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Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)

The high level Defense Acquisition Committee on 08 November 2016 cleared the procurement of 83 light combat aircraft (LCA) put together by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The IAF will follow-up this initial order with another for the Tejas Mark-2, a more capable aircraft with a more powerful GE F-414 jet engine. The IAF plans to acquire 120 Tejas' while the Indian Navy has placed an order for 40 of the jets. Sources in the defense ministry said the total cost of acquiring the Tejas' will reach $7.2 billion.

On 01 July 2016 Hindustan Aeronautics Limited handed over the first two Tejas aircraft to Indian Air Force which would make up the 'Flying Daggers' 45, the name of the first squadron of the LCA. India's first indigenous LCA, which is all set to replace the MiG-21 series, is a result of several years of design and development work by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and HAL. Terming it a matter of "unparalleled pride and happiness", PM Narendra Modi stated, "This illustrates our skills and strengths to enhance indigenous defence manufacturing." "Moment of national pride", stated Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar congratulating HAL and ADA for successful induction of Tejas.

LCA AF Mk2 is an improvement over LCA AF Mk1 with higher thrust engine. This aircraft will have improved survivability, maintainability and obsolescence mitigation. Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Unified Electronic warfare Suite (UEWS) and On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) are some of the state of the art technologies planned to be integrated. The cockpit design has been improved with bigger size, smart Multi function Displays (MFD) and smart Head Up Display (HUD).

The Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was christened Tejas (Radiance, with a hard J "g", not a soft "h") 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 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.

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).