IAF inducts first squadron of home-grown fighter jet Tejas
Bengaluru : India’s first home-grown fighter jet was finally inducted into the IAF today after a tortuous saga spread over 33 long years with the launch of the first squadron of two Light Combat Aircraft(LCA) Tejas here, in a major milestone in the country’s military aviation.
A Tejas aircraft, the fourth plus generation lightweight, multi-role supersonic single engine jet sporting the IAF colours soared to the skies, marking the raising of the first squadron of Tejas in the force at a ceremony preceded by inter-faith prayers, more than three decades after it went into development.
The LCA, smallest and lightest of its class, was flown by Commanding Officer Group Captain Madhav Rangachari for a sortie for about seven minutes at the induction ceremony and was given a water cannon salute on landing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the induction of Tejas as a matter of “unparalleled pride and happiness” and a step which illustrates the skills and strengths of Indian scientists.
“Induction of indigenously made Tejas fighter jet into the Air Force fills our hearts with unparalleled pride & happiness,” he tweeted.
“I laud HAL & ADA on the induction of Tejas fighter jet. This illustrates our skills & strengths to enhance indigenous defence manufacturing,” Modi said in another tweet.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said Tejas will take the country’s air strength to new heights.
“Moment of National pride. Indigenously developed Tejas fighter jet inducted into Air Force. Tejas will take our air strength to new heights,” Parrikar tweeted.
State-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL) handed over two Tejas aircraft to IAF at a ceremony held at the Aircraft System Testing Establishment here earlier in the day.
HAL officials and Air Marshal Jasbir