After two decades of development and the expenditure of some Rs 8,000 crore, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is nearing operational service in the Indian Air Force (IAF). With Final Operational Clearance (FOC) targeted for end-2014, an Indian light fighter would be flying combat missions in any conflict from 2015 onwards.
Given that this is India's first modern combat fighter, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) - the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) body that oversees the Tejas project - has developed its debut fighter quickly and cheaply.
It is time to induct the Tejas into the IAF in large numbers, not just to phase out the MiG-21, but also to let line pilots develop confidence in the fighter and allow their feedback to inform further development.
But the ministry of defence (MoD) has unwisely decided to build just two squadrons of the already developed aircraft - called Tejas Mark I - and to start developing an even more capable Tejas Mark II. This is an enormous blunder for at least three reasons.
Firstly, as testified by the IAF test pilots who have flown the Tejas through more than a thousand hours of flight-testing, the current version of the fighter, i.e. the Tejas Mark I, is already a world-class fighter that has achieved most performance landmarks that the IAF had demanded.
It flies at Mach 1.6 (about 2,000 kmph), a speed that the IAF is satisfied with. Its state-of-the-art quadruplex digital flight control system makes it a maneuverable and easy-to-fly fighter, unlike the unforgiving MiG-21 that it is slated to replace.
The Tejas has not had a single accident so far, testifying to the stability of its design.
Image: A Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas' flies during an 'Initial Operational Clearance' procedure before induction into The Indian Air Force (IAF) at Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd. (HAL) airport in Bangalore on January 10, 2011. (AFP)
Text: Business Standard
Images: AFP/ PTI / AP