LCA Tejas to achieve Final Operational Clearance (FOC) after another two years
Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne made his first visit to Bangalore after taking over as the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) last month. The Bangalore media was bowled over by his easygoing style and willingness to interact with the assembled journalists on the sidelines of 51st Annual Conference of Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine (ISAM). Providing an update on the MMRCA contract he said that ‘we will have a very good sense my mid December of what to expect’.
He confirmed that the ‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was experiencing ‘technical difficulties’ and that full Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) will now most likely be completed only by the middle of next year. The Tejas will now achieve Final Operational Clearance (FOC) after another two years. The IOC had also been impacted by what has been a very active monsoon this year resulting in the quantum of flying being reduced. The long overdue Mirage 2000 upgrade project will not begin with the CAS stating that the first two aircraft will be leaving for France this month and that an IAF project team is already in France to keep track of the upgrade.
The CAS also said that the two more Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to be acquired would be in the same configuration as the previous three aircraft. This would mean that the platform will remain as the IL-76 along with the same electronic suite and radars, the reason being that the IAF had spent a lot of money on the integration of these systems. In this regard the IAF has received a proposal from Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and is in the process of examining the same. He also said that he expected the agreement for six more C-130 J Hercules transports by January 2012 and that the recently reactivated Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) would operate the C-130 J along with other transports and helicopters of the IAF. The new ALG is will provide a tremendous amount of accessibility in the northeast region and be used for support of the army and to help improve access to the interior areas.
The Pilatus PC-7 Mk-2 trainers have been cleared by the ministry of finance and the case will be moving for cabinet approval this month. Once the cabinet clears the proposal then IAF will sign the contract and according to the CAS, if the contract is signed by the middle of November, then the IAF would be in a position to start the first training course with the Pilatus aircraft, in two years’ time. On being asked as to how close the Jaguar re-engine programme was to his heart, ACM Browne was quick to respond saying that everything in the air force was close to his heart and then went on to say that an Request for Proposal (RFP) would be issued very shortly for the F-125IN engine. He reiterated that though the MIG-27 fleet had been grounded following engine problems, the fleet was now back in the air.
Earlier in the day, while delivering the inaugural address at the ISAM conference, that Air Chief Marshal Browne’s priority would be his men first and machines later, were immediately apparent in his statements. He touched on the changes in human relationships and called this an abstract and intangible change but one that is a reality all the same. He impressed upon the aerospace medical experts that the Air Force could not afford to lose neither the airmen nor the vehicle as both were highly valuable. He asserted that with today’s aircrew having long duration flights of eight to nine hours, it was a challenge to keep him hydrated, look after his nutrition as there were intense periods of activity and long periods of inactivity. Therefore, it was important to ascertain how Crew Resource Management (CRM) was taking place between the crew and what impact it had on their performance. He called for a review of the IAP 4303 manual every two years and also urged that efforts be made to ensure that the maximum number of aircrew be available to fly.
The IAF is in the midst of a rapid modernisation and is acquiring a full spectrum of capability and a number of attendant dynamic changes taking place in the organisation. Air Chief Marshal Browne with his people first approach will no doubt ensure that both man and machine are in fine fettle to tackle the challenges that arise.