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Operational LCA still years away

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar handed over the first Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas to the Air Force on Friday, but many milestones have to be crossed before the plane can become a reliable battle-ready platform.

With Tejas, the India Air Force (IAF) gets an indigenous 4.5 generation light weight, multi-role aircraft. The project was conceived in 1983 as a replacement for the Mig-21s but as the operational requirements changed and modern technologies came into being, the LCA evolved as a multi-role fighter packed with high end capabilities.

Jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), four variants are under development for the Air Force and Navy.

The entire project till induction is estimated at Rs. 30,000 crore.

Scope of new technology

 Air Chief Marshal (Retd) S. Krishnaswamy said: “LCA is a very well-designed aircraft. There is lot of scope as new technology appears. We should not leave the LCA platform. It is state of the art now and it is responsibility to keep it so by bringing in new variants based on the original platform. Mig-21 had 5 variants since inception in 1963 and each variant better than the other.”

LCA falls in the lower tier of the evolving conventional force structure of the IAF. At the upper end is the Su-30MKI, a heavy fighter of which 272 will be eventually inducted. The middle rung will be formed by the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft likely to be the Dassault Rafale which India is currently negotiating with France.

“Tejas will form the lower end of the strike package complimenting the heavy Sukhoi’s and the medium Rafale’s. It is ideal for point defence and strikes at low to medium ranges,” said Manmohan Bahadur, former Air Vice-Marshal and distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies.

Concern

Analysts say that despite its well-defined role, the scrapping of the indigenous Kaveri engine development and the critical dependence on the U.S.-made GE engines to power the plane is a matter of concern. Presently, the LCA-I is flying with an underpowered GE-404 engine. Air Force officials said the Air Force was banking on advanced LCA Mk-II and equipped with greater thrust generated by GE-414 engines. But this also means critical dependence of one of the mainstays of the future IAF on the U.S..

The series production aircraft handed over has Initial Operational Clearance-II and the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected by this year-end. Features like latest electronic warfare suite (tested few weeks back), mid-air refuelling among others will be fielded in the FOC aircraft.

HAL has stated that it would produce six aircraft in 2015-16 and subsequently scale it up to eight and 16 aircraft per year. The first squadron of 20 aircraft is likely to be completed by 2017-2018.

 

 

 

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 8:17:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/operational-lca-still-years-away/article6804951.ece

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