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Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) - Program

The fighter jet gained Final Operational Clearance (FOC) in January 2019, the Indian Ministry of Defence announced on 11 Febuary 2019. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) handed over FOC configuration documents to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited on 31 December 2018, "which is duly cleared by the Centre of Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) to go ahead with the production of FOC fighter aircraft. Accordingly, HAL has taken up the production of LCA, FOC fighter aircraft," Subhash Bhamre, India's Minister of State for Defence said Indian Air Force (IAF) boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, stated in October 2015 that the air force was ordering 120 (six squadrons) Tejas Mark I Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), triple the 40 aircraft it had previously committed to buying from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). Addressing a press conference in New Delhi in the lead up to Air Force Day on October 8, Raha declared, "We are ready to take more - 120 (fighters), six squadrons of Tejas We are ready to take it as soon as they (HAL) can provide it. That means they have to ramp up the production rate, which is running behind schedule But we will take all 120."

The Tejas Programme is spearheaded by Aeronautical Development Agency under the Ministry of Defence R & D, with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as its principal partner and with participation of a large number of Laboratories of Defence Research & Development Organisation and Central Scientific & Industrial Research, certification agencies, Indian Air Force, academic institutions and Private/Public Sector Undertakings.

India's past record was just a handful of trainer aircraft designed and productionised. The DRDO obtained feasibility studies from three leading aircraft companies (British, French and German). Use was made of these studies in presenting a case to Government for design and development of an LCA. In an unusual step, a Society was set up to over-see the LCA development programme. At its apex is a 15-member General Body, whose president is the Defence Minister. The next rung is a 10-member Governing Body, whose Chairman is the SA to the Defence Minister and Secretary DRDO. The third rung is a 10-member Technical Committee, headed by the DG Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA); the latter post has been vacant ever since the first DG resigned in 1986. ADA manages the development programme while HAL is the principal partner. The initial projection for completion of the program was totally erroneous and is largely attributable to lack of knowledge and experience. Projections were: first flight in 1990; production to commence in 1994.

Delay in commencement of Project Definition (PD) gave ADA time to marshal national resources (80 work centers spread over the country); to construct buildings, recruit personnel and create infra-structure; and to get a clearer perspective of the advanced technologies that could be indigenously developed and those that would need to be imported. Project Definition Phase (PDP) for development of LCA was sanctioned in August 1983 at a cost of Rs. 560 Cr. The LCA program was launched in 1985. The IAF's Air Staff Requirement, finalized in October 1985 is the base document for development. Requirements of flight performance, systems performance, reliability, maintainability criteria, stores carnage, etc. are spelt out. Concessions or a higher standard of requirements have to be mutually agreed upon by the IAF (customer) and ADA (constructor).

Project definition (PD) commenced in October 1987 and was completed in September I988. The consultant, chosen from four contenders, was Dassault Aviation, France. Engineers, connected with design and development of aircraft know how vital it is to get the 'definition' correct. From this flows detail de-sign, construction and eventually maintenance costs.

After examining the PD documents, the IAF felt that the risks were too high (likely shortfalls in performance, inordinate delay, Cost over-run, price escalations) to proceed further. A Review Committee was formed in May 1989. Experts from outside the aviation industry were included. The general view was that infrastructure, facilities and technology had advanced in most areas to undertake the project. As a precaution, Full Scale Engineering Development would proceed in two phases. Phase 1: design, construction and flight test of two Technology Demonstrator aircraft (TDI & 2); construction of a Structural Test Specimen; construction of two Prototype Vehicles (PVI &2); creation of infrastructure and test facilities. Phase 2: construction of three more PV '5, the last PV5, being a trainer; construction of a Fatigue Test Specimen; creation of facilities at various work centres. Cost of Phase I - Rs.2188 crores, of Phase II - Rs. 2,340 crores.

Phase I commenced in 1990. However, due to a financial crunch, sanction was accorded in April 1993 and was marked by an upsurge in work. The critical path in this programme has been the design, fabrication and testing of its fly-by-wire flight control system FCS). An electronic FCS is a must for an aircraft with relaxed static stability. 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.

In the late 1980s India's aircraft Industry was not as advanced as Sweden's; and yet India followed a more arduous design/development route for its LCA, compared to Sweden for its JAS-39 Gripen. The Gripen embodied a far higher percentage of foreign, off-the-shelf technology, including its RM-12 engine (improved GE F404). France (Dassault Aviation) built and exhaustively flew a demonstrator aircraft (Rafale-A) before embarking on construction of Rafale prototypes. Over 2,000 flights were completed by September 1994 when first Flight of a production Rafale was still 20 months away. At that point of time, Dassault Aviation had built or flown 93 prototypes, of which at least fifteen went into production after sixteen years elapsed from 'first-metal-cut' of the Rafale demonstrator to entry into service. The story is similar for the Typhoon (earlier Eurofighter 2000). It was seventeen years from 'first-metal-cut' (EAP) to squadron entry in 2000.

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.

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.

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].

As of March 2010 the 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.

