On the Mark

LCA Tejas is all set to get the FOC before it joins the IAF

Rohan Ramesh

Bengaluru: Almost a quarter century after it was conceived, India’s indigenous fighter project, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), named Tejas, is in the penultimate stage of gaining Final Operational Clearance (FOC) after which the single-engine cropped compound delta design aircraft should be joining the IAF service.

HAL’s LCA Tejas taking-off

With the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter squadron strength down to an alarmingly 31, against a required minimum of 42, the sword arm of the Indian armed forces, needs to increase its strength to up its game as the US-China stand-off threatens to change the rules of engagement in South Asia.

Given that the Rafale acquisition has turned into a scandal of sorts for the government, buying aircraft off-the-shelf from foreign firms seems to be a scary proposition for the IAF at the moment. Though faced with dwindling numbers of aircraft, the IAF does seem to have a readymade local solution for its problems — the HAL-manufactured LCA Tejas.

Let us look at the history of the LCA. In 1985, the IAF’s Air Staff Requirement for the LCA was put out. Initially, a team of consultants from France’s Dassault-Breguet arrived in India to advise ADA on the project. They completed their work with ADA and left in 1988.

Finally, in 1990, a decision was taken on the design and development of a small tailless delta-winged aircraft which would have relaxed static stability (RSS) and the required control and configuration for advanced manoeuvrability. Thus, the LCA was born.

LCA is India’s second attempt at manufacturing a fighter on its own. Its first attempt was HF-24 Marut, a ‘moon-shot’ attempt which did partially realise India’s dreams of an indigenous fighter. Though designed as a capable interceptor aircraft, the Marut could only go supersonic in dives due to the lack of a powerful engine. The Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 703 turbojets which powered the Marut were just not powerful enough. The engine and the airframe were a mismatch.

Just like its predecessor, the LCA has also been burdened with pitfalls and roadblocks such as when Lockheed Martin who were assisting LCA National Control Law (CLAW) team at the National Aeronautics Laboratory to develop a state-of-the-art digital Fly-by-wire control system for the Tejas, were called off by the US government as part of sanctions against India for conducting nuclear tests in 1998.

The Kaveri engine for the LCA, designed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) under Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) also faced many issues and though plans are on to revive it with help from French engine manufacturer Snecma, it looks like the engine may not power the LCA, at least not in the near future. Instead, it has been decided to equip the LCA Tejas Mk.2 with General Electric F414-INS6 engines.

Over 83 LCA Tejas Mk.1A have been ordered by the IAF which are to be equipped GE F414-IN56 engines.

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