In what could be termed a major boost to the indigenous defence manufacturing sector, Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Tuesday announced that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to procure 750 Akash missile systems from the public sector undertaking Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) at a cost of about Rs.4,000 crore.

Besides, the Minister also announced that the Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared a proposal to sanction Rs.8,000 crore for further development of the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas, for use in the Navy and the Air Force, and for the development of the LCA’s new engine.

Apart from these, the IAF recently placed an order for an additional 20 LCAs with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

He told journalists here during his visit to the various defence public sector undertaking and defence research organisations in Bangalore that the Defence Acquisition Committee had decided to buy the Akash missiles as the IAF was satisfied with their performance and had already inducted them for two squadrons (250 missile systems).

These orders for the Akash missiles and the LCAs assume significance for the indigenous defence technology and manufacturing sector as both the projects once faced the threat of being abandoned. The IAF initially was not satisfied with the performance of the Akash missile. “Now the IAF is very happy about it,” Mr. Antony said.

Making it clear that self-reliance through indigenisation remained the government’s objective, Mr. Antony said the defence industry would be given priority over imports if it met the requirement of the Armed Forces. “The government realises the adverse impact of continued over-dependence on external sources for meeting critical defence needs.”

Mr. Antony, who witnessed the flight display of the twin-seater trainer version prototype (PV5) and another belonging to the limited series production (LCP)-2 of the LCA programme, said scepticism that prevailed a few years ago about the LCA project no longer existed with the progress made in project implementation.

Tejas has successfully undergone weapon trials such as the release of the R-73 missile, dropping of bombs, and integration of drop tanks, and the process was due to be completed by the end of this year.

On the LCA’s Naval version, Mr. Antony said that the building of two prototypes was envisaged — a two-seat trainer (NP1) and a single-seat fighter (NP2). The NP1 was nearing completion of equipping after the structural assembly, and it was due to roll out by April next followed by the first flight in June. The NP2 is scheduled for the first flight by June 2011.

Earlier, the PV-5 was flown by the National Flight Test Centre’s chief test pilot R.R. Tyagi and group director R.K. Raveendran. Mr. Antony also inaugurated the System Test and Integration Rig at the Centre for Airborne Systems at the HAL airport.

Secretary (Defence Production) R.K. Singh and Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister V.K. Saraswat, accompanied the Minister.

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