Back in the 1980s, when Indian Air Force put forward its ‘Long Term Re-Equipment Plan 1981’, a big revelation came that almost all of the Mig-21 in Indian Service will be reaching the end of their service life which by estimation was almost 40% of the Combat Strength of Indian Air Force by 1995. Henceforth, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Programme was launched to replace the Mig-21 in Indian Service and develop an aviation ecosystem in India. With the first prototype of LCA named as “Tejas” by former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001 with the Final Operational Clearance being received in 2019, the LCA Programme has come to a full cycle even when the Mig-21 has persisted in Indian Service albeit with all the upgrades. Here I will discuss how the Tejas is better than the Mig-21 and can it replace the venerable Mig-21 in Indian Service, stressing upon five parameters which define their Combat Strength and Capabilities in the ever-changing sphere of Modern Warfare:
Tejas is a light 4++ generation war plane. It is designed to intercept and engage hostile jet and to perform combat air patrol,Surveillance,close air support, hitting enemy positions with precision guided ammunition in some cases as a deep penetration strike fighter.A multi role aircraft like Tejas can perform various types of role in war with a combat radius of 500 km. HAL/ADA Tejas features a Tailless Cropped Compound Delta Wing Design while Mig-21 features a Tailed Cropped Delta Wing Design. The primary advantage of Delta Wing Design is when the aircraft transitions from subsonic speed to Supersonic Speed, it reduces the drag. Delta Wings are quite robust, efficient and quite inexpensive to develop and provides necessary parameters like a high Angle of Attack, more Maximum Take-Off Weight and a large total wing area. The Thrust-to-Weight Ratio of Mig-21 is 0.79 while that of the Tejas is the 0.94. Tejas has got the better of Mig-21 here as a higher Thrust-to-Weight Ratio gives a better climb rate to the aircraft. The Wing Loading of Mig-21 is 452.2 kg/m² while that of Tejas is 255.2 kg/m² which makes Tejas more manoeuvrable in Combat than Mig-21 owing to its lower Wing Loading. The Aspect Ratio of Mig-21 is 2.22 while that of Tejas is nearly 1.75. This lends Tejas much lesser drag during Flying Missions while Mig-21 gets much more lift. In terms of Angle of Attack, Tejas has a lesser Angle of Attack than Mig-21 which is beneficial for a Light Multirole Aircraft as Tejas as it is a tradeoff between the Angle of Attack and Lift which allows the Tejas to get a Wider Flight Envelope than the Mig-21 which has a Poor Lift at low Angle of Attack. In terms of Kinematics, Tejas has a significant edge over the venerable Mig-21 as it shows much more manoeuvrability, flexibility and better climb rate compared to the vintage Mig-21.
B. Weapons Package:
The basic Mig-21 Fishbed Model has 4 Hardpoints where it can mount external loads, pods or Fuel Tanks as needed during a Combat Mission. Tejas, on the other hand, has 8 Hardpoints where it can mount various External Loads in Combat Configuration. Indian Air Force Mig-21 is employed for Interception Duties, Close Air Support and Air Interdiction Duties, with a capability to carry upto 2000 kg of stores and provisions and in such missions, it has a provision of R-73 Within-Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile and R-77 Beyond-Visual-Range Air-to-Air Missile for Aerial Missions while it employs KAB-500 TV-Guided Fire and Forget Bombs and S-24 Rockets for Ground Attack Missions. R-77 is an active radar homing missile and has a range of 80 km and provides excellent multi-purpose target engagement capabilities thanks to its lattice tail controls. In an Air to Air configuration Tejas can carry two R-73 and four Derby-ER missile along with a drop tank.With the help of quadruplex digital fly by wire and helmet mounted sight It will perform very well in within visual range engagement. With a Multi mode radar and Derby ER missile with a range of 100 km it has the capability to take out any hostile aircraft in beyond visual range engagement. Mark1A version will incorporate an AESA radar so in BVR combat its efficiency will increase. In-Ground Attack Duties, Tejas can also be equipped with Laser Guided Bombs and Glide Bombs while an Aero India-2019 Model has hinted at integrating the BrahMos-NG Missile with Tejas which will be a big boost for Tejas Long-Range Strike Capabilities. BrahMos-NG is a slated miniaturized version of the BrahMos with a range of 290 km and supersonic speed of Mach 3.5. In terms of Weapons Package, Tejas wins hands-down compared to Mig-21 with its new range of much more state-of-the-art Air-to-Air Missiles and Ground Attack Weapons. Surveillance : Tejas armed with AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening targeting pod will be able to monitor ground targets or enemy movement. It can also be used as a secondary armed reconnaissance fighter. The litening pod included a forward looking high resolution infra red camera LITENING significantly increases the combat effectiveness of the aircraft during day, night and under-the-weather conditions in the attack of ground and air targets with a variety of standoff weapons (i.e., laser-guided bombs, conventional bombs and GPS-guided weapons).
Mig-21 has no Low Observability Feature as it has not been theorized to provide it with an achievable Low-Observability Capability back in the 1950s when it was put on the drawing board. However, in Indian service, Mig-21 was integrated with EL/L-8222 self-protection jamming pod and Radar Absorbent Materials to provide it with some Stealth features while engaging the targets. The cornerstone of Mig-21’s electronic warfare capability lies with EL/L-8222 as it is designed to increase the survivability of the platform and possess a Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) based jammer with autonomous threat environment handling. The light and nimble Mig-21 is tough to spot during Within Visual Range Engagements and that’s where the Mig-21 with its complement of R-73 Missiles augmented by a Helmet-Mounted Sight becomes even more deadly. Tejas is not only the stealthiest fighter in the IAF, but also arguably the stealthiest 4.5th generation fighter in the world. Its radar signature is estimated to be just 1/3rd of a Mirage2000. Apart from use of composites and its small size a Y-duct inlet which shields the engine compressor face from probing radar waves, and the application of radar-absorbent material (RAM) coatings are intended to minimize its susceptibility to detection and tracking.
