What is Tejas and what are its importance instrengthening India’s strategic capability?

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India’s first indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) ‘Tejas’ moved one step closer towards its induction into the Indian Air Force.

Twenty-seven years after it was conceived, the LCA project progressed further, with Union Defense Minister A.K. Antony handed over the ‘Certificate of Release to Service’ to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal P. V. Naik, on January 10, 2011.

This Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) marked as a historic occasion, the state-of-the-art combat aircraft would go a long way in enhancing national security and the pride of the country towards building own combat aircraft capability. The Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness (RCMA) handed over the certification for the LCA’s integrated flight control system (IFCS) – the pilot-friendly flight controls.

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These will be part of the consignment of 20 aircraft that the IAF ordered. The rest will be delivered progressively till the end of 2013. The IAF has also placed an order for an additional 20 aircraft. The two squadrons, once inducted, will be based at Sulfur, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. The first 40 LCAs are powered by the American General Electric GE-F404 engines. The value of these 40 aircraft is estimated around Rs. 7,000 crore.

The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected to be achieved by the end of 2012. The DRDO should improve some aspects like all weather clearance as agreed. The advanced Tejas Mark-II, mounted with a more powerful GE414 engine, would make the platform truly fourth generation with the aircraft fulfilling the IAF’s medium and low-end requirements.

The LCA project has spent Rs.12,000 crore of the Rs.25,000 crore sanctioned for developing the Mark II and Naval variant, it was estimated that the country needed 200 Tejas aircraft. The single-engine LCA is estimated to cost between Rs.180-200 crore apiece, with an additional Rs.10 crore for the trainer version with the second seat. It had a production line-capacity to manufacture up to 10 aircraft a year.

Built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the Tejas – meaning radiant – is expected to replace the ageing fleet of Russian MIG-21s. It is not the first Indian-made fighter jet – that was the HF-24 Marot, which was also built by HAL, in 1961. The Tejas was designed and manufactured in India, although some technologies, such as its engine and radar, have been imported.

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At present the Tejas has 60 per cent indigenous components, it would touch 75 per cent by the time of the FOC. However, the project did not envisage having 100 per cent indigenous components as it would be expensive and turn non-competitive. On the indigenous Kaveri engine, the Flight Bed Trials were successfully completed in Russia, and’ the tie-up with France to develop it further would take three to five years.

Strategic capability

The clearance is a major milestone in the fourth generation aircraft’s development, which began in 1985. The Tejas is touted by Indian defense officials as the smallest lightweight, single- engine, tactical fighter aircraft in the world. The fighter – which can carry air-to-air and air-to – surface weapons – has been long delayed by technological hurdles.

It was originally designed to replace the ageing MIG-21 fleet, but has been equipped with several advanced elements: avionics, radar, beyond visual range (BVR) missiles and higher endurance in flight. IAF had announced plans for five LCA Tejas squadrons in the coming years. It means some 100 aircraft’s will be produced with more powerful engine. The IAF plans to ultimate!’- have around 10 LCA Tejas squadrons to replace Russian MiG-21.

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