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Force Magazine

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The LCA programme continues to notch up developmental milestones

By Atul Chandra

As the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme slowly builds the momentum on the Tejas Mk1 for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and LCA Navy Mk1 for the Indian Navy (it is yet to name the aircraft), development of the Mk2 variants is where the focus must shift for the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), while Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) tackles ramping up production for speedy induction of the LCA Mk1 variants into service.

Much has been achieved in the programme but the fact remains that both the IAF and Indian Navy (IN) are clear that only the LCA Mk2 will meet their requirements for a modern fighter aircraft. When asked to comment on the Tejas Mk1 and Mk2, AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd), distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, says, “The IAF has clarified that Tejas Mk1 does not meet the operational requirement of the IAF and that only two Sqns would be inducted – this is with the hope that the Mk2 would fulfil its promise.”

The delay in the Tejas will severely impact IAF plans to maintain its declining force levels as the service begins the process of phasing out its MiG-21s and MiG-27s from next year. Fourteen squadrons of the abovementioned types are to be retired over the next 10 years but it will take at least two decades (if not more) for the IAF to receive 14 squadrons of the Tejas in both Mk1 and Mk2 variants! The IAF was to have inducted two squadrons of the Tejas Mk1 in the 12th plan period (2012-2017) and six squadrons of the Mk2 in the 13th plan (2017-2022). Air Marshal Phillip Rajkumar (retd) who retired as Programme Director LCA in 2001 and was instrumental in setting up the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) told FORCE magazine that he expects “the production order of 20 Tejas Mk1 for the IAF to be completed by 31 March 2019”, adding that “a follow on order for 20 more would be delivered by 31 March 2021”.

Final Operational Clearance (FOC) has been delayed by a year and is now expected to be finally achieved by the end of this year. Despite the delays, obtaining the FOC for the Tejas Mk1 will be an event of special significance. The FOC version of the Tejas will have more than useful combat capability with the addition of another close combat missile (CCM) in Rafael’s fifth generation Python 5 along with the R-73 paired to an Elbit helmet mounted display and sight (HMDS), a 23 mm cannon (GSh-23), in-flight refuelling capability and ability to carry a LITENING airborne targeting and navigation pod and laser guided munitions already available as per the Initial Operational Clearance II (IOC-II). The integration of a Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM) ‘Derby’ for the Tejas is unlikely to prove problematic as the radar (Elta EL-2032) is also from Israel, hence integration and testing should be smooth. The same combination is in service on the IN Sea Harrier’s which were upgraded as part of the Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH). The Astra BVRAAM will also be available for the Tejas once development work on the missile is complete.


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