Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar handed over the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Bengaluru on 17th Jan 2015. The LCA has finally been handed over to the Air Force after Initial Operational Clearance-II, which signifies that the Tejas is airworthy in different conditions.
TEJAS – AN INTRODUCTION
Tejas is a single-seat, single-engine, multi-role light fighter being jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for India. It is a tailless, compound delta wing design powered by a single engine. It came from the LCA programme, which began in the 1983 to replace India’s ageing MiG-21 fighters. It is supersonic and highly manoeuvrable, and is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary combat aircraft. Features like latest electronic warfare suite (tested few weeks back), mid-air refuelling among others will be fielded in the FOC aircraft.
OPERATIONAL CLEARANCES OF TEJAS
The Tejas was given Initial Operational Clearance-I in January 2011. It received the second of three levels of operational clearance on 20 December 2013. The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected by the year-end and the first squadron of 20 aircraft is likely to be scheduled to enter service by 2017-2018. The entire project till induction is estimated at Rs. 30,000 crore.
TEJAS IN IAF STRIKE PACKAGE
LCA falls in the lower tier of the evolving conventional force structure of the IAF. At the upper end is the Su-30MKI, a heavy fighter. The middle rung will be formed by the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft likely to be the Dassault Rafale which India is currently negotiating with France. Tejas will form the lower end of the strike package complimenting the heavy Sukhoi’s and the medium Rafale’s. It is ideal for point defence and strikes at low to medium ranges.
INDIGENOUS CONTENTS & CONCERNS
Analysts say that despite 65 percent indigenous content, the scrapping of the indigenous Kaveri engine development and the critical dependence on the US-made GE engines to power the plane is a matter of concern. Presently, the LCA-I is flying with an underpowered GE-404 engine. Air Force officials said the Air Force was banking on advanced LCA Mk-II and equipped with greater thrust generated by GE-414 engines. But this also means critical dependence of one of the mainstays of the future IAF on the US.