of MWF was to be in 2023, and that was when UTTAM radar too was expected to be certified for operations.
Also, what many don’t know is that HAL Tejas (as originally designed) incorporated close coupled canards but that feature was subsequently discarded owing to the complexities involved in optimizing the control surfaces. However, the MWF will incorporate fully functional close coupled canards similar to those seen on the Dassault Rafales which will enable the MWF to perform low speed maneuvers even more effectively and efficiently unlike those on Eurofighter typhoons whose canards are only used for breaking purpose when it hits the runway.
Additionally, the MWF will also feature retractable Air to air refueling boom which is designed to increase its aerodynamic performance, as well, as incorporate indigenous OBOGS (onboard oxygen generator system) that would increase combat range and, most importantly, reduce pilot fatigue.
Further, the MWF has an increased number of weapon stations (up from 7 on Tejas HAL to 11 on the MWF) thanks to added hardpoints on wing tip pylons that allow it carry more A-2A missiles. Moreover, the MWF features a much higher percentage of composites than Tejas mk 1 which, in turn, should significantly reduce its RCS, weight, maintenance cost while appreciably increasing its weapon carrying capacity.
In keeping with similar cutting-edge platforms, the aircraft is to be equipped with an artificial intelligence based “optimally manned” cockpit. The advanced design of the cockpit aims to allow the ground control to take over the controls of the aircraft, such as in critical eventualities where the pilot is rendered unconscious, after being alerted by a sensor installed in the helmet worn by the said pilot.
The NEED for The MWF (Is it necessary?)
Most know that the SU-30 MKI is a most potent twin engine heavy fighter jet, but what many do not know is that it costs a whopping $12000(approx.)/hour to operate while the Rafale costs nearly USD $16500/hour. Hence a more cost-effective alternative is indeed essential to perform combat patrols that may stretch for hours at a time (A role hitherto performed by aircrafts like the aging MIG-21). Such strategic application of the MWF will allow us to keep our prized assets, like SU-30s, on operational standby which can be then deployed tactically upon detection of credible threats, as was done in response to the PAF intrusions post Balakot. Such arrangements have two primary benefits; one, reduce operational costs; and two, allow optimum deployment of our vital air assets.
In 2008, After evaluation and acceptance of technical offers for both the Euro jet EJ200 and the General Electric F414, the commercial quotes were compared in detail and GE’s F414 was declared as the lowest bidder.
MWF will incorporate one of the world’s most reliable engines, the GE F414 INS6 (Indian variant) that is shared by even the Korean KAI-KF/X, AMCA mk 1, F/A-18’s and TEDBF among many others.
MWF will have an increased fuel capacity which will eventually result in enhanced range.
- An indigenous Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system developed by BHEL. The same is being considered for the planned Super Sukhoi upgrade.
- A next generation cockpit whose mockup was showcased at Aero India. It features wide screen MFD, an HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) and an extensive use of advanced AI to reduce pilot fatigue.
- May incorporate the Thales X-guard towed decoy system (the same as used on Rafales).
- An indigenously designed and developed Early Warning (EW) system which will be incorporated in the airframe itself. Much more advanced & capable than its previous versions. Will not feature the nose cone probe which is located in front of radome and issued for wind speed and altitude measurement and is displayed on HUD. This new adjustment will be relocated to the airframe and radome junction.
- Next gen Heads Up Display (HUD), developed jointly by DRDO and Elbit system, Israel, on helmets designed to increase pilot’s situational awareness.
- A top speed of 1.8 Mach. It is so because according to research and surveys, it is found that 1.8 Mach is most efficient speed as it puts the least stress on airframes
- Also, thanks to to increased MTOW, the MWF will feature an elongated reinforced spine that allows it to carry more sophisticated sensors and equipment internally, leaving the vacated hardpoints free for mounting additional armaments.
But most importantly, the one defining aspect that we must stress upon is that Tejas is an indigenous platform and India has its IPR (intellectual property rights) thus major upgrades can be performed easily at short notices and will substantially eliminate the scope of delays. The same is not always possible on an imported platform as such upgrades require the OEM’s consent. It is a frustrating process as is borne out by the challenges being presently faced with the Super Sukhoi upgrade.
