Air Force gets first 'Made in India' fighter aircraft

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited today handed over the first indigenously-built light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas to defence minister Manohar Parrikar and Air Chief Marshal Anup Raha in Bengaluru, starting the process of induction of the home-made fighter jets that would replace the ageing fleet of Soviet made MiG 21s with the Indian Air Force.

The LCA is being handed over to the Air Force after initial operational clearance-II, which evaluated the aircraft's airworthy in different conditions. The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected by the year-end.

The version of the Tejas handed over to the IAF incorporates the latest electronic warfare suite, mid-air refuelling and long-range missile capabilities among other things, which were integrated into one of the LCAs two weeks ago.

Tejas was granted its first operational clearance, IOC-I, in January 2011, 28 years after the project was sanctioned. Although the LCA is fully operational now, final operational clearance is expected only by the year-end.

The entire LCA project has cost DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited over Rs30,000 crore and 32 years of labour.

Over the years, HAL had carried out thousands of sorties of the LCA and outstation flight trials at various places, including Leh, Jamnagar, Jaisalmer, Uttaralai, Gwalior, Pathankot and Goa, for various trials such as weather, armament and weapon deliveries, MultiMode Radar (MMR), Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), and missile firing flights.

The Tejas has also successfully demonstrated weapon delivery capability during trials at Jamnagar and Jaisalmer, HAL officials said.

HAL's LCA Project Group has now been upgraded to a full-fledged division to take up production on a systematic way with more investments.

Sources said HAL will build 20 aircraft by 2017-2018, to make the first squadron of the aircraft.

The LCA programme was initiated in 1983 to replace the ageing MiG-21s in IAF's combat fleet but has missed several deadlines due to various reasons.