Tuesday, December 28, 2010
IAF to induct LCA by next month
The first Tejas squadron will receive its initial operational clearance at a function on January 10, catapulting India to a select club of nations that built a fighter plane from scratch. The historic first squadron will be stationed at Sulur near Coimbatore, sources said. Defence Minister A Kantony will be present at the function.
Even though the development began in 1983, the first LCA technology demonstrator flew only in 2001. Four years later, the IAF placed the first order of 20 Tejas at a cost of Rs 2,700 crore. Subsequently, it placed an order for another squadron.
The second LCA squadron will be stationed at Kayathir near Tuticorin, where the IAF is developing a new fighter base. The small World War II base will be converted into a major aviation hub in a few years.
After receiving the initial operational clearance, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will manufacture the first 20 Tejas aircraft in two batches of 10 planes each.
So far, HAL has manufactured two technology demonstrators, five prototypes and 28 limited series production aircraft with imported engine. However, HAL will continue to upgrade the indigenous fighter as the IAF plans to induct close to 200 LCAs and 20 twin seater trainer versions in the long run.
Along with the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft and fifth generation fighter aircraft LCA will be one of the mainstay planes of the IAF in the coming decades. The mark I planes will be inducted by 2014.
The mark II version of the LCA with a more powerful engine, better aerodynamics and advanced avionics is also under development. The naval version of the LCA, to be used in aircraft carriers, are also under development. Most of the delay in the LCA programme was due to the technical difficulties and resource crunch faced by the research team under defence research and development organisation.
The problem was compounded by the sanctioned imposed by the US in 1998 following Pokhran II. All of a sudden, scientists found that the door was shut on them and many key components and equipment needed for producing a fighter plane was simply not available. Subsequently, they had to develop those sub-systems as well.
The booming IT industry in Bangalore and Hyderabad also contributed to the woes of the LCA team with many young and mid-career engineers and technical hands leaving the LCA industry in search of greener pastures.
Only after placing the order in 2005 that the IAF stationed a 14-member LCA induction team, headed by an Air Vice Marshal in Bangalore to steer the indigenous fighter to its destination.