Thirty-two years after the project was sanctioned, the first indigenously-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was handed over by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to the IAF on 17 January, a red letter day for the Indian defence and aerospace sector.
The handover signals the start of a process of induction of the fighters being built at home under a project which has already cost the exchequer nearly ₹8,000 crore. The entire project by the DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is estimated to cost over ₹30,000 crore.
The aircraft that has been handed over has got Initial Operational Clearance-II, which signifies that Tejas is airworthy in different conditions. 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 state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), in January 2011. The second IOC was granted after the aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight on 30 September 2014.
20 aircraft will be built by 2017-18, to make the first squadron of the aircraft.
The LCA programme was initiated in 1983 to replace the ageing MiG-21s in IAF’s combat fleet but has missed several deadlines due to various reasons. HAL’s LCA Project Group has has been upgraded to a full-fledged division to look after production in a systematic way with more investments.
HAL has carried out thousands of sorties of the LCA and outstation flight trials at Leh, Jamnagar, Jaisalmer, Uttaralai Gwalior, Pathankot and Goa for cold weather, armament and weapon deliveries, MultiMode Radar (MMR), Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), hot weather and missile firing flight trials.
Tejas successfully demonstrated weapon delivery capability during trials at Jamnagar and Jaisalmer.