THE STORY SO FAR
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.