The tail-less little wonder is set to earn its initial operational clearance

Even as the workhorse of the Indian Air Force, MiG-21, bowed out on Wednesday, indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, is just a formality away from passing into the hands of the force.

Dubbed the world’s lightest fighter, the tail-less little wonder is due to ceremonially earn its initial operational clearance (IOC) and move closer to joining the IAF at its birthplace, Bangalore, on December 20.

The event will see its creator and developer, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the DRDO, hand over an aircraft, along with the user manuals, in as good as battle-ready state to the IAF.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, and DRDO Director-General Avinash Chander are slated to be present at the ceremony along with the “who’s who” of the military set-up.

After obtaining the IOC, the ADA’s production partner, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., will start producing 20 of them in the IOC version, said an official involved in the 25-year-old LCA programme.

Yet, the LCA will be considered fully battle-ready only around end-2014, after it clears firing more lethal armaments and missiles.

HAL says it plans to initially produce eight LCA for the IAF a year from 2014-15, and raise the delivery rate to 12-16 a year subsequently. Its production centre in Bangalore has built up nearly 28,000 sq m of space to house the LCA’s hangar and engineering sections. A repair and overhaul unit is to follow later.

Two squadrons (each having 18-20 aircraft) are expected to be delivered in five years, that is, around 2019. The IAF is expected to eventually station the LCA fleet at the Sulur Air Force Station near Coimbatore.

In the next decade, the IAF is estimated to need 200-220 LCAs as per past statements. HAL has supplied a limited series of eight aircraft leading to the IOC and has orders for 40 LCA from the IAF: of them, 20 are to be in the IOC mode for an order worth Rs. 4,000 crore and another 20 in the FOC mode. The Navy, too, it is said, needs 40 of them to replace the Sea Harriers.On December 7, the LCA made another mark after it released an air-to-air missile that also ‘killed’ a moving practice target.

Tejas is a fourth-generation fighter with contemporary technologies.

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