Bengaluru :After a 32-year wait, seven first indigenously-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) will be inducted into the Indian Air Force, to make up for a shortage of fighters.
The Tejas Mark 1-A is slightly more proficient than the first-cut home-made LCA, the Tejas, but the aircraft still has some flaws. For one, there are doubts about its ability to carry the required payload of weapons. Also, its Indian-made radar needs to be replaced with an Israeli radar.
The handover signals the start of the process of induction of the fighters, a 4.5th generation aircraft, being built at home which has cost the exchequer nearly Rs 8,000 crore.
The entire project by the DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), including the final induction in the Air Force and Navy, is estimated to cost over Rs 30,000 crore.
The LCA, which will replace the ageing MiG21s, is significant for its lighter weight and greater agility and manoeuvrability.
The aircraft that has been handed over has got Initial Operational Clearance-II, which signifies that Tejas is airworthy in different conditions, sources said. The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected by the year-end.
This version of the aircraft lacks the latest electronic warfare suite, which was integrated into one of the LCAs two weeks ago, mid-air refuelling and long-range missiles capabilities, among other things that the FOC-configuration aircraft will have.
The IOC-I was granted to the aircraft, being built by HAL, in January 2011.
“Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar handed over the first series production Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas made by HAL to the Indian Air Force. The Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, Chief of the Air Staff, received the aircraft documents from the Minister,” a statement by HAL said.
“It is a big big day for the country,” a senior DRDO official said.
Incidentally, DRDO chief Avinash Chander, whose contract was terminated by the Minister recently with effect from January 31, was not present.
Also, the media and shutterbugs were kept away from the ceremony.
The Defence Minister congratulated HAL and everyone involved in the project and called upon them to think “out of the box” to meet the timeline challenges by applying the right management tools.
“Thrust should be given on research and technology by exploiting the existing knowledge base which companies like HAL have,” he said adding that one does not achieve everything overnight.
“However by modifying our work culture and by adopting better technology and tools we can achieve the results better,” he added.
Raha outlined that LCA is the “need of the hour”, given the operational needs of IAF.
HAL chairman R K Tyagi described the handover as one of the major milestones in the history of the Company.
He said 60 per cent indigenisation in this LCA project has been achieved so far.
Outlining the production plan, he said HAL will produce six aircraft next year (2015-16) and subsequently scale it up to eight and 16 aircraft per year.
It is estimated that 20 aircraft will be built by 2017-2018, to make the first squadron of the aircraft.
Though the squadron is scheduled to be based in Tamil Nadu, sources said, initially, the planes would be in Bangalore only.