Tejas fighter sprints towards IAF frontline squadron service - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 8 December 2013

Tejas fighter sprints towards IAF frontline squadron service

The Tejas takes off from Leh. HAL aims to deliver 16 of these fighters per year from new production line

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 13

If the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has taken decades for completion, it is now in a record-breaking sprint to the finish line. The Tejas has flown an unprecedented 450 test flights this year towards a splashy ceremony in Bengaluru on Dec 20, where Defence Minister AK Antony will preside over its induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF).

That landmark event will be the award of the Tejas’ Initial Operational Certificate (IOC), which will allow India’s first indigenous modern fighter to be flown by regular pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The first Tejas squadron (18-20 fighters) will be based at Sulur, near Coimbatore.

So far, only highly qualified test pilots of the National Flight Testing Centre (NFTC) in Bengaluru have flown the Tejas. In 2400 test flights since it took to the air in 2001, the NFTC has incrementally flown the Tejas higher, faster and carried out increasingly difficult manoeuvres and weapon firings to test that it meets the IAF’s requirements.

On Saturday, Group Captain Suneet Krishna, a veteran NFTC test pilot, fired an air-to-air missile from the Tejas at an airborne target off the Goa coast, striking the target and taking the Tejas a step closer towards IOC.

While awarding the IOC, Defence Minister AK Antony will ceremonially hand over to the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, the fighter’s “Release to Service Document (RSD)”, which specifies the capabilities that the Tejas has already demonstrated during flight testing.

This includes aerodynamic capabilities like speed, acceleration, climb rate and angle of attack; and also the basic weapons operations already tested on the Tejas, and the fighter’s proven radar and sensor capabilities.

The Tejas flight-testing programme has been a prolonged and painstaking exercise, since this is India’s first modern fighter. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) --- a special purpose vehicle of the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), set up to manage the Tejas programme --- worried that a crash during flight-testing might be a fatal blow to the project itself, and so has handled flight testing cautiously, taking twice the time that experienced countries do.

Once the IOC is awarded, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will build the IAF’s first 20 Tejas fighters on a brand new production line in Bangalore. HAL has told Business Standard that it aims to roll out the first two fighters by March 2014, deliver 8 fighters by end-2014, and then enhance the production line’s capability to 16 fighters per year.

So far, the IAF has committed to just 40 Tejas fighters. Of these 20 will be built to IOC standards, and the next 20 ordered when Final Operation Clearance (FOC) is obtained. The defence minister has ordered the DRDO to ensure that FOC is not delayed beyond end-2014.

Dr Avinash Chander, the DRDO chief, tells Business Standard that the FOC will involve firing a range of different weapons, including missiles and bombs, and testing the fighter for mid-air refuelling.

“With the IAF now enthused about the Tejas, and participating actively in the project, we will surely obtain FOC next year. We could not have completed over 450 test flights this year without close cooperation between the IAF, ADA and HAL,” says Chander.

After obtaining FOC for the Tejas, ADA will start work on the Tejas Mark II. The key change is replacing the General Electric F-404 engine that powers the Mark I with the larger, more powerful GE F-414 engine. This will involve re-engineering  the Mark I to fit in the bulkier F-414, a technological challenge for ADA.

ADA has also briefed Business Standard that the Tejas Mark II would have more fuel capacity for added range; a retractable mid-air refuelling system; a DRDO-built Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar; world beating air-to-air missiles; an on-board oxygen-generating system, and a state-of-the-art Electronic Warfare (EW) suite to confuse enemy radars and sensors.

“Eventually, the IAF is very likely to have at least 200 Tejas fighters in its fleet,” says Chander.


  1. Gp. Capt. Suneet Krishna not Verma. Come on Ajai! As a military man, such a mistake!

  2. "After obtaining FOC for the Tejas, ADA will start work on the Tejas Mark II".

    So they were doing soul searching from 2008 onwards when it was decided to build Mk 2....

    Good job DRDO/ADA/HAL...Keep it up....We are proud of you guys....

  3. If the production capacity it self only 16 aircraft/year then to make 200 aircrafts we'll take attest 15 years ! (don't expect HAL. will use full production capacity). Till then we have to depend on MIG 21 bis !

  4. @ajai sir

    i still dont understand the need to operationalize a squadron of the under powered Tejas Mk1, overweight jet and with less powerful electronic systems. Dont think IAF will ever put it to war.

    Instead the focus should be to operationalize Tejas Mk2 the more powerful and capable jet only.

