33 years in making: What took Tejas fighters so long to fly?

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Published on Jul 03, 2016 06:28 AM IST
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NEW DELHI: The first squadron of the Indian Air Force’s light combat aircraft (LCA) took flight on Friday morning. However, getting the two Tejas fighters in the air was a long, three-decade journey plagued with multiple problems.

The project was sanctioned in 1983 as a replacement for the Soviet-origin MiG-21 fleet. However, the Indian Air Force’s ( IAF’s) plan to get the indigenous war planes airborne in 1994 missed several deadlines due to various factors. The failure to build an engine indigenous ly was one of them, leading to a domino effect of delays.

Over a third of the components used in Tejas, including the current American-built engines, are imported. Sanctions imposed by the US after India conducted nuclear tests in 1998 nearly brought the project to a halt for it cut off access to certain imported technologies.

In an interview in 2013, VK Sara swat, then director general of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said the sanctions pushed the development back by over two decades .“All suppliers cancelled their agreements and European firms also stopped cooperation. When such a situation occurred, we had to do everything ourselves. This was a major setback,” Saraswat said.

“This situation continued from 1980 till 2000 when the first aircraft was rolled out. Time was taken to also overcome the blocks created by Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).” India became a member of the MTCR only this week.

The sanctions led to key design changes and a further delay in setting up production facilities which, according to the DRDO, had to create components “from scratch”.

The deadline stretched further with the Air headquarters involving itself in the project only in 2006, five years after the LCA’s first test flight. The longer it took, the more expensive the project became. Initially green-lit at a cost of Rs 560 crore, the development cost of the fighter stood at Rs 13,390 crore last year.

A 2015 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed the delay set the I AF back by more than Rs 20,000 crore as it had to spend on temporary measures such as upgrading its existing war planes. It also revealed Tejas was riddled with 53 “significant shortfalls” that could compromise its survival in combat. Fixing deficiencies in the limited series meant more time .“The delay upset our calculations but raising of the L CA squadron is significant for IAF. We do not have adequate number of fighter squadrons and Tejasw ill help address that to some degree,” said an IAF officer. With this week’s induction, IAF’s 45 Squadron, also known as Flying Daggers, has been resurrected.

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