Tejas, India's very own Light Combat Aircraft, achieved an important milestone by gaining Initial Operational Clearance (IOC). This authenticated the Indian aircraft's airworthiness. The birth of India's first fighter aircraft was thus certified. Tejas was part of Indian presence in Aero Show 2011. The Defence Minister A K Antony was proud to say that IOC to Tejas is a momentous occasion that the nation has been waiting for towards building our own multi-role combat aircraft. He Pointed out that a state-of-the-art indigenous combat aircraft would go a long way in enhancing national security and the pride of the nation. The Defence Minister noted that the country was poised for a major turning point with the declaration of IOC of Tejas. This is for the first time an indigenously designed and developed military fighter aircraft has been certified for Indian Air Force.

The limited series production aircraft 7 and 8 would be available for user evaluation by Indian Air Force from March 2011 onwards. Induction of series production aircraft would commence from July 2011 onwards. The Managing Director of HAL Ashok Naik informed that by December 2011 four aircrafts would be produced. All the 20 aircraft would be delivered by 2013 and the next 20 aircraft in about 2 1/2 years after that. The next batch of 20 Tejas Series Production Aircraft for second squadron will be produced after getting the Final Operational Certificate. The Final Operational Clearance of Tejas Mark 1 is expected in 2012. The Trainer variant of Tejas is likely to get its Initial Operation Clearance by end of this year.

Development of Tejas Mark 2 aircraft with alternate engine GE-F414 has been initiated. Tejas Mark 2 with higher thrust engines would have its first flight by December 2014. Maiden flight of Tejas Mark 2 was planned during this time. Production version of Mark 2 is planned in June 2016. IAF projected a requirement of 83 Tejas Mark 2 aircraft. Overall funds allocation for development and production of Tejas is of the order of Rs 25000/- crores. The supersonic fourth generation fighter would form a 200-strong fleet for the IAF to replace its ageing Russian-made MiG-21 fleet and increase the squadron strength to 10 as a potent strike force over the next two decades. The two squadrons of 20 Tejas each would be stationed at Sulur near Coimbatore and Kayathur near Tuticorin both in Tamilnadu.

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).

To meet the shortage of Fighter Jets in Indian Air Force, Narendra Modi led government approved $203 million for another production line of its light combat aircraft Tejas. India needed to increase its domestic production capacity to at-least 16 fighters per year which was as low as eight fighters per year in 2017. India needed 300-400 more fighter jets of different types over the next decade. "We are fully committed to the LCA. In another three months, work on the second line will start," Manohar Parrikar, India's Minister of Defense said 15 February 2017.

Government owned Hindustan Aeronautics limited had already set up second production line for series production of Tejas in December 2016 at Aircraft division in Bengaluru. HAL engineers were integrating Tejas SP-5 at second production line. HAL will set up third production line at Nekkundi in areas of 30,000 sq meters. India expects to produce 16 Tejas aircraft per year from 2019-20.

The Indian Air Force, which urgently needed to maintain its present squadron strength, contracted with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the procurement of 20 Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) standard aircraft on 31 March 2006; the order was due to be completed by December 2011 and another contract for 20 FOC standard aircraft was signed on 23 December 2010, for fulfilment by December 2016. However, IOC was acquired by ADA only in December 2013 and so far, only 12 IOC of a consignment of 16 fighter aircraft have been delivered to IAF. HAL planned to deliver the balance, 4 IOC fighter aircraft, by March, 2019.

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, IAF chief, had expressed displeasure over the slow rate of production of Tejas. "We have been giving concessions to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) but we will not get any concession from the adversary in war," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said on 31 January 2019.

In December 2017, the IAF had issued a single-vendor tender to the HAL for procuring 83 LCA. However, the deal is yet to be signed owing to delay in negotiations over the price of the aircraft. By October 2019 the deal with HAL for 83 Mk1A Tejas Light Combat Aircraft was soon to be signed. In a previous order, the IAF had signed a deal with the HAL for 40 Tejas LCAs. The defence ministry expects HAL to double production of the LCA Mark 1 A aircraft from eight to 16 annually.

The first Light Combat Aircraft Tejas in Final Operational Clearance-standard (SP-21) took to the skies for its maiden flight in Bengaluru 16 March 2020, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited said. Piloted by Air Cmde. KA Muthana (Retd), Chief Test Flying (Fixed Wing), the aircraft took-off from HAL Airport at around 1230 hours, the Bengaluru-headquartered defence PSU said in a statement. It was airborne for 40 minutes. This flight signifies the team work between various stakeholders of the LCA Tejas programme such as HAL, Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, Indian Air Force and Aeronautical Development Agency, HAL CMD, R Madhavan said. "HAL achieved the momentous feat within a record time of 12 months after release of Drawing Applicability List (DAL) and SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) by CEMILAC", the statement said.

By 2020 the acquisition plan for Tejas was: 40 MK-1 (ordered) + 83 Mk-1A (RFP stage) + 108 MK-2 (prospective) = 231 LCAs. On 19 March 2020 the Defence Acquisition Council approved procurement of 83 indigenous Tejas fighter aircraft for Indian Air Force yesterday. The Light Combat Aircraft Tejas is going to be the backbone of Indian Air Force in future. While orders of 40 Tejas aircraft had been placed with HAL in initial configurations, DAC paved the way for the procurement of another 83 of the more advanced version of the aircraft from HAL. This procurement will be a major boost to Make in India as the aircraft is indigenously designed. The Defence Acquisition Council also accorded approval for acquisition of indigenous Defence equipment for about 1,300 crore rupees.





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