HomeTrendingIndia’s LCA Tejas MK1A beats China's JF-17 Thunder on every parameter

India’s LCA Tejas MK1A beats China’s JF-17 Thunder on every parameter

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has opted to buy 90 LCA MK1A fighters, signalling a significant bet on homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

Experts claim that the LCA Tejas outperforms its regional rivals, particularly the JF-17 “Thunder” that powers the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The primary PAF aircraft, the JF-17, has an unreliable engine that poses a “hazard” to the safety of the pilot.

Given the emphasis on ‘Atamnirbharta’ (self-reliance) that the Indian government has emphasised, the announcement that the IAF was ordering another 90 LCA MK1A shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

The IAF has already placed an order for 83 LCA Mk1A aircraft with the government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for delivery in 2021, and the 90 more aircraft will be added to that order. The IAF will have 40 LCA, more than 180 LCA MK 1A, and at least 120 LCA MK-2 fighter jets once both orders are completed in the upcoming 15 years.

Both the JF-17 “Thunder” and the LCA “Tejas” are single-engine multi-role combat aircraft. But the similarities stop here.

“Tejas is a more capable, maneuverable, agile, and reliable aircraft than the JF-17. Also, the Chinese JF-17 was initially powered by a Russian RD-93 engine. The Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) itself found the JF-17 unsuitable for induction,” a HAL official told the media.

“The Chinese then offered their local ‘unproven’ WS-13 engine to JF-17 operators, which was refused by Pakistan for their Block-3 JF-17 fighter jets,” the official said. Unlike the GE-404 engine, which powers many military aircraft globally with an unblemished record, the unproven WS-13 engine of China is riddled with reliability issues. “Without a reliable engine, the JF-17 is very hazardous for pilot’s safety. Chances of mission success are very poor on JF-17 equipped with WS-13 engine,” the official added.

The JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft is jointly developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corp. It has a Chinese airframe, and Western avionics and is powered by a Russian engine.

It has experienced numerous crashes since it was introduced to PAF in 2007. According to sources, the plane has experienced multiple groundings because of problems like guiding vanes, exhaust nozzles, and flame stabiliser cracks.

When it comes to serviceability, the LCA surpasses the JF-17. The LCA is more than 75% serviceable in the IAF squadron.

“At least 40 JF-17 aircraft out of the 100 delivered to date are known to be unserviceable. This aircraft has a very poor track record in Pakistan, as evidenced by the frequency of accidents. In contrast, the LCA has a perfect safety record and high serviceability,” a spokesman said.

The fly-by-wire mechanism elevates LCA above the JF-17 in yet another way. The LCA features a quadruplex redundant architecture, whereas the JF-17 has a triplex redundant fly-by-wire system.

Technical issues caused Myanmar, the first nation outside of Pakistan to purchase the JF-17, to ground its fleet.

According to reports, the JF-17’s airframe indicated “vibration issues” as to why it had to be grounded in Myanmar.

“The airframe is vulnerable to damage, especially in its wingtips and hardpoints, when the aircraft encounters strong gravitational forces, according to a former pilot of the Myanmar Air Force,” a report in The Irrawaddy Times claimed.

The China-made KLJ-7 Al radar, which has subpar accuracy and maintenance issues, is a key component of the JF-17 avionics, according to analysts. Even the aerial interception radar and beyond visual range (BVR) missile are ineffective on the aircraft.

According to a Myanmar media report: “Malfunction of the Weapon Mission Management Computer has caused launch zones of BVR air-to-air missiles to shrink during combat exercises.”

The mission computer algorithm, weapon release solutions, and all other software components for the LCA Tejas are all designed domestically. The flight control laws have special elements that provide “carefree handling and recovering from unseen situations.”

The Turn Round Servicing (TRS) time for the LCA is around 30 minutes. TRS is the amount of time an aircraft needs to take off again after landing since it needs maintenance each time it lands. This is due to the LCA Tejas’ reliance on hydraulics for all of its services.

On the other hand, the joint Chinese-Pakistani manufacturing JF-17 operates some utility services in both main and emergency modes using a pneumatic system (powered by compressed gas). This necessitates routine pneumatic charge, which extends the Turn Round Servicing (TRS) time.

The LCA Tejas can carry 1000 kg more payload and weighs less than the JF-17 Thunder when it is completely empty. When compared to the JF-17 Thunder, the LCA is more nimble and extremely manoeuvrable thanks to its smaller fuselage, higher sweep angle, and larger lift producing area. LCA performs better in ascent and turns thanks to a superior thrust-to-weight ratio.

The LCA features eight hot spots for carrying armaments, compared to the JF-17’s seven.

“All weapons on the JF-17 are imported, making its export variant very expensive and reliant on third parties. The LCA comes with indigenous weapons,” an official told the media.

A successful launch of the Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air missile Astra, created by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), was recently announced by the Indian Ministry of Defence. Along with Astra, the DRDO is creating glide bombs for LCA as well as anti-radiation, anti-ship, and precision-guided munitions for Rudram1.

The GE-404-IN20 engine’s lower fuel consumption compared to the Chinese WS-13 engine powering Block III aircraft or the Russian RD-93 engine (Block I/II aircraft) is a significant argument in favour of LCA. The JF-17 has a better fuel carrying capacity because it only has three wet stations compared to the LCA’s five.

“All these give LCA higher endurance by at least 30 minutes in combat configuration,” the official added.


IAF’s dwindling strength

The IAF has been struggling with an outdated aircraft fleet. In 2023, the IAF’s surface-to-air missile (SAM) squadrons outnumbered its fleet’s fighter aircraft squadrons.

The force has been concerned about the decreasing number of fighter jet squadrons. In 2023, an IAF representative testified before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence that the service only has 31 fighter aircraft squadrons instead of the sanctioned 42.

By 2025, the IAF will have retired all of its MiG-21 fighter aircraft, and the LCA will take its place. IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari assessed the state of the LCA programme at the Air Headquarters before deciding to purchase further LCA MK1As. The IAF will submit the plan for approval by the government.

In order to defend against threats from Pakistan and China, the IAF is also extending the LCA’s operational range beyond the peninsula to the entire country. This enables Tejas to demonstrate its capability against the JF-17 in real-world combat.

By 2029, the HAL should have delivered all 83 LCA Mk1A models, including 10 trainers. HAL will deliver three aircraft in 2024, followed by the delivery of 16 aircraft starting in 2025 via two production lines.