By Fakir Balaji
Almost three decades after it was conceived and after running up a staggering 3,000 percent cost escalation, India’s indigenously developed fighter will for the first time be seen in its true role of a combat jet at Aero India 2011 on Wednesday.
The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has been on view at two previous editions of the biennial trade exposition but either on the ground or as part of a sedate flypast.
“This will be the first time when a fleet of Tejas’, including a trainer variant and a naval variant, will be seen in a flying display at the Aero India 2011 to showcase its potent strike force,” P.S. Subramanyam, Director of the state-run Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), told IANS.
ADA, an arm of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has developed the jet, billed as the world’s smallest fighter, which has been built by state-owned aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Some 10 Tejas’ will be on display during the show.
Conceived in the mid-1980s as a replacement for the aging MiG-21 fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF), the real funding for the ambitious LCA program came in 1993 with the government granting INR 2.28 billion (USD 50 million). Till now, INR 67 billion (USD 1.5 billion) has been spent on the project.
On the plus side, Tejas received the IAF’s Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) on January 10, qualifying it for induction into the fleet. The first Tejas squadron – 20 aircraft) is expected to be formed by 2014 after the aircraft is fully certified and secures the final operational clearance over the next two years.
At INR 1.9 billion (USD 42 million) per aircraft, the first squadron will cost about INR 38 billion (USD 836 million), while the second squadron at INR 2.10 billion (USD 46 million) each, is projected to cost INR billion (USD 924 million).
The IAF plans to induct about 200 Tejas aircraft over the years and increase its squadron strength to 39-40 along with 220 of the Russian Sukhoi-30MKI, at least 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft that is being jointly developed with Russia.
Tejas is powered by the General Electric (GE) F404-GE-IN20 engine as the homegrown Kaveri powerplant is still undergoing advanced trials. Barring the GE engine and sensitive items such as sensors and high-end components, the entire aircraft, including the glass cockpit, avionics and sub-systems is 65 percent indigenous, with the figure likely to go up by 15 percent.
“We plan to use the F404 engines to power the first 20 aircraft the IAF has ordered and the enhanced GE-414 engines for the second order of 20 aircraft, which will be the Mark II version, while Kaveri will be used for the trainer and naval variants and the air force variant when they are upgraded a decade later,” Subramanyam pointed out.
The aircraft is also capable of carrying assorted weapon load and drop tanks up to four tonnes and on eight hard points.
(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)