With LCA Tejas inducted into IAF squadron service, development of future versions is now assured
A FORCE Report
The 1st of July was a red letter day for Indian military aviation, with the indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) ‘Tejas’ formally being inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Tejas is only the second combat aircraft to be developed in India after the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Marut, which entered IAF service over five decades ago. The distinction of becoming the first IAF squadron to be equipped with the Tejas went to No.45 Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’, which was earlier based at Naliya in Gujarat and flew the MiG-21 Bis. It is also the first fighter squadron to be part of the IAF’s Southern Air Command, headquartered in Thiruvanathapuram in Kerala.
Earning his place in Indian aviation history as the first Commanding Officer (CO) of an IAF squadron to be equipped with an indigenous fighter type after five decades, was Group Captain Madhav Rangachari, who is also a Mirage-2000 and MiG-21 pilot. “My immediate task is to now settle down and operationalise the squadron. Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected soon,” said Rangachari during the induction ceremony of the Tejas at Bangalore.
Despite concerns, the IOC standard aircraft that have been inducted into squadron service do have sufficient combat capability as they are cleared to carry the Russian R-73 Close Combat Missile (CCM) paired to a helmet mounted display and sight (HMDS), the ability to carry a LITENING airborne targeting and navigation pod and laser guided munitions. There is also a GSh-23 cannon (23 mm). The FOC version of the Tejas will receive the Derby Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM). The definite Mk1A version of Tejas will have an in-flight refuelling probe supplied by Cobham, Israeli Elta AESA radar and a pod mounted Electronic Warfare (EW) suite and the configuration for the aircraft has been frozen.
The Fly by Wire (FBW) flight controls on the aircraft have already been cleared for 8 G. The aircraft attained 8 G in flight for the first time during its display at the Bahrain Air Show. According to Cmde C.D. Balaji (Retd), Programme Director, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), “The FBW has already been cleared to full FOC standard and the aircraft is also already wired to carry the Derby Beyond Visual Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM). Once we have completed the necessary trials, the integration of the missile on the aircraft will be an easy task. We are building the aircraft to be future ready and software upgrades will allow us to add additional capability to the airplane.”
The Tejas will replace the MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft in the IAF fleet and will provide a quantum leap in capability over these aircraft. Approximately 12 squadrons of the above mentioned types are to be retired over the next 10 years. The IAF was originally slated to have inducted two squadrons of the Tejas in the 12th plan period (2012-2017) and six squadrons in the 13th plan (2017-2022). The Tejas will perform roles such as air defence and battlefield air strikes and its combination of excellent handling qualities and man-machine interface, modern sensors and weapons and a reliable engine, will allow it to perform these tasks to a far higher standard than the obsolete MiG-21 and MiG-27. An additional light fighter type is now also being considered by the ministry of defence (MoD) for the IAF, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, told the Parliament on July 26, “Tejas aircraft will partially meet IAF’s requirement in the Light Weight fighter category.”
The Tejas will now be operated by IAF personnel from HAL’s facility in Bangalore and there is a now a nucleus of trained aircrew and airmen, who will shepherd the aircraft into service. Two LCA Initial Operation Configuration (IOC) series production aircraft have been inducted into squadron service at present, these are Tejas aircraft with serial numbers LA-5001, LA-5002 (both single seaters). A third example, LA-5003 is also expected to join the squadron this year and a sole trainer type KH-T-2010, will also be available to the squadron.
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