Also, there will be higher work share of private companies
The design of Tejas mk 2 has been frozen and will incorporate most major weapon systems that are already in service with Indian air force. Tejas Mk2 will also focus more on the indigenously made weapons that will feature in Tejas Mk1A and MWF will include some of the standoff weapons (?)included with the recently inducted Dassault Rafale fighter jets.
Gun type: – Gsh-23 cannon (internal or pod based)
Number of hardpoints: 13
(Since the radar going onboard MWF will be indigenous UTTAM AESA radar, India can fully customize the weapons package that is most suited for its operational needs)
Indian standoff weapons systems like Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon (SAAW), Rudram 1 Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) along with Rudram 2 and Rudram 3 ARM Family that are still under development also has been cleared for the Tejas Mk2 fleet. Coming to the Air-to-Air missiles, Tejas Mk2 will stick to the Indigenously developed Astra Mk1 (110km) and Astra Mk2 (160km) BVR-AAMs along with Astra-IIR (60km) for Short to Medium Range engagements. Astra Mk3 (340km) a Very long-range BVR-AAM that is still under development will also see service in the Tejas Mk2 fleet when it is available. Also, additional systems like crystal maze, spice 2000, Russian KH-31 anti-ship missile along with Meteor and SCALP may also eventually find their place onboard Tejas mk2 aka MWF
CONTROVERSY WITH MWF AND HAL
One controversy that is often fanned by those arguing against the induction of the MWF in the IAF is that HAL is perhaps the unduly optimistic with is projected timeline, apropos, first prototype in 2022 and first flight by 2023. (HAL is projecting viz metal cutting in 2021: Makes no syntactic or semantic sense). In my opinion, no, it is not a mere pipedream; I contend, instead, that HAL has the required foresight and the resources to meet every one of its objectives. They can achieve this fluently. key points that support these arguments are: –
- HAL will act only as the lead integrator and will source major components (LRU’s) to private companies which, in turn, will reduce delays and increase production.
- A few of those are:
- Wings from L&T
- Middle fuselage from VEM technologies
- Rear fuselage from Alpha tech
- Front fuselage from Dynamitic technologies
Further, the MWF seeks to integrate the majority of applied technologies (RAM, avionics, sensors and know how) that DRDO has been working on for the past two decades and that will greatly reduce the time spent R&D, a factor most responsible for delays. It must be noted that the Tejas mk 1 took 15 years only because India chose to manufacture everything from the scratch and many sanctions were imposed on India after 1999 Pokhran test further exacerbated the process. Additionally, HAL will also take advantage of diverse MSME chains that too will further reduce production delays.
MWF vs LCA Tejas mk1
|Category||LCA Tejas mk1||MWF|
|Engine||GE- F404||GE-F414 EPE/INS6|
|MTOW||13.5 tonnes||17.5 tonnes|
|Payload||3.5 tonnes||6.5 tonnes|
|Max. Speed||Mach 1.6||Mach 1.8|
|Internal fuel capacity||2486 liters||3300 liters|
India is undergoing massive changes in its aviation sector as India is about to roll out six major aerospace projects namely: –
- Tejas mk 1A
- Tejas mk 2
- NAL SARAS mk 1
- NAL SARAS mk 2
These will boost Indian aerospace sector and should go a long way in turning India into a self-reliant powerhouse in the aerospace sector. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is imperative that the MWF program is allowed to proceed unimpeded because any setback, if not handled delicately and judiciously, will disturb all the programs listed above, and derail every one of those projects since they are all interconnected to a considerable extent. Inversely, every successful step in the right direction stands to increase the morale manifold, as well as make the IAF a strategic asset par
elance in the coming years. If all goes according to the plan, the formidable composition of the IAF in future will truly be ‘neighbor’s envy, nation’s pride’
Expected offensive fleet composition
- 272 – Su- 30 mki
- 36+114 – Rafale (most probable winner)
- 83 – Tejas mk 1A
- 40 – Tejas mk1
- 200- Tejas mk 2 (MWF)
- 120- AMCA mk 1