Tejas – Inching Closer to FOC
Ever since its first flight, India’s indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas has been proving its mettle to be a combat-proven asset to the armed forces. In July 2016, it has been inducted into the Air Force by forming a separate Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’ with an aim of eventually replacing the ageing fleet of Mig-21 aircrafts. Tejas will play a prime role in the ongoing modernization drive of the armed forces which aims at gearing them up with the most modern systems and equipment. Though there have been some initial issues, the IAF has validated the performance of Tejas. During the recent Gagan Shakti 2018 exercise, Tejas has once again reaffirmed its air superiority and the IAF has called for the fast production of aircraft to meet its requirements. In this scenario, achieving the Final Operational Clearance (FOC), is one of the prime tasks for the LCA and according to the latest reports, Tejas is inching closer to FOC by turning major hurdles into achievements.
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the nodal agencies for design and development of the fighter aircraft, have been speeding up the FOC procedures of Tejas. Recently, Tejas has achieved another milestone towards Final Operational Clearance (FOC) as it successfully fired Derby Air-to-Air Beyond Visual Range Missile to expand the firing envelope. It has demonstrated safe operation of the aircraft during missile plume ingestion into the aircraft engine under worst case scenarios. The missile has been launched from LCA Tejas on 27 April 2018 from the firing range off the Goa coast after exhaustive study of the missile separation characteristics and plume envelope.
Integration of Derby, a BVR class missile is one of the major objectives of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) of Tejas. Based on the successful integration and demonstration, Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness (RCMA), a unit of DRDO has cleared the series production aircraft of Squadron 45, to be equipped with Derby operational capability. Tejas has successfully completed a series of captive flight trials to clear Derby for the full operational capability in the entire FOC envelope. In the past, Tejas has qualified for the armaments and missile release related trials.
During the Gagan Shakti 2018, the largest ever exercise by the IAF, LCA Tejas has proven its battle-readiness. The 14-day exercise has witnessed the extensive testing of the newly-inducted Tejas supersonic fighter jets of the IAF. Being deployed at forward bases, the operational efficiency and mission worthiness of the aircrafts have been put to test in a real-time intense exercise environment. A milestone towards ‘Make in India’, LCA has employed Close Combat and Beyond Visual Range Air to Air missiles in a simulated scenario apart from Air to Ground weapons.
IAF has done trials and validation of operational efficiency of LCA Tejas and has been able to generate six sorties per platform per day. For Tejas, this is a good development as the IAF usually sticks to around three sorties per day on every Tejas. With the satisfactory performance of Tejas, the IAF now pushes for fast production of the aircraft.
The fighter is getting considerable upgradations and technological improvements in the wake of FOC procedures. HAL and ADA are constantly improving the systems and capabilities of the fighter. The latest updates from ADA tell that Tejas is all set to commence its Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) flight trials. ADA has been carrying out various tests regarding the AAR for the past few months which have been successful. All the simulated ground tests have been successfully completed as Tejas was refuelled by placing it at various attitudes. The technical integration for AAR has been completed and the trials were commenced on the ground. Tejas is expected to be ready for air-to-air refuelling by the end of May.
The IAF plans to induct a total of 123 Tejas Mark-IA, next to 40 Mark-I Tejas LCAs. HAL is currently increasing the production capacity from eight to 16 aircraft per year. A total 20 IOC (initial operational configuration) aircrafts including 16 fighters and four trainers have been delivered by HAL to IAF till date according to the defence ministry. The production of remaining 15 IOC aircrafts (11 fighters + four trainers) are taken up at HAL. The production of 20 more Tejas LCA in the FOC configuration will begin following FOC clearance.
Dr. S Christopher, Secretary Defence R&D and Chairman, DRDO has recently said that the home-grown fighter has emerged among the best in class aircraft, providing flight stability even under extreme unstable conditions. Confirming Tejas’ air superiority, the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the government preferred induction of Tejas over foreign-made aircrafts for the Indian Air Force. She has further said that the production rate of Tejas will be increased to meet the IAF requirements.
Balance activities towards FOC, which will further enhance the operational capability of the aircraft are in progress currently. These include enhancement in the ‘g’ load capability, Air to Air Refuelling, additional weapon integration and gun integration. Dr. Girish S Deodhare, Programme Director (Combat Aircraft) and Director, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), has said that the LCA Tejas is expected to achieve FOC by July 2018.