BENGALURU: India will open a second production line for its light combat aircraft, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Tuesday, pressing ahead with a home-grown plane the military has had doubts over for years.
The Tejas fighter entered service last year, 33 years after it was approved as the country sought to build a modern fighter from scratch for an air force that was entirely dependent on foreign - mostly Soviet-origin - aircraft.
But the single-engine plane remains dogged by production delays at state-run Hindustan Aeronautics and only three have so far entered the air force.
Parrikar said the government had just approved an investment of 1.36 billion Indian rupees ($203.47 million) for HAL to lay a second production line to ramp up production of the indigenous fighter.
"We are fully committed to the LCA. In another three months, work on the second line will start," he told reporters on the sidelines of India's biggest air show, where the home-grown fighter was showcased.
Parrikar said two production lines will together produce 16 aircraft to meet the needs of the air force, which is trying to replace its ageing Russian MiG-21 planes.
The Indian navy, however, has rejected the naval version of the Tejas saying it is too heavy to fly from its aircraft carriers and has instead won government approval to buy 57 planes from abroad.
Parrikar said the navy wanted a twin-engine fighter to operate from its carrier and a stronger landing gear. "They are supportive of the LCA programme, they have made a financial contribution to it."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is pushing for the military to cut its dependence on foreign imports and insisting that even foreign manufacturers make their products in India in collaboration with an Indian partner.