Bangalore: India on Monday joined the select club of countries making a fighter jet from scratch when Indian Air Force (IAF) flew for the first time the lightweight indigenous multi-role Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas in a clear wintry sky for initial operational clearance (IOC).
Defence Minister AK Antony handed over the service certificate of the world’s smallest military aircraft to Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal PV Naik in the presence of top defence and government officials.
The supersonic fourth generation fighter will form a 200-strong fleet for the IAF to replace the ageing Russian-made MiG-21 fleet and increase the squadron strength as a potent strike force by 2012.
“This is the first time an indigenously designed and developed military fighter aircraft has been certified for air force operations,” state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) official K Jayaprakash Rao told a news agency here.
The IOC involves specific process, including validation tests to determine the aircraft’s various operational functions, including avionics, subsystems, thrust, aerodynamics, propulsion and radar.
The certificate was given by the Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness (RCMA) of the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (Cemilac), a lab of the defence research organisation.
The fly-by-wire Tejas, which was beset chronic delays and cost overruns, has been developed by the state-run Aeronautical Defence Agency (ADA) and manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bangalore in partnership with a host of public-private aerospace firms.
The successive delays caused by multiple factors, including sanctions by the US over a decade ago against India for conducting the second nuclear test in May 1998, led the project cost to rise to a whopping Rs 5,778 crore from the initial estimate of Rs 3,300 crore in the mid-1980s.
“This is a historic day for the burgeoning Indian aerospace industry and military aviation, as IOC signifies a major milestone in the design and development of the LCA,” Rao said on the margins of the event.
“Initially pilots fly four aircraft to check all its parametres, including flight controls, Mach speed and weaponisation for final operational clearance (FOC) and induction into the fleet as frontline fighter jets,” a senior air force official told a news agency.
“The majestic display of the lean-and-mean flying machine demonstrated the integration of all sensors and weapons, besides safety and reliability within the specified flight envelope,” Rao noted.
The ADA and HAL conducted 1,500 test flights involving 11 aircraft, including five prototypes in the past decade, after its maiden flight Jan 4, 2001 as a technology demonstrator.
Under the limited series production, HAL is manufacturing eight aircraft for clearance flights and will take up the air force’s initial order to deliver 20 jets to form the first Tejas squadron. It will be based at the Sulur air base near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
The IAF has also placed an additional order in 2010 for 20 more Tejas for the second squadron to be raised at Kayathir near Tuticorin in the southern state where the air force is setting up a new base this decade.