Even as Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN) scout for foreign fighters, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the prime developer of the LCA Programme, is steaming ahead towards realising the all crucial FOC phase for Tejas aircraft. ADA remains extremely confident of receiving the Final Operation Clearance (FOC) from the certification agencies for the program by the year-end.

Sources associated with the program speaking to Life of Soldiers on the sidelines of Aero India – 2017 said “ADA remains very confident about attaining FOC by the year-end. It is only a matter of time before we prove the technology on-board the aircraft. Multiple test platforms have been integrated with the requisite systems and are currently undergoing trials. We should very soon be showcasing them to the certification agencies and the end user (IAF).”

As the program receives the FOC certification, the aerospace dream of India – the LCA programme – would have reached a pinnacle movement. This certification would mean that the Tejas aircraft which entered into service with the IAF in July, 2016 would be armed with requisite systems to meet all operational requirements.

ADA for the certification is expected to prove over 53 parameters ranging from firing weapon systems to integrating self-defence systems. Integrating, testing and further proving these systems will effectively enable Tejas to meet the demanding Air Staff Requirements (ASR).

Test pilots at NFTC have as part of the FOC certification, already well defined the flight envelope of the aircraft. Tejas is capable of pulling sustained 8G turns and has a defined 26-degree Angle of Attack (AoA). Both these parameters are crucial to prove the aircraft’s capabilities in aerial combat.

Group Captain Madhav Rangachari, the maiden Commanding Officer (CO) of the resurrected 45th Squadron which flies the Tejas aircraft, is a satisfied man with the aircraft’s capabilities. The squadron currently operates three aircraft and another aircraft, SP-4, is expected to join the ranks by early next month.

A view of Tejas production line in HAL’s Bangalore facility.

On the weapons front, Tejas is expected to soon test fire the Derby Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air-to-Air missile. The revolutionary weapon system which has been developed by Israel-based Rafael Advanced Systems is slated to be fired in guided mode against a loitering aerial target. In February 2016, Tejas had fired the missile in an unguided ballistic mode in Jamnagar. Derby has a strike range of over 50 kilometres and these trials will prove the accuracy and the range of the missile system.

Alongside Derby, Tejas will also be test firing the Python Close Combat Missile system which can engage hostile aircraft at very short ranges. Currently, it is one of the most accurate and sophisticated guided missiles in the world. Russian made GSh-23 revolving cannon, which will serve as the primary gun of the aircraft, has already been test fired on ground aboard LSP-7. The system in the near future is expected to be tested during flight, marking a major milestone in the run up to FOC.

LSP – 8 variant of Tejas last month had its maiden flight with a bolt-on Air-to-Air refuelling probe which has been designed by Britain based Cobham Systems. The aircraft prior to its flight had successfully completed ground test runs for ascertaining aerodynamic strain. Wet refuelling process, under which the aircraft is expected to receive fuel from a mid-air refuelling aircraft, will commence once dry runs are successfully completed. This will exponentially increase the range of the aircraft and meet a key demand of the air force.

Further, ADA has successfully integrated the new Radome which will enhance the functioning of internal systems onboard the aircraft. Multiple software upgrades have also been incorporated to increase the reliability of several sub-systems. The MMR (Multi Mode Radar) system, which has been developed in collaboration with Israel, has also received several upgrades to enhance weapons engagement range.

Tejas aircraft with the newly integrated bolt on refueling probe.
Source – Deb Rana.

ADA and all associated developmental agencies remain confident of attaining the FOC certification this year. The FOC certification would mark a major milestone in the ambitious LCA program which was constituted in an effort to develop an indigenous single-engine fighter. With this, Tejas would receive a firm footing in the ranks of the air force and the developmental agencies themselves, would have successfully showcased their capabilities in rolling out the underdevelopment Mk-1A version of the aircraft.

© Karthik Kakoor