Much-maligned public sector aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has got a morale booster with Malaysia evincing interest in its light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas.
It is even more satisfying for HAL engineers, many of who went without salary on the New Year's Day, that the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) wants to evaluate Tejas after extensive trials of JF-17 Thunder developed by China and built in Pakistan.
Malaysia wants India to send a Tejas fighter to the March 26-30 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2019 (LIMA'19) for evaluation, Business Standard website has said.
Apparently, the Malaysian defence minister is keen on trying out the Tejas. Indian sources believe the South East Asian nation is thinking of adding 30 Tejas to its air force.
Designed and developed jointly by Aeronautical Development Centre (ADC) and HAL, the multirole combat aircraft obtained final operational clearance (FOC) on December 31.
Tejas, currently priced at Rs 200 crore ($29 million) per aircraft, is marginally costlier than JF-17at about $25 million, reports say.
But, Tejas is credited with more advanced features than other comparable aircraft include a digital flight control system, extensive use of composite materials, sophisticated glass cockpit and a better performing American GE F-404IN engine.
In fact, Malaysia is not the first foreign nation to evince interest in Tejas, which has inquiries pending from a Middle Eastern country and Egypt.
HAL chief R Madhavan says there is considerable overseas interest for the fighter. "There is significant overseas interest in buying the Tejas light fighter. HAL is pursuing imminent opportunities in South-east and West Asia," Madhavan was quoted as saying.
HAL has an order from Indian Air Force (IAF) for 40 Tejas Mk-1 aircraft. HAL has developed Tejas Mk-1 single-seat fighter and a two-seat trainer and a naval variant.
Reports say HAL will be sending one of its older prototypes to Malaysia. Tejas took part in the Bahrain Air Show in 2016 that saw an interest spike from potential buyers. Two fighters covered 2,500 kilometres from Bangalore to Bahrain with stopovers in Jamnagar and Muscat.
Observers say the RMAF interest in the Indian fighter is significant in the backdrop of increasing defence cooperation between the two nations. There already exists some coordination between the two over Russian-built Sukhoi-30 whose MKM version is in use with RMAF. The IAF uses the MKI version. The IAF also staged a bilateral exercise with RMAF in August last year.