By Fakir Balaji
Bangalore, Dec 19 (IANS) World’s lightest and India developed supersonic fighter Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is battle-ready for testing by its air force pilots three decades after it was conceived, designed and developed with cost overruns and inordinate delays.
“The home-grown aircraft is ready for flight tests by Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots to assess its air prowess and strike power,” state-run Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) director P.S. Subramanian told IANS ahead of its initial operational clearance (IOC) Friday here.
Outgoing Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne will receive a 500-page `release to service’ document the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (Cemilac) has compiled as a proof of the fourth generation fighter’s strike capabilities.
“The aircraft has a unique record of being accident or incident-free during its 2,400-odd test flights for over 3,000 hours since its maiden sortie as a technology demonstrator in 2001 and subsequently as eight prototype versions,” an upbeat Subramanian claimed.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, his scientific advisor and state-run Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) Director General Avinash Chander and senior officials will watch the fighter’s awesome skills, including its daring manoeuvres in battlefield.
“The air force pilots will take charge of the multirole aircraft after our test pilots demonstrate its air worthiness in all dimensions and fly the weaponised versions to evaluate its combat capability over the next 12 months for final operational clearance (FOC) and induction into the IAF fleet as squadrons,” Subramanian asserted.
For the IOC and FOC, the air force fighter pilots will fly the fully equipped aircraft to assess its battle readiness, including its ability to fire all types of weapons and systems ranging from guns, laser-guided bombs, rockets to beyond visual range missiles with greater angle of attack in 20-22 degrees.
The fully weaponised Tejas will be part of the series production the defence behemoth (HAL) has taken up to rollout the first 20 aircraft for IOC and another 20 for FOC. They will form the first two LCA squadrons for induction from 2015 onwards and will be based at the Coimbatore air force station in southern Tamil Nadu.
“All weapons and systems, including bombs and missiles have been tested in strike mode and targets were bombarded with precision. The aircraft was also flown at a maximum speed of 1.4 Mach and in all-weather conditions at high altitudes and low temperatures,” Subramanian pointed out.
The fighter Dec 7 showed its combat capability by firing an infrared seeking air-to-air missile to hit a specified target with precision in the Arabian Sea off the Goan coast.
The Indian fighter, however, will have an `American heart’, as it is fitted with a GE 404 aero-engine of the US-based General Electric (GE) Aviation because the indigenous Kaveri engine designed and developed by the state-run Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) is yet to qualify for certification.
“The first two batches of LCA (Mark I) comprising 40 aircraft the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) roll out will have GE 404 afterburner engine. Subsequently, they will be replaced with GE 414 advanced version engine if the fighter goes into full production, as the requirement of the IAF is estimated to be about 200,” a DRDO official said.
The naval variant of the metal bird for the Indian Navy will also have GE aero engines.
As is a single engine, light weight, agile, multi-role fighter, Tejas has quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system with associated advanced flight control laws.
“We plan to initially produce eight aircraft per year and double its production to 16 per year subsequently as we are gearing up to meet the delivery schedules,” HAL chairman R.K. Tyagi said in a statement here Thursday.
Flight trials of the fighter were carried out at Leh, Jamnagar, Jaisalmer, Uttaralai, Gwalior, Pathankot and Goa for cold weather, armament and weapon deliveries, multimode radar, radar warning receiver, hot weather and missile firing over the last decade.
“Two aircraft have flown three sorties each on the same day during trials at Jamnagar in October-November 2013, demonstrating fast turnaround time capability,” Tyagi noted.
“A structural assembly hangar has been set up in our complex and jigs calibrated with laser trackers to meet the stringent quality standards…,” Tyagi pointed out.
Though defence agencies involved in the three decades old ambitious project declined to specify the cumulative amount spent on the design and development of the LCA, it is estimated that the fighter had cost the exchequer a whopping Rs.24,000 crore since 1983.
(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)