Nallan Chakravarthi Bipindra
With the successful development of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, India is gearing up to ready its Mark-II version for induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF) by 2015 and develop an indigenous Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) a few years from now.
The Tejas had obtained its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) from the IAF Jan 10 this year, which meant it will now be flown by IAF pilots on regular missions. But it will take about a year more before a Final Operational Clearance (FOC) will be issued for its final induction.
“The IOC for LCA Mark-I has come. It will be inducted by 2012 with first two squadrons (40 aircraft). In another three years, LCA Mark-II will also be ready. So by 2015, LCA Mark-II will be inducted. I am happy we are able to develop our own aircraft,” Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony said on the sidelines of Aero India 2011.
Asked about the improvements required in LCA Mark-II on the suggestion of the IAF, the Defense Minister said the development process of the aircraft was a continuous one and he was confident it would be done in time.
“No product in the world, especially a state-of-the-art product developed indigenously, is 100 percent perfect. It (development) is a process. Mark-I will be followed by Mark-II with improvements,” he said.
“If you want a 100 percent perfect system, India cannot produce anything. Where will you produce? So after a lot of tests, IAF is also convinced that at the moment LCA is alright and that is why they are inducting it. But there are some more improvements needed. That we will be able to complete very soon,” he added.
The LCA has been under development for the last 27 years and its cost has escalated from INR 5.6 billion in 1983, when the project was ordered, to INR 172.69 billion to date.
The multi-role fighter is powered by the US General Electric’s GE-F-404-IN-20 engines. Apart from the two squadrons for which it has placed orders, the IAF is expected to acquire five more squadrons (100 aircraft). The second lot would be powered by the more powerful GE-F414 engines for which the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) placed orders late last year.
While Tejas Mark-I and Mark-II would both be single-engine aircraft, the MCA would be a twin-engine aircraft. “The lead project for MCA has now been sanctioned,” Antony said.
The MCA is being developed by the DRDO on the strength of the experience it gained while developing the Tejas.
Asked if India would consider a proposal from the US to jointly develop the F-35 fifth generation fighter jets from the Lockheed Martin stable, the Defense Minister ruled out the possibility in view of the agreement signed with Russia for a fifth generation combat plane.
He said no other country had offered the fifth generation fighter jet when India was looking for tie-up, except Russia. “We are going ahead with Russia on the project. There is no question of going
back on this,” he stressed.
Antony said all the difficulties that India had faced on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft joint-development were over with the agreement with Russia.
Asked to compare the India-Russia fifth generation aircraft with the Chinese J-20 that took to the skies a month ago, he said the plane that both Russia and India would get would meet the IAF requirements. “We are sure it will be the best,” he added.