2019 has arrived with a piece of good news—a nod for the development of the country's first homemade Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), creators of Tejas, has been given permission to manufacture Tejas Mk1—a weaponised version of the LCA. The Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification (CEMILAC) has accepted the design documents submitted by the ADA. CEMILAC is a DRDO laboratory authorised to certify military aircraft and airborne systems. ADA is responsible for the design and development of Tejas, but the production will be done by the public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
HAL—manufacturer of the aircraft—can go ahead with its production of the weaponised version of Tejas Mk1. HAL has been ordered to produce 20 aircrafts under the Mk1 category, with Final Operational Clearance (FOC). IAF has given an order of equal number of Tejas aircraft of the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration. IAF has already received 10 of IOC configuration, and the rest are under development. IAF had formed the first Tejas unit—No 45 Squadron IAF 'Flying Daggers'—on July 1, 2016 with two aircrafts, which has now grown to a strength of 10 fighter jets. Insiders claim that an official announcement is expected on January 4, the day of Tejas' first test flight in 2001. In September last, the mid-air refuelling of the ‘wet contact’ trial for Tejas Mk1 was successfully conducted on an IAF base, along with gun firing.
"Approval from the certification agency has been given to HAL, so that they can start manufacturing the aircraft under the FOC configuration. However, the actual final operational clearance will happen only after extensive tests and trial," a senior ministry official confirmed the development.
HAL has been facing a lot of criticism for its delayed projects. IAF's Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, during the air force day annual presser in October, had mentioned delays by the HAL in several programmes including the Sukhoi 30s, Jaguars, Mirage 2000s and the LCA.
LCA Tejas, a three-decade-old project, is a single-seat, single-engine multi-role light fighter aircraft, claiming to be nearly 60 per cent indigenous. In November 2017, IAF, while pitching for a single engine fighter jet, had conveyed to the government that Tejas is not enough to protect the Indian skies, given its limited capabilities. IAF is believed to have told the the ministry of defence that the "endurance" of Tejas in combat is just about 59 minutes and can carry a pay-load of about three tons, which are much below the capability of other single-engine jets available in the global market. IAF also informed the government that the maintenance cost of Tejas is also very high. In order to maintain its operational effectiveness, IAF hass already issued a global tender for over 100 single engine fighters. Air force will be getting first lot of Rafale jets by the end of this year and the complete 36 jets will be delivered in the next three years.
But, struggling with a depleting combat fleet, in December 2017, the IAF had placed order for 83 Tejas aircrafts with HAL. Of these, 73 will be the upgraded version called the ‘Mark-1A’ and the remaining 10 will be its trainer version. The IAF order will be as per required specifications, approved as per the existing FOC.
"Though the announcement has been made from the IAF, the HAL has not received anything formally to start the production line," said a source.