THE STORY SO FAR

SP's Aviation - - MILITARY -

The fact that the MiG-21 had a fi­nite life and would need re­place­ment was pro­jected in the 1980s by the IAF; but it took quite a few years for the De­fence Re­search and Devel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) agen­cies to get go­ing on a project to pro­duce an indige­nous air­craft. For­eign col­lab­o­ra­tion was a non-starter in those years and DRDO was start­ing from scratch. The pro­gramme was spear­headed by the Aero­nau­ti­cal Devel­op­ment Agency (ADA), a DRDO out­fit des­ig­nated as the Project Man­ager for LCA, and sup­ported by the Cen­tral Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (CSIR), some aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor in­dus­trial units. The Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL) was the prin­ci­ple pro­duc­tion part­ner. It was recog­nised early that the power plant would be a ma­jor chal­lenge and Gas Tur­bine Re­search Es­tab­lish­ment (GTRE) was tasked to pro­duce a suit­able en­gine for the LCA. Un­for­tu­nately, GTRE has still not been able to put to­gether an en­gine that could be used by the LCA. A GE en­gine, the F404-GE-IN20, was se­lected to power the LCA.

The LCA Mark-1 was given the ini­tial op­er­a­tional clear­ance (IOC) in De­cem­ber 2013 and a ‘Re­lease to Ser­vice Doc­u­ment’ was handed over to the IAF for 20 of these air­craft. In May 2015, a Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia (CAG) re­port brought out that, “LCA Mark-I, which achieved ini­tial op­er­a­tional clear­ance has sig­nif­i­cant short­falls (53 per­ma­nent waivers/con­ces­sions) in meet­ing Air Staff Re­quire­ments (ASR) as a re­sult of which it will have re­duced op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties and re­duced sur­viv­abil­ity, thereby lim­it­ing its op­er­a­tional em­ploy­a­bil­ity when in­ducted into IAF squadrons.” The air­craft is not much of a com­bat ma­chine, but is seen as more of a train­ing plat­form for later, im­proved ver­sions (Mark-1A and Mark-2). The fi­nal op­er­a­tional clear­ance (FOC) is yet to be given to the air­craft. It would ap­pear that the LCA is not re­ally a cause for de­light to the main user, the IAF. How­ever, the IAF is un­der pres­sure from the De­fence Min­istry to or­der 100 LCA Mark-1As that are ex­pected to come equipped with a mod­ern ac­tive elec­tron­i­cally scanned ar­ray (AESA) radar, an elec­tronic war­fare suite, a Derby BVR mis­sile, a GSh 23 au­to­matic can­non, an air-to-air re­fu­elling probe and an im­proved quartz radome. Mean­while, there are plans to pro­duce a Mark-2, pos­si­bly with pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tion.

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