After three decades in the workshop and huge cost over-runs, India’s home-grown supersonic fighter aircraft, Tejas, is finally ready for induction into the country’s air force.
Tejas, also called the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), received initial operational clearance on Friday in the presence of union defence minister A K Antony at an event in the southern city of Bangalore.
Over the next one year, Tejas will be inducted into the force and be battle ready by end-2015, reports said.
Defence analysts and media commentators describe Tejas’s clearance as a major milestone in India’s defence history despite the fact that the route has often times been arduous and frustrating.
Tejas will help India reduce dependence on foreign arms manufacturers and boost indigenous research in defence technology.
Estimates on the money spent in developing Tejas range from Rs 25,000 crore ($ 40 billion) Rs 50,000 crore ($ 80 billion).
The aircraft is a lightweight, multi-role, single engine, single seat, supersonic combat aircraft.
The operational clearance indicates that it is airworthy and functional from extremely low temperature areas in high altitudes to searing heat of deserts.
Frills for Tejas are under development by the government-owned Aeronautical Development Agency that include mid-air refuelling and equipment to enable the aircraft to carry long-range beyond visual range missiles.
Role of interceptor
Tejas, over the next few years, will take over from the MiG-21 Russian-made fighter aircraft and play a crucial role as an interceptor. The aircraft is missile-ready but with a limited range besides the capacity to carry conventional bombs.
The only failure in the Tejas story has been the inability to develop an indigenous engine to fit the aircraft. The local Kaveri engine was unable to pass muster.
According to reports, the first 20 Tejas will be powered by the American GE-404 engines; the next six Mark-II squadrons (16-18 jets in each) will have the more powerful GE F- 414 engines.
India also intends purchasing 99 GE-414 engines from GE at a cost of $822-million, the reports said.
The light combat aircraft project was first cleared in August 1983 at the then cost of Rs 560 crore ($ 900 million)