Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise move in Paris on procurement of 36 fully-built Rafale jets, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar reportedly declared “Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. Tejas is a replacement for MiG-21.” While the Rafale deal continues to simmer, there are noises being made about an LCA Mark-2, a machine a metre longer than the Mark-1/1A and with a better engine than the GE F404-GE-IN20 used on Mark-1/1A. From the foregoing it is evident that the LCA is not an illustration of ‘Make in India’; many critical parts of it are not within our manufacturing capability yet. These include the all important engine, the radar, the radome and the undercarriage. Past record does not augur well for the future inasmuch as the capability of the Indian aerospace industry to develop leading edge technologies in aerospace manufacturing.
Realising this, the Defence Ministry very pragmatically, opened doors to public-private partnership in the further development of the LCA. The idea was to fast-track the LCA Mark-2’s entry into service. During July last year, an international magazine reported
On Tuesday, May 17, 2016, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Indian Air Force (IAF), made history when he became the first Air Chief to fly the indigenously designed, developed and produced light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bengaluru. The LCA Tejas is a home-grown, advanced combat platform featuring a quadruplex digital fly-bywire control system and state-of-the-art avionics. More than 50 per cent of the airframe is made up of composites.
Occupying the Instructor’s Seat, i.e. the rear seat in a trainer version of the LCA Tejas, Air Chief Marshal Raha got airborne at around noon for a 30-minute sortie, along with test pilot Group Captain M. Rangachari in the front seat.
A fighter pilot with enormous and wide ranging experience, the CAS took over controls right at the beginning of the sortie and carried out the take-off, assessed the climb performance as well as the handling qualities of the aircraft by putting it through a series of aerobatic manoeuvres covering the entire flying envelope of the platform. He also carried out simulated air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks.
Although the mission was of a short duration, the CAS had the opportunity to see for himself the integration of avionics and weapon systems as well as to get a feel of operational capability of the indigenous product which is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Indian aerospace industry. He could also assess the advanced modes of the radar and Helmet Mounted Display Sight.
Air Chief Marshal Raha appreciated the flying qualities of the aircraft and congratulated the entire team of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and HAL for their hard work in getting the LCA programme to this stage. He went on to state: “It is a good aircraft to fly and fit to be inducted into the IAF.” This initiative by the CAS helped raise the spirits of the Indian aerospace industry that has been under continuous flak. Said T. Suvarna Raju, Chairman and Managing Director of HAL: “It is a morale boosting gesture from the CAS that reposes great confidence of our valuable customer in our abilities.”