India's first home-grown fighter Tejas light combat aircraft has come of age finally after a meandering developmental saga of 33 years, areport in ‘The Times of India’ has said.
IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, on Tuesday flew a trainer version of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) over the city under a cloudy sky in Bengaluru, an official said.
"Air Chief Marshal Raha flew in a Tejas trainer (PV-6) for about half an hour to check its capabilities and landed safely at the HAL airport along with Group captain M. Rangachari," IAF spokesman Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
He became the first IAF chief to fly the fighter. "It's a good aircraft to fly and fit to be inducted into our fleet," the air chief said on landing at the Aircraft Systems Testing Establishment in the city.
After years of being highly critical of slow progress in developing the fighter, IAF finally has something to be happy about.
IAF is down to just 33 fighter squadrons, which includes 11 squadrons of old MiG-21s and MiG-27s with humble serviceability.
This when 45 squadrons are required to counter a threat from Pakistan and China.
The first Tejas squadron with four jets is expected to come up at Bengaluru by July, the report said.
"It will operate from a dedicated HAL hanger, with manufacturers and designers being close by to resolve problems. Squadron will shift to its earmarked airbase at Sulur after a year," the paper quoted an official as saying.
Tejas, of course, is still not ready for combat. Its final phase of weapon trials is under way currently.
Besides, the fighter is to get an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar and advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite, apart from becoming capable of refueling mid-air, for its Mark-IA version that the IAF wants.
All this will take at least two to three years. Majors arms like Israeli Aerospace Industries, Raytheon , Saab, Thales and others have already responded to the "search and select process" underway to find an AESA-EW package for the fighter.
Tejas jets produced after 2018 will be up to the Mark-IA standards. In effect, force will get first 20 Tejas Mark-I jets by 2018.
With annual production being increased to 16 jets from the current 8, another 100 "improved" Tejas Mark-IA jets will follow by 2026 or so.
While Tejas will certainly help IAF to reduce depleting numbers, the light-weight jets cannot substitute the need for medium-weight multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) or heavy-weight fighters.
Tejas, with a limited reach of just about 400-km, will be used for "air defence" to face incoming enemy fighters or "close air-to-ground" operations to support military.