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Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)

The Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was christened Tejas (Radiance) by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in June 2004. Among engineers, journalists and scientists in the aviation industry, the Tejas is sometimes called the 'Last Chance Aircraft' because of the false starts and failure. It has been co-developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with HAL to replace the IAF's ageing fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighter aircraft.

The series production of the Tejas aircraft has commenced at HAL Bangalore and the IAF intends to form the first squadron of the LCA on 01 July 2016. The Tejas is however, still not combat-ready. Its final phase of weapon trials, including firing of BVR (beyond visual range) missiles, is currently under way. Moreover, the fighter is to get an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar and advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite, and mid-air refueling capability, for the Mark-IA version that the IAF actually wants. This is likely to take another two years. This means the IAF will get the first 20 combat-ready Tejas by 2018.

The IAF decided to place an order for an additional 80 Tejas in the advanced LCA MK1A configuration. The IAF will form only four squadrons out of the Mark-1A version to fulfil and immediate shortage. "The LCA Mark-II will fulfil the actual specifications of the IAF. This version will probably be delivered by 2022. Meanwhile, the LCA Mark-I currently available is also good enough for the Indian Air Force as it is capable of meeting most of the immediate requirements."

The Tejas has been designed by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and produced by HAL at Bangalore. The aircraft is an advanced fly by wire fighter aircraft with state of the art avionics. The aircraft structure comprises of a large amount (more than 50%) of composites and features a quadruplex digital fly by wire control system.

The LCA is the world's smallest, light weight, multi-role combat aircraft. The LCA is designed to meet the requirements of Indian Air Force as its frontline multi-mission single-seat tactical aircraft to replace the MiG-21 series of aircraft. The delta wing configuration, with no tailplanes or foreplanes, features a single vertical fin. The LCA is constructed of aluminium-lithium alloys, carbon-fibre composites, and titanium. LCA integrates modern design concepts and the state-of-art technologies such as relaxed static stability, flyby-wire Flight Control System, Advanced Digital Cockpit, Multi-Mode Radar, Integrated Digital Avionics System, Advanced Composite Material Structures and a Flat Rated Engine.

The combat force level of the Air Force was expected to decline sharply in the 1990s and beyond due to phasing out of the existing ageing aircraft. The Long Term Re-Equipment Plan 1981 projected a shortage of 11.4 per cent squadrons in 1990-91 and 40 per cent squadrons in 1994-95. The position beyond 1995 was expected to be even worse. This deficiency in combat force level and the gap in indigenous design and development capability in the aeronautical field was proposed to be met through the development of an advanced multirole LCA.

The LCA is India's second attempt at an indigenous jet fighter design, following the somewhat unsatisfactory HF-24 Marut Ground Attack Fighter built in limited numbers by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in the 1950s. The last time an indigenous fighter aircraft, the HF 24 flew was in 1961. Since then, the HF 24 assembly line had been shut down and the design team had been wound up. The only way left was to develop an aircraft from scratch. Conceived in 1983, the LCA will serve as the Indian air force's frontline tactical plane through the year 2020.

The value of the aerospace "self-reliance" initiative was not simply the production of an aircraft, but also the building of a local industry capable of creating state-of-the-art products with commercial spin-offs for a global market. The LCA program was intended in part to further expand and advance India's indigenous aerospace capabilities. In the early eighties, it was realised that no organization existed which had the total capability to develop such an aircraft all on its own. To better accomplish these goals, the government of India in 1984 decided to establish the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to manage the LCA programme. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, (HAL) was to be the principal partner with participation of various DRDO & CSIR Laboratories, Public & private sector industries and academic institutions. The LCA program was launched in 1985. The development effort for the LCA is spearheaded by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the Department of Defence Research & Development. ADA’s responsibilities include project design, project monitoring and promoting the development of advanced aeronautic technologies of relevance to the LCA.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is the Principal Partner in the design and fabrication of LCA and its integration leading to flight testing. The LCA has been designed and developed by a consortium of five aircraft research, design, production and product support organizations pooled by the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), under Department of Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). Various international aircraft and system manufacturers are also participating in the program with supply of specific equipment, design consultancy and support. For example, GE Aircraft Engines provides the propulsion.

The Ministry had stated, in December 1994, that the LCA was expected to enter into squadron services with Initial Operational Clearance by 2002 and with Final Operational Clearance by 2005 provided Government approved Phase-II of FSED in 1995 and accorded clearance for production in 1997. Since proposal for approval of Phase-II of FSED was yet to be submitted to the Government, the chances of meeting the induction schedule of LCA by 2002/2005 were remote.