    That then leads to qeurry what to do with Tejas Mk1, these jets can easily be used as twin seat LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainers). That will mean the 3 stage IAf training can be divided into 1st stage with Pilatus, 2nd stage with Hawk AJT and 3rd stage with Tejas Mk1.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  5. Pleased and elated.

    Tell me why base them so far in the south when much of the action they would see would be at Indo-Pak border or Indo-China border.

    Another question to the Broadsword:

    "So much has been written about delay of this project, but all of it has been a partisan view, mostly from arms merchants and their agents in India. Can somebody methodically go over from its inception stage till IOC-2 stage, highlighting delays, incompetence, successes, stupidities, political pressure, Clinton Administration seizing the prototype in US etc. etc."

    Official version and arms merchant version aside where were the delays?

  6. I would suggest IAF, DRDO & combine and MoD start cranking up Stealth UCAV projects.
    1. Research on AI systems and fitting tera-flops level supercomputers as brains for these UCAVs.
    2. Novel systems of aircraft propulsion. Hybrid electric, hydrogen Fuel cells.
    3. Better management of R&D process and life-cycle for strategic projects. Experiment, Prototype, Production.

    Seems to me the era of manned flight is rapidly ending. The design & development of fighters will certainly be useful in UCAV design, but thought should be given for running these by AI systems, that's the future, and not what is given at the end of the blog entry as feature list for Tejas-2.0. Anyway Tejas-2.0 won't be ready before 2020, by that time world powers would have moved to entirely UCAV based fleets of fighters, and IAF would then be purchasing these systems at astronomical prices. This is where Indian R&D fails, we do not see the future as clearly as western nations, maybe because the thinking approach is different.


  7. Bass hua yaar...kitnaa testing...

  8. Any information on the refueling probe for Mk1 will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

    Indranil Roy

  9. Have sufficient Mk-1 and Mk-11s in the near future on the western front to supplement the MiG-29s in air defence along with the Jags and MiG-27s for strike and concentrate the MKIs, MK2 and Rafale to the Chinese theatre.
    Also told that MiG-29Ks have smaller RCS and larger payload and range so perhaps another sqdr in Gujarat apt.

  10. @Gourish...
    When you don't know... What to... Why... test... it goes on...

  11. Rahul(Kolkata),

    They have not been sitting on their hands over Mk2. I have been following HAL's tenders for sometime now. Tenders for building materials for Mk2 started appearing 1.5 years back.

    Also what will be produced as Mk1, is actually Mk1 sprinkled with Mk2 features. You can see them on LSP-7/LSP-8 already. For example you will see wing body blending strake near the end smoothened out. Similarly, the air intake for the APU is replaced by a smooth hump. The pylons are also going to replaced with less draggy ones designed for Mk2.

    Indranil Roy

  12. Joydeep Ghosh,

    Could you please quantify: "overweight jet and with less powerful electronic systems"?

    Please bear in mind:
    1. TWR of Mk1 is better than all light fighters in the world currently. By the way Mk2 is only going to be touch better.
    2. The electronics on Mk1 are better than most planes in the neighborhood and better than most of IAF's fleet.

    IAF needs to start flying the plane operationally so that maintenance and flying issues seen in squadron service can be provided to HAL/ADA. This then can be thrashed out for Mk2. This is how all planes are operationalized. Nobody waits for the gold standard in the first iteration.

    As for the LIFT suggestion. ADA said yes, IAF said no. So much so that PV-5 has not flown since the last 3 years. DRDO now wants to sell it to other countries. I can see IAF's view of things. Hawk is treated as the last level of training required before type-training in most AFs including the proposed T-X program for the US.

  13. Congrats to DRDO, ADA & HAL on reaching this critical milestone. This is a great achievement for India.

    Curiosity on Mk-2: where are these technologies that would be integrated into Mk-2?

    "a DRDO-built Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar; world beating air-to-air missiles; "

    Won't the Mk-2 be delayed because these technologies do not seem to be maturing in the next 2 years?

  14. Irrespective of whether 1 squadron is inducted or 10 squadrons are inducted, it is imperative that Tejas is taken to its logical conclusion and next iteration. I am worried about production quality and it will be a very good idea to appoint a well established engineering company to oversee Quality Assurance regardless of whether HAL appreciates the move.

    Lovely shot by the way. Adorning my desktop as wallpaper this week.

    - Manne

  15. Ajai,
    balanced article.

  16. No more testing pls, we need results now.


  17. Little birdie ... packs a punch

  18. chidiya naal te baaj ladawa tanh govind singh naam dharawa


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