An improved Tejas gets initial operational clearance
In a significant milestone in India’s aerospace realm, the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas, today received the initial operational clearance (IOC II), bringing it closer to the aircraft’s induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Defence Minister, A.K. Antony handed over the ‘Release to Service Certificate’ of the indigenous supersonic combat aircraft to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal, N.A.K. Browne, at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) airport in Bengaluru.
Marked by severe delays, the LCA’s journey is a story of determined efforts of the Indian aerospace community to make a fighter aircraft of international standards.
Speaking on the occasion, the Defence Minister said during the last three years, the capabilities of the aircraft have been improved significantly. “In recognition of the enhanced capabilities, IAF has decided to grant the aircraft a higher status, namely, the initial operational clearance for induction into the service.”
Antony confessed that he had his share of anxieties regarding the future of LCA when in 2006 he took charge as the Defence Minister and said, “Today we are putting behind the moments of self– doubt, frustrations and setbacks which we as a nation have gone through in the last 30 years.”
“The improvements to the aircraft have enhanced the flight envelope of the aircraft and also weapon delivery capability of the aircraft. The performance at Iron Fist, Jaisalmer and the recent missile firing at Goa are examples of such improvements. The reliability of the aircraft and serviceability has also been enhanced. The number of flights nearing 500 within this year provides an indication of this. Operating at IAF bases namely, Jamnagar, Jaisalmer, Uttarlai, Gwalior, Goa, Leh, Pathankot demonstrate the aircraft capability to operate from Air Force bases. There have also been occasions when the same aircraft has flown thrice on the same day, indicating the operational reliability of this home-bred fighter aircraft,” he said.
Military aviation has got a major boost with the approval of several new programmes, including MkII variants of Navy and Air Force; advanced medium combat aircraft; unmanned air systems; fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and medium transport aircraft (MTA), to name a few. Antony called upon both the public and private sector to work in tandem to develop and produce worldclass military systems of the highest quality.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Browne, in his address said
“Having come a long way since the finalisation of Air Staff Requirements (ASR) in 1985, Tejas has completed an arduous journey through a complex and challenging design and development process and has achieved the required certification standards for airworthiness, manoeuvrability and air-to-air as well as air-to-ground weaponisation. It is indeed a proud day for the nation and particularly for the IAF; since the grant of IOC acknowledges the capabilities of this aircraft and paves the way for induction of LCA Mk I into operational service.”
The creation of a modern and capable military capability for our nation’s defence hinges entirely on the foundation of a robust indigenous industrial base. This is particularly true for the military aviation sector since it involves high-end research and specialised production facilities. Design of a modern fighter aircraft encompasses an array of niche technologies that are very expensive and invariably subject to stringent technology denial regimes. Therefore, the success achieved in this important national project is highly significant since it demonstrates India’s scientific prowess and puts our nation firmly on the path of achieving self-reliance in the critical aerospace sector.”
The design and development process for LCA Tejas has added tremendous learning value for our scientific fraternity as well as HAL and has created a vast repository of knowledge during the design refinement and realignment over these years. These must not be lost as we move onto other programmes. Through the initial phases, the Technology Demonstrator as well as the Limited Series Production (LSP) aircraft proved the fundamental strength of this platform while incorporating multiple enhancements for retaining LCA’s efficacy in the fast paced and technology driven operational environment. Today, the LCA project has seen successful integration of a state-ofthe-art avionics suite in a well defined glass cockpit configuration. The aircraft uses significant composite structures and incorporates robust control laws for the digital fly-by-wire system. Successful integration of various types of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons have added the much needed firepower to this fighter. All of these core technologies and design features have made Tejas a truly modern fighter aircraft inspite of being the smallest and lightest in its class.”
The Air Chief said, “While the nation celebrates grant of IOC to Tejas, we cannot rest on these laurels since our work is well ‘cut-out’ for the days ahead. With the series production of 20 IOC aircraft being an immediate goal, ADA with its associated design partners and HAL have to continue steering the project steadily towards achievement of full operational clearance (FOC) standards by December 2014, as directed by Hon’ble Raksha Mantri. It is also imperative that we establish a robust spare support supply chain for maintaining the fleet in the coming years. With the integration of new BVR missiles, integral guns and air to air refuelling capability, LCA will acquire increased potency and enhanced operational efficiency as envisaged at the FOC level.”
As the programme gathers pace, we must remember that the final goal for all of us is not just the LCA MkI, but the LCA MkII. While our air warriors are fully geared up to induct and operationalise the two Mark I squadrons, IAF keenly looks forward to induction of four squadrons of LCA MkII as the final version in its projected force structure. This calls for a focused and coherent approach by all stakeholders with determined efforts to overcome all existing weak areas in design and management. The two primary design drivers already identified by us are the critical GE 414 engine integration for enhanced thrust along with perhaps a better intake design and improved maintainability of the platform. With better HMI functionality and a more efficient avionic system architecture, these design improvements promise to add to LCA’s operational capabilities, as envisioned in the ASR. Under pinning these design improvements is the immediate need to adopt efficient management structures. Although we have the most qualified and capable designers and engineers as part of our team, reluctance to change impedes our ability to make mid course corrections and steer the project away from obvious pitfalls. The way ahead calls for close monitoring and monthly reviews at the highest levels. I therefore, urge all agencies to be ready to ‘bite the bullet’ and never hesitate in making tough decisions as they work towards the final induction of LCA MkII into IAF.”
The historic event was attended among others by the Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister Avinash Chander; the Secretary of Defence Production G.C. Pati; Chairman of HAL R.K. Tyagi; Programme Director of ADA P.S. Subramanyam, and Director General (Aero) and Chief Executive, CEMILAC Dr K. Tamil Mani.
The Defence Minister A.K. Antony hands over the Release to Service document to the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, at a function in Bengaluru on December 20, 2013. The DG-Aero and CE CEMILAC, Dr K. Tamil Mani is also seen.