LCA steps out with initial `colours’

Our Bureau Bangalore | Updated on January 11, 2011


Tejas, the supersonic light combat aircraft conceived and crafted in India, on Monday moved another historic step towards becoming a vital weapon of the Indian Air Force sometime in 2013.

On Monday, the military and its R&D establishment rejoiced over one of their big dreams coming true as the Defence Minister, Mr A.K.Antony, handed over a formal certificate of the LCA's release to service to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal P.V.Naik.

Mr Antony described it as the `semi-final' in the 25-year development saga of the LCA, the world's smallest fighter. He recalled that when he took over as Defence Minister, a few "friends" had advised him to abandon a `futile' LCA programme, along with the main battle tank. "Today both of them are a reality," he exulted.

“We are writing a new page in the history of Indian aviation and aeronautics,” echoed Dr V.K.Saraswat, DRDO’s Director-General and Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister.

Tejas has been designed and developed by the lead agency Aeronautical Development Agency under the DRDO and 11 early test versions have been built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. IAF has already ordered two batches of 20 aircraft with HAL, one for Mark I by 2013-14 and another for a higher-powered Mk II with GE F404 engines, which is planned to be produced from June 2016. The earliest version flew in January 2001.

The LCA, according to Dr P.S.Subramanyam, ADA Director and LCA programme director, has an overall current budget of Rs 25,000 crore. Mr Antony said the Government had spent Rs 12,000 crore on its development so far and no money had been denied or would be spared to take it to fruition. The local content of its parts would go up from 60 to 75 per cent in the final version, Dr Saraswat said later.

The IAF is estimated to need 200 LCAs in the coming years to replace the MiG-21s. They would be produced at a cost of Rs 180-200 crore apiece, according to Mr Ashok Nayak, HAL's Chairman. He said the existing facilities in Bangalore were geared up to meet the production needs at the rate of ten LCAs a year.

Air Chief Marshal P.V.Naik said the LCA, when fully ready, would form a vital fourth-generation fighter squadron with latest technologies such as stealth, top speed, bombing capability, advanced electronics, high manoeuvrability and high endurance. The squadron would be raised in Sulur while the early limited series aircraft would be in Bangalore.

It would be comparable to the category of 126 medium fighters that the IAF is in the process of buying through a global bid estimated at Rs 45000 crore and involving six suppliers.

Dr Subramanyam said the LCA programme had created a vital aeronautical base, with manpower, design infrastructure and testing capabilities, which would support many future programmes that are on the drawing board such as the fifth generation fighter, the medium combat fighter and the unmanned combat aircraft.

For the first time, an indigenously created fighter aircraft is being certified as fit for Air Force operations. Monday's issue of initial operational clearance (IOC) from defence aviation certification agency CEMILAC brings the fighter out of the ambit of military labs and into the hands of IAF, the user.

IAF pilots will test-fly it from March onwards for two years and suggest improvements before the LCA gets its final operational clearance to join the Air Force as a working squadron The Defence Research and Development Organisation said, "This is the first time an indigenously designed and developed military fighter aircraft is being certified for Air Force operations."

According to Mr John Siddharth C.P., Frost & Sullivan's Industry Analyst, Aerospace & Defence, for South Asia and Middle East, the successful development of Tejas would boost the country's image in the aerospace manufacturing world.

The LCA programme overshot its initial cost estimates of Rs 3300 crore by around Rs 2700 crore, which was an early road block. Then came the delay caused by the US trade sanctions in May 1998. "This delay of ten years has catalysed the [technology] gap between the fifth generation and fourth generation combat aircraft," he said. "The big challenge is the lag time between the planned and the actual dates of a programme."

Published on January 11, 2011

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