The first prototype of LCA rolled out on 17 November 1995. Two aircraft technology demonstrators were powered by single GE F404/F2J3 augmented turbofan engines. Regular flights with the state-of-the-art "Kaveri" engine, being developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) in Bangalore, were planned for 2002, although by mid-1999 the Kaveri engine had yet to achieve the required thrust-to-weight ratio.

Following India's nuclear weapons tests in early 1998, the United States placed an embargo on the sale of General Electric 404 jet engines which are to power the LCA. The US also denied the fly-by-wire system for the aircraft sold by the US firm Lockheed-Martin. As of June 1998 the first flight of the LCA had been delayed due to systems integration tests. The first flight awaits completion of the Digital Flight Control Systems, being developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE).

The Ministry explained, in February 1999, that delay in conducting first flight of first technology demonstrator was the main reason for not seeking sanction for Phase-II of FSED. However, clearance for an interim Phase-II from the Government was underway and Phase-II would be concurrently undertaken with the last two years of Phase-I. With this arrangement, Initial Operational Clearance in 2003 and Final Operational Clearance in 2005 would be realised.

During tests in 2004 at the State Institute for Aerodynamics Research, Moscow, the Kaveri engine failed during simulated high-altitude conditions. In 2005, the IAF ordered 40 Tejas aircraft with the American GE-F404 F2J3 engine. India signed a contract to buy 40 of the American engines General Electric, in addition to the 11 ordered for the initial development program of the LCA project. The DRDO's Gas Turbine and Research Establishment continued developing the Kaveri engine, however, if the engine is not delivered, the Tejas will use the American engines.

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) initiated a project for design and development of an Aero-engine in 1989 for requirements of combat aircraft. Since then, a considerable progress has been made in development of aero-engine. However, full objectives have not been achieved, like desired thrust. Hence, GE-F404 Engine was selected in August 2013 as power plant for Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk-I. LCA Mk-II requires a higher thrust class Engine, therefore, GE-F414 Engine has been chosen as power plant for LCA Mk-II. Both engines are imported from M/s General Electric, USA. LCA Programme (Mk-I & Mk-II) has already gone ahead with alternate engine (GE-F404 & GE-F414). Kaveri engine development program continued and dry variant of which will power Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle (IUSAV) As of 2003 the LCA was planned for induction into the Air Force by 2005-2006. The LCA was later planned to be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) in limited numbers starting in 2008, though 'full-scale' induction won't happen anytime before 2010. Further delays were expected. Most critics put the date of induction between 2012 and 2015, if it is inducted at all. A contract for procurement of 20 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in Initial Operational Clearance configuration was signed with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd on March 31, 2006. As of March 2010 these LCA seemed likely to be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) by March 2011. As of 2010, in addition to the above contract for 20 LCA, a proposal for procurement of an additional 20 LCA in Final Operational Clearance configuration was being progressed. The specifications of the LCA are as per the Air Service Requirements framed by the IAF.

Status of project for development of LCA, Tejas was reviewed by Hon'bleRakshaMantri on 24th June 2013 and Hon'bleRaksha Rajya Mantri on 23rd July 2013. Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) were asked to strictly adhere to the planned schedules for Initial Operational Clearance (IOC-2) by end of 2013 and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) by end of 2014 to ensure timely induction of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in the Indian Air Force (IAF). LCA-Tejas was likely to be inducted in the Indian Air Force soon after the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC-2).

Project Definition Phase (PDP) for development of LCA was sanctioned in August 1983 at a cost of Rs. 560 Cr. After completion of PDP, Full Scale Engineering Development (FSED) Programme Phase-I was sanctioned in April 1993 at a cost of Rs. 2188 Cr (including PDP cost Rs. 560 Cr) with increased scope. FSED Programme Phase-I was successfully completed in March 2004 and technology was demonstrated. FSED Programme Phase-II was sanctioned in November 2001 at a cost of Rs. 3301.78 Cr to build 3 prototypes, 8 Limited Series Production (LSP) aircraft and establish infrastructure for producing 8 aircraft per year. Additional sanction of Rs. 2475.78 Cr was given to meet the financial requirements of FSED Programme Phase-II for induction into Indian Air Force by obtaining IOC and FOC. As of August 2013 the total sanctioned cost for development of LCA, Tejas (PDP + FSED Phase-I + FSED Phase-II) was Rs. 7965.56 Cr [US$1.2 billion].

Apart from the MiG-21, LCA will also replace MiG-23 and MiG-27, also in service with the IAF. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal F.H. Major said in July 2007 that the air force wanted to reduce the inventory in its combat jet arsenal to three aircraft systems only, and over the next few years, it would use the home-made Tejas as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the new MRCAs as the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) and the 35-ton SU30-MKIs as the Heavy Combat Aircraft (HCA).