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LCA Tejas flies into IAF fleet

The Light Combat Aircraft got its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) today, clearing the decks for the fighter’s induction into the Indian Air Force by June 2011.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2011 01:19 IST

The Light Combat Aircraft got its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) on Monday, clearing the decks for the fighter’s induction into the Indian Air Force by June 2011.

The project was sanctioned 27 years ago as a replacement for the Air Force’s ageing MiG-21 fleet. Handing over a formal `Release to Service’ certificate to IAF chief Air Chief Marshal PV Naik at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Defence minister AK Antony announced that the Air Force and Navy would eventually deploy 200 such fighters.

Made in India

“After accomplishing a series of milestones of envelope expansion, sensor integration and weapon delivery in over 1,500 sorties, the country is poised for a major turning point with the declaration of the IOC,” Antony said.

The government has so far pumped Rs 14,428 crore into the LCA programme which was pegged at Rs 560 crore when conceived in 1983.

The IAF is expected to field 140 aircraft (seven squadrons) by the end of this decade.

The LCA, however, is not combat ready yet.

Naik said the fighter was only “partly compliant” to the IAF’s requirements in its current avatar.

“There are some areas where work needs to be done for the fighter to be fit for induction. For instance, it requires all weather and lightning clearance. All this has been done to an extent but it has to be 100% compliant for squadron use,” Naik said.

The fighter, christened Tejas, is expected to get its Final Operational Clearance in two years.

The IAF’s first Tejas squadron will be fully operational by 2013, followed by a second squadron of 20 more aircraft by 2015. While the first 40 aircraft will be powered by American GE-404 engines, the remaining (Tejas Mk-2) will be equipped with the more powerful GE-414 engines.

The existing engine (GE-404) generates a thrust of around 80-85 kilo Newton in comparison to the IAF’s requirement of 95-100 kilo Newton.

Underpowered engines restrict an aircraft’s ability to carry optimal weapons payload. The GE-414 engines will require some structural and design changes on the Tejas.

The first Mk-2 aircraft is expected to roll out in June 2016.

Naik said the upgraded aircraft would be in the same league as Saab’s Gripen NG fighter, one of the contenders for the Air Force’s $10 billion (Rs 45,000 crore) contract for 126 fighter jets.

The aircraft’s indigenous content will go up from the current 60% to 75% in the upgraded version. The per unit cost of the combat variant of the LCA works out to Rs 180 crore to Rs 200 crore, while the two seat trainer version costs Rs 210 crore.

The project suffered due to sanctions imposed by the US after India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998.

First Published: Jan 10, 2011 09:14 IST