India’s celebrated Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program witnessed another historic event today when Arup Raha, Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Indian Air Force (IAF), took to the skies in the indigenously developed Tejas aircraft. The Air Marshal flew in a trainer version of the Tejas aircraft which features a tandem seating configuration. HAL and ADA had prepped Tejas PV-6 aircraft for the crucial flight. The elite sortie lasted for about half hour and with this historic flight, Arup Raha became the first CAS to fly in Tejas.
Upon landing, CAS Arup Raha, was quoted saying “”It’s a good aircraft to fly and fit to be inducted into our fleet”. The CAS also said the aircraft satisfactorily meets the operational needs of the IAF. He has been a staunch supporter of indigenous products and has thrown his weight behind various Indian made products.
Tejas was developed under India’s ambitious Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program by ADA and DRDO. It is the world’s lightest fourth-generation light combat aircraft and has been built by the Bengaluru based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The LCA program was sanctioned in the early 90’s and has been souring to new heights with every flight the LCA aircraft are taking. Under this program, India has successfully developed several path blazing aeronautical technologies and also developed one of the most advanced aeronautical infrastructural bases.
Arup Raha during his visit to HAL took stock of the recent developments in regard to the LCA program. Tejas being a multi-role fighter aircraft is piped to replace the aging MiG-21 and MiG-27 serving under the IAF. Raha inaugurated new hangars which have come up at HAL’s Bengaluru facility. These hangars will help HAL effectively increase its manufacturing capacity. Till date, HAL has manufactured around 20 Tejas aircraft and the first fighter aircraft ‘SP-1’ was inducted into the IAF on 17th January 2015.
The SP-2 aircraft took to skies on 22nd March 2016. Tejas SP-3 and SP-4 aircraft are in advanced stage of outfitting and are expected to taste fresh air anytime by July 2016. It is widely believed that SP-5, 6 and 7 aircraft will be available by early next year. HAL has an order for manufacturing 20 Tejas aircraft in their IOC standards. The current production rate stands at 8 aircraft per year and the government is considering plans to boost the production capabilities of HAL.
IAF plans to raise the maiden squadron of Tejas fighter aircraft at Bengaluru by July, 2016. The squadron will initially be equipped with four Tejas multi-role fighter. The squadron after reaching a desired level will be trans-located to Sulur air base in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. IAF plans to induct at least 8 squadrons of these capable aircraft to boost its operational outreach in the subcontinent.
Tejas has successfully attained two of its three planned air worthiness certificates (IOC-I and IOC-II). The aircraft is now majestically throttling towards the all crucial Final Operational Clearance (FOC) which is expected to be awarded by Mid-2016. Following the FOC certificate, Tejas will be made available for active duty. The aircraft is expected to complete the FOC phase by Mid-2016.
Arup Raha during his visit to HAL was also briefed about the progress being made in the designing of Tejas Mk-1A. ADA, HAL and IAF in September, 2015 agreed on the terms of ‘Standard of Preparation – 2018 (SoP-18)’ for the development of a far more advanced version of the Tejas aircraft, now designated Tejas Mk-1A. The Mk-1A aircraft will predominantly feature state-of-the-art AESA radar and EW systems.
It is now learnt, HAL has invited the Swedish aerospace giant, SAAB to help it develop the Mk-1A aircraft. The aircraft is likely to feature the Elta developed EL/M-2052 AESA radar system. HAL has orders for more than 100 Tejas Mk-1A aircraft and the debut flight is planned as early as 2018.
The visit of the Chief of Air Staff has come as a major morale booster to the aeronautical fraternity of India. His flight in Tejas will be a boost to the taunted LCA program. CAS has expressed keen interest in Tejas and his reassuring words about the aircraft has nothing but opened up the runways for the aircraft to soon land in IAF’s stables at the earliest.