D. Electronic Warfare Suite:
Mig-21 “Bison” possess a Phazotron NIIR’s Kopyo Multimode X-Band Pulse Doppler Radar which possesses an air-to-air track-while-scan capability to detect ten targets at a time and engage two of them simultaneously. It can detect targets upto 50 km head-on while upto 30 kilometres in pursuit. Along with it, Mig-21 “Bison” has a Tarang Radar Warning Receiver which issues a warning to the pilot once the aircraft is “painted” or locked-on by the enemy aircraft and allows him to take defensive manoeuvres just in time. Tejas, on the other hand, features a superior Electronic Warfare Suite named as the MAYAVI EW (Electronic Warfare) Suite. Tejas Mk.1 currently lacks an Electronic Warfare Suite due to lack of space so we might see a dedicated EW Pod with Tejas only in future iterations like Mk.1A and Mk.2. Mayavi consists of a Tarang-2 Radar Warning Receiver, Missile Approach Warning (MAW) and a Laser warning receiver (LWR), Electronic Countermeasures Suite, Infrared & Ultraviolet Missile warning sensors, Self-Protection Jammer and a Towed Radar Decoy. Apart from this, Tejas features a Pulse-Doppler Multimode Radar built around the Elta’s EL/M-2032. Tejas Mk.1A, on the other hand, will feature ELM-2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars.
E. Pilot Friendly Features and Safety Record:
One of the biggest bane of Mig-21 in Indian service was its inferior Pilot-friendly feature and botched Safety Record. Over the year, Indian Air Force has lost more than half of its Mig-21 fleet to crashes and accidents due to various factors like Technical Error, Human Error, Engine Flameouts, Bird Hits and has thus resulted in death of some 200 IAF Pilots and also 40 Civilians leading it to be nicknamed as the “Flying Coffin” or “Widow Maker”. The Cockpit Layout of Mig-21 and its external view has always been viewed as a comprehensive nightmare for the Pilot and has always been viewed as an extremely difficult machine to fly compared to other similar aircraft in IAF inventory. Mig-21 for many years has also been used as an Advanced Jet Trainer, due to lack of trainer aircraft in Indian Air Force, which is not optimal for rookie pilots at the best as it is difficult to handle and lacks any substantial aerodynamic values. Over the years, Mig-21 was switched from an Aerial Dominance Role to Close Air Support Role, where the pilots run in high risk as low-level ejections on Mig-21 with its CK ejection seat are quite dangerous when the jet is flying at 300 kmph leading to many unsuccessful ejections and deaths. Mid-Air Collisions, Engine Flame-Outs, Bird Strikes were other reasons why Mig-21 has led a botched Safety Record over the year even when there were increasing demands for it to be retired. Tejas, on the other hand, features much Superior Safety Record compared to Mig-21. Ever since the first prototypes took to air back in 2001, Tejas has not suffered a single accident or crash and in 2018 clocked in 4000 Accident-Free Flying Hours and also achieved FOC without any single mishap in hand. Tejas also features many Pilot-Friendly Features like Get-U-Home panel (GUH), a complete Digital Fly-by-Wire Control System which gives easy handling of aircraft, a Glass Cockpit along with Mk 16LG ejection seat to provide easy and safe ejections. Perhaps the most potent safety feature of Tejas is its Canopy Severance system (CSS) which rescues the pilot in shortest possible time during an emergency and the Recovery Parachute System which allows the aircraft to recover from the spin/deep stall by controlling it in a stabilized dive.
Is Tejas better than Mig-21?
In every Technical Parameter, Tejas completely outperform Mig-21 and it fulfils the vision of the LCA Team who first put the Light Combat Aircraft on drawing board to provide the Indian Air Force with a Next-Generation Fighter Aircraft to replace the older Mig-21 completely. Tejas has been inducted into the No.45 Squadron “Flying Daggers” and it has paved way for the mass-induction of Tejas in Indian Air Force over upcoming years along with other Fighter Jets to over the squadron deficiency in Indian Air Force. Not only that, the LCA Programme which has borne Tejas, has resulted in the development of an indigenous ecosystem here in India which can sustain development and manufacture of aircraft for Military and Civilian Purposes. The By-Products of the LCA Programme has been seen in the development of avionics, mechanical parts and other by HAL and Private Partners which is now being exported to foreign partners now. An example of this would be Dynamatic Technologies which possess the Main Fuselage Assembly for Tejas which is a great model of public sector-private sector collaboration in India. The reliability of Tejas was proven during Exercise Gagan-Shakti last year where Indian Air Force deployed its 8 Tejas Fighter Aircrafts out of which 6 were able to go over 6 sorties per day which speaks volumes about the capability of this platform. Tejas utilizes Internal Monitoring Systems which diagnose System Faults with help of Plug-In Testers which makes it much more simplified than other frontline aircraft like Su-30MKI which makes heavy use of Electro-Hydraulic Systems. Tejas in its true essence is the successor of the Mig-21 in Indian Air Force service and can effectively replace the Mig-21 in its role and capabilities effectively augmenting the Indian Air Force with Next-Generation Capabilities and the advantage of a sustaining Aviation Ecosystem over the upcoming years which will further pave way for more advanced designs over upcoming years like Tejas Mk.1A, Tejas Mk.2 and finally the AMCA.