Fact Check: Does India’s Tejas really have seven potential customers?
Upon confirming that India has entered Malaysia’s fighter jet tender, India's Junior Defense Minister Ajay Bhatt said that six other countries have expressed interest in the HAL Tejas.
India has been trying to export the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), popularly known as Tejas, for several years. But is it true that the jet has so many potential customers? AeroTime investigates.
In a statement to the members of India’s parliament Bhatt said that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had received a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) for 18 aircraft. In response, the company offered a two-seater variant of the Tejas.
Numerous reports indicated that the Indian aircraft is one of the candidates in Malaysia’s Light Combat Aircraft/Fighter Lead-In-Trainer (LCA/FLIT) program. The tender was posted in June 2021 and, by the end of the year, six candidates were being considered, according to local media.
Eight of the RMAF's two-seater Tejas would be in trainer configuration, with an additional 10 aircraft in combat configuration.
"Other countries which have evinced interest in the LCA aircraft are: Argentina, Australia, Egypt, USA, Indonesia, and Philippines," Bhatt said in a statement reported by Reuters.
So, let’s break down this statement, one country at a time.
The Argentinian case is a complicated one. Argentina has been unable to purchase a modern fighter jet for decades due to sanctions imposed on the country by the United Kingdom.
In 2021, at the same time rumors about Argentina purchasing the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 surfaced, the Argentinian Air Force revealed it has also started talks with HAL, in addition to other manufacturers across the world.
Some reports even indicate that India offered Argentina a variant of the Tejas without British-made parts. There has been no official information about further developments.
In 2020 the Australian Air Force announced a lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) tender. The goal was to replace the ageing fleet of BAE Systems Hawk 127 jet trainers.
The Tejas was one of the entrants, along with the KAI T-50, the Boeing T-7A, and a number of other aircraft. BAE also entered the contest, with a proposal to refurbish the existing Hawks.
In February 2022, the results of the tender were announced. BAE won, receiving an AU$1.5 billion contract to bring Australia’s Hawks up to date with new engines and other parts, extending their lifespan to 2032.
So, as the tender is over, it appears that Australia is no longer interested in procuring the Tejas.
The Egyptian Air Force’s intetntion to purchase the Tejas was first announced during the 2021 Dubai Air Show.
Numerous meetings between Indian and Egyptian officials have taken place since the event, with local press reporting that HAL offered to build a factory in Egypt to partially produce Tejas.
With Egypt’s fleet of MiG-29s and Mirage 5s getting quite old, the country is shopping for new aircraft. In recent years Egypt ordered Lockheed Martin F-16s, Sukhoi Su-35s and Dassault Mirages, seeking to diversify the fleet as much as possible, while also trying to evade some of the political constraints faced by the country.
But the Tejas and India’s arsenal of home-grown missiles could be exactly what Egypt is looking for, hence the interest.
India offered the Tejas in response to a 2020 request for information by the United States Navy (USN) for the Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS) program. The USN is looking for a replacement to its McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk trainers, and the lead-in fighter trainer variant of the Tejas seems to fit the bill.
The aircraft was developed with carrier capability in mind, even performing carrier take-off tests between 2012 and 2020. However, the Indian Navy rejected the navalized Tejas for its many shortcomings, leading numerous experts to proclaim that the USN is highly unlikely to select the aircraft.
It is questionable if HAL entering the UJTS tender really counts as the US being interested in the Tejas. However, as far as we know, the aircraft is still being considered there.
There is very little information about Indonesia’s interest in the Tejas. While some unconfirmed reports suggest Indian officials offered the aircraft to the Indonesian Air Force, Indonesia’s response remains unclear.
The country is an unlikely candidate to buy the Tejas. It recently placed a large order for Dassault Rafales, after considering and rejecting the F-16, the F-15EX, the F-35 and the Su-35.
Indonesia is also one of the prime customers for the South Korean KAI T-50 advanced jet trainer, ordering the last batch of them in 2021. Furthermore, the country has a large stake in the upcoming KAI KF-21.
The T-50 and its combat variant the FA-50 could be considered direct competitors for the Tejas, and there is no indication Indonesia plans to further diversify its trainer and light combat aircraft fleet, which already contains the BAE Hawk 200.
In May 2022 the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding with HAL. The memorandum marked the Philippines’ interest in purchasing the Tejas, as well as some attack and utility helicopters. The Tejas was rumored to be participating in the country’s multi-role fighter jet (MRF) tender.
However, in July 2022 the Philippine Air Force (PAF) announced that it has shortlisted the F-16 and the Saab JAS 39 Gripen in the competition. According to the announcement, these were the only proposals the country received, meaning that the Tejas was not really an entrant.
The PAF also fields a fleet of KAI T-50s, and there is no information about further procurement efforts that Tejas could compete in. Therefore, the Philippines is an unlikely candidate to purchase the Indian aircraft.
So, is the statement true?
In short, no.
While Tejas is indeed competing in Malaysia’s fighter jet tender, Bhatt’s announcement regarding the six other countries declaring an interest in the jet does not appear to be correct.
Tejas is participating in the USN tender for a trainer, while Egypt and Argentina are in talks with India regarding the purchase of the jet. Meanwhile, the Australian tender has already ended and the Tejas was not selected, the Philippines also chose another aircraft, and there is no indication that Indonesia is interested in buying aircraft from India.
This leaves just four countries in total – Malaysia, Egypt, Argentina and the United States – that could currently be considered potential customers of the Tejas aircraft.
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