Delays by India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in developing the upgraded Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk 2 are likely to pose operational problems for the Indian Air Force (IAF), which is facing a steady decline in its fighter squadrons. According to official sources HAL recently proposed to the IAF that, instead of waiting for it to design the more capable LCA Mk 2, the air force should acquire the under-development Tejas Mk 1A variant, which is marginally more proficient than the existing Mk 1. Powered by the General Electric F404-GE-IN20 engine, with a limited 80-85 kN thrust that restricts its angle of attack and weapon-carrying capabilities, the LCA Mk 1 failed to meet the IAF's qualitative requirements (QRs), but is currently being series built by HAL. HAL claimed its scientists and engineers are overstretched with developmental projects such as the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 basic trainer and the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer, and are consequently unable to ensure the LCA Mk 2's timely development. HAL went on to state that the Mk 2 variant it is jointly developing with the government-run Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is unlikely to enter series production before 2024, some five years after conducting its maiden test flight around 2019. The company contended that this delay would render HAL's LCA production lines in Bangalore inactive after 2019 once it has completed the IAF's pending order for 40 Mk 1s. The IAF took delivery of the first Mk 1 in January - 32 years after the LCA programme was initiated. Consequently, HAL wants the IAF to initially acquire 40-60 additional LCA Mk 1As in order to keep its production lines open until 2024. Thereafter the Mk 2 variant, fitted with the more powerful F414 GE-INS6 engine generating 90-98 kN thrust, would be ready to go into production to meet the IAF's projected requirement of 120-140 LCAs. HAL declined to comment on the issue. Industrial sources say HAL envisages the Mk 1As as being around 1,000 kg lighter than the Mk 1, which weighs 6,500 kg. It aims to achieve this weight loss by shedding 200-300 kg of ballast secured in the aircraft's nose to stabilise it and another 700-800 kg by reducing its heavy and 'over-engineered' landing gear. The platform would also be fitted with Israeli firm ELTA Systems' active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, replacing the heavier and less capable 'hybrid' version of ELTA's EL/M-2032 lightweight multi-mode radar, which was developed jointly with India's Defence Research and Development Organisation. HAL maintains that these changes would make the Mk 1A operationally more agile and proficient - despite being fitted with the less powerful F404 engine - and more closely aligned with the IAF's QRs. Official sources said HAL even "obliquely hinted" that these modifications to the Mk 1A could even render developing the Mk 2 for the IAF redundant. However, the F414 engines - the first eight of which HAL is expected to receive by the end of the year - would still be needed to power the under-development LCA (Navy) to assist in its take-off from an aircraft carrier deck. The Indian Navy has an initial requirement for some 40 LCA (Navy) aircraft.