Two days after the Indian Air Force (IAF) shared a video of its Tejas Mark-1 fighter jet refuelling mid-air on Twitter, the combat jet has clearly emerged as superior to the JF-17 Thunder which is co-developed by Pakistan and China. The mid-air refuelling capability will help the fighter jet to strike deep inside enemy territory and stay airborne for a couple hours longer than the JF-17 Thunder. Currently, LCA Tejas has 3,000-liter fuel capacity with 850km combat radius. Now, with the mid-air refuel capability, on-air combat mission can be extended longer to almost double.

As far as technical specifications are concerned, Tejas is far more capable than JF-17 Thunder since its composites-built airframe and small size enhance its stealth features, making it difficult to be detected by enemy radars. Engineers at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have used carbon fibre in its fuselage which reduces the weight of the jet and helps it to absorb enemy radar waves and carry more missiles and bombs.

Also, Tejas needs a smaller runway (460 metres) while the JF-17 (600-metres) to take flight. This minimises Tejas’s response time to get airborne.

WHY MID-AIR REFUELLING CAPABILITY MATTERS?

Aerial refuelling is a significant milestone in the history of Tejas since both the tanker and receiver use state-of-the-art technology to maintain the altitude and sophisticated electronic communication system to connect themselves.

Both the Il-78 (tanker) and Tejas (fighter jet), used the probe and drogue refuelling system in which the receiver aircraft is equipped with a retractable probe that allows fuel from a flexible hose that extends out the back of the tanker aircraft to carry out the ‘Dry Contact’. According to reports, the tanker was launched from its base in Agra while the specially modified Tejas aircraft was launched from Gwalior to carry out the ‘Dry Contact’ exercise which means no fuel was actually transferred between Il-78 and Tejas through its air-to-air refuelling probe.

UK-based Cobham delivered the quartz radome and in-flight refuelling probe for LCA Tejas, reports said.

Meanwhile, the IAF has evinced interest to carry out nine more tests which would also include wet tests where the actual transfer of fuel takes place from the tanker to the fighter.

Tejas Mark 1 has a nose-mounted refuelling probe while Tejas Mark 2 will have a retractable probe like the double seater Jaguars IB.

During pan-India exercise Gagan Shakti, the Indian Air Force (IAF) expressed happiness with the performance of the Tejas fighter jet and demanded faster production of the warbird, reports said.

Indigenous combat aircraft Tejas had commenced operations from the Sulur Air Force Station in Tamil Nadu on July 2, two years after its induction into the Indian Air Force. In July 2017, the IAF inducted the first squadron of home-grown Tejas with two fighter planes joining the force. The squadron named – Flying Daggers 45 – is expected to have its full strength by 2018-2020.

Designed by the ADA and manufactured by HAL, the single-engine, tailless aircraft would cater to the diverse needs of the IAF and the Indian Navy.

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