The Indian Air Force (IAF) will induct at least 8 squadrons of the indigenously manufactured, Tejas fighter aircraft in less than eight years. India’s Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, disclosed this during the question hour in the parliament saying “We are in the process of approving the second line of manufacturing to the HAL, so that they can produce 16 aircraft per year. In the next eight years, you will have about eight squadrons of LCA”.

The minister iterated IAF’s interest in the aircraft saying “Letter of Intent has been issued for 120 LCA (Tejas aircraft). The first aircraft was given during 2015.” He further hinted about the formation of a squadron as early this year saying “The next three to four (Tejas aircraft), to form the squadron, will be delivered during current year”. He further clarified India’s position on Siachen and about the country’s surging industrial base.

LCA Tejas on a store separation flight trials.  Source - Deb Rana.

LCA Tejas on a store separation flight trials; Source – Deb Rana.

Parrikar’s statement – A morale booster to the IAF and Tejas developmental teams.

These statements by the minister on the floor are a major morale booster to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to the whole LCA team. IAF is operating a mere 32 squadrons of fighter aircraft under its command. This is well short of the mandated 42 squadrons which are necessary to counter any aggressions by the Chinese and Pakistan Air Force. Various procurement programs of the IAF have failed to reap any results. The Rafale’s and FGFA aircrafts are all flying in an infinite altitude and time alone can tell when they’ll land in IAF’s bases.

LCA Tejas

At a time when IAF is staring at uncertainty, the Desi bird – Tejas has flown in as a saviour. Designed and developed under the ‘Light Combat Aircraft’ program, Tejas is a 4.5 generation multi-role fighter aircraft which showcases a unique Delta wing design. The aircraft is highly manoeuvrable and is powered by a single GE F-404 turbofan jet engine. Tejas is the lightest combat aircraft in the world and this was achieved by extensively using Carbon Fibre Composites and Titanium alloys for its airframe.

LCA Program

Tejas took its birth under India’s ambitious ‘Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)’ program which was sanctioned in the early eighties. India under the LCA program was to indigenously develop a fighter jet that could simultaneously, interdict aerial threats and train its gun on ground targets. In the due course, Tejas was to replace the aging MiG-21 supersonic aircraft. Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was designated as the lead designer of the aircraft. India’s leading aerospace organization, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was roped in to manufacture the aircraft.

Tejas aircraft performing pair landing; Credits - Deb Rana.

Tejas aircraft performing pair landing; Credits – Deb Rana.

The enduring flight path of Tejas.

Tejas was unveiled to the country for the first time on 17th November 1995, when the first Technology Demonstrator (TD) was rolled out at Bangalore. ADA, HAL and the whole aeronautical fraternity of India wrote history in golden words on 4th January 2001, when TD-1 took to skies for the first time. India’s aerospace dreams had taken wings after almost three decades of relentless work. Since then, Tejas has throttled to higher altitudes defying every hurdle thrown at it. ADA and HAL have rolled out 8 – SP aircraft till date. The Indian Air Force (IAF) inducted the first Tejas aircraft to its inventory on 15th January 2015.

Tejas Current Status

Tejas, India’s aerospace dream is majestically throttling towards FOC – its final operational clearance. The realization of the all crucial FOC will signal the aircraft’s readiness for active duty. The aircraft has already achieved two of its three planned air worthiness certifications. Putting up a perfectly orchestrated aerobatical ballet at Bahrain in February 2016, Tejas created history by becoming the first Indian developed aircraft to fly in international airspace.

The aircraft shortly after its return trip from Bahrain, test fired the Israeli developed Derby BVR missile in unguided mode. This was a monumental step in the aircraft’s journey towards the impending FOC certification. Tejas is expected to test fire both the Python and Derby Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles in the near future. The Python is a short-range Air-to-Air missile which can neutralize aerial targets within 20 kilometers of the aircraft. The Derby BVR missile is a long-range Air-to-Air missile that can incinerate aerial targets within 50 kilometres of the aircraft. The successful integration of these missiles is a major boost to the aircraft when involved in tactical dogfights.

The aircraft in its FOC standards will feature as many as 11 developments over the IOC standard aircraft. HAL and ADA had started the work for FOC as early as December 2014. Developmental teams are now aiming at integrating a new radome with the aircraft. The Multi-Mode Radar (MMR) developed for Tejas is said to be fully operational and has a tracking range of more than 80 kilometers.

The aircraft during its testing phase had pulled off a sustained +8G turn and this signals the aircraft’s readiness in performing complex combat manoeuvres.  HAL and ADA have substantially redesigned the aero-dynamical structures of the aircraft and this has allowed the Angle of Attack (AoA) to be increased to 24-degrees.  Developmental teams at HAL and ADA are confident of piloting the aircraft through the FOC phase without any major glitches.

LCA Tejas conquering the Himalayas; Source - Deb Rana.

LCA Tejas conquering the Himalayas; Source – Deb Rana.

Second Production line for Tejas.

Manohar Parrikar has confirmed that the government will indeed, set-up a second production line for manufacturing LCA Tejas aircraft. Till date, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been the lone manufacturer of Tejas. Currently, HAL is producing the aircraft in its Bangalore facility and is capable of rolling out around 20 combat ready Tejas aircraft per year. The IAF is expected to place an order for 120+ Tejas Mk – 1A aircraft in the near future. The Indian Navy to arm its aircraft carriers is heavily backing the Tejas Mk-II concept. The navy may place orders for 50+ aircraft in the future.

HAL is expected to receive an order for 200+ aircraft by 2018. The retiring MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft of the air force are also to be replaced by Tejas. This demands HAL to roll out jets in the shortest possible timeframe. Hence, it is crucial that a second production line for the production of the Tejas aircraft is set up at the earliest. The government is contemplating on the option of engaging private industries. Global firms like Boeing, Rafale and Saab have shown keen interest in the program. A second production line with the participation of private industries will not only fulfil the needs of the country, but will also act as a nurturing force for India’s budding private aerospace companies.

Tejas Mk-1A to be a reality soon.

The LCA program entered a new era on 23rd September 2015, when HAL, ADA and IAF agreed upon the terms of ‘Standard of Preparation – 2018 (SoP-18)‘. Developmental agencies will now roll out an advanced version of Tejas known as Mk – 1A by 2018. The aircraft will be equipped with 100-plus cutting edge technologies including a highly advanced radar system and Electronic Warfare (EW) systems.

Tejas Mk-1A will feature an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system. These radars can simultaneously track targets at multiple frequencies using electronic modules. There are absolutely no mechanically moving parts in these radars and this enables them to scan the skies for targets at a much faster pace. HAL has selected the Elta manufactured EL/M-2052 AESA radar system for Tejas Mk-1A aircraft. Elta will also play a key part in India’s effort to indigenously develop the ‘Uttam AESA radars’. The addition of these radar systems is a major boost to the aircraft’s capabilities.

LCA Tejas flies armed to the teeth; Credits - Deb Rana.

LCA Tejas flies armed to the teeth; Credits – Deb Rana.

Tejas, with these modifications is bound to out fly all of its competitors in the coming years. Tejas has evolved overtime to be one of the best fighter aircraft to be ever manufactured.  There is a bright future for India’s aerospace child – LCA Tejas, not only in the home front but also in the lucrative international arena.