The indigenously developed light combat aircraft Tejas will finally get its initial operational clearance (IOC) on 20 December, 30 years after development of the aircraft started in 1983. The aircraft successfully fired a missile that hit its target in demonstrations conducted off the coast of Goa in the Arabian Sea on Saturday.
The LCA successfully launched an infrared seeking air-to-air missile that hit target in a direct hit with precision and destroyed it, a spokesperson for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said.
The test demonstration takes the aircraft closer to its induction in the Indian Air Force. But the single-engine Tejas will not become fully combat-worthy before end-2015.
It was in January 2011 that Tejas had got IOC-I, which the DRDO, its Aeronautical Development Agency and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd then claimed as the final clearance. The fighter can be certified fully airworthy only after it passes the IOC-II stage now.
The aircraft has been developed with the DRDO's Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Bangalore, as the lead laboratory and HAL as the production partner.
"With this launch of missile from Tejas and successfully hitting the target in the first shot, we have demonstrated the total weapon system capability of LCA Tejas," Avinash Chander, scientific advisor to defence minister and secretary, department of defence R&D said.
Tejas has been undergoing weapon release flight tests, for its operational clearance. Group Capt Suneet Krishna, flying the Tejas aircraft commanded an infrared seeker missile through the fire control radar of the aircraft to lock on to the target.
The target was towed by a pilotless target aircraft 'Lakshya' also designed and developed by another DRDO lab, 'Aeronautics Development Establishment' (ADE), Bangalore. The target mounted on Lakshya was launched by a ship of the Indian Navy off the west coast of India.
The LCA project is one of the most ambitious development projects of the DRDO, which has seen many cost overruns in over the past two decades.
The IAF will induct 40 of these Tejas Mark 1 fighters initially, although the light-weight aircraft will be ready for combat operations only after the final operational clearance (FOC), which will include integration of all weapons and other systems to ensure it can fire guns, rockets, laser-guided bombs and BVR (beyond visual range) missiles as well as undergo air-to-air refuelling.
The FOC, as per the current timeline, will take place in December 2014. IAF hopes to eventually induct 140 of Tejas Mark-II fighters with more powerful engines.
When the Tejas project was first sanctioned in 1983, the initial project cost was pegged at Rs560 crore. The overall programme, including the development of a naval variant, trainer and the failed Kaveri engine, will now cost upwards of Rs25,000 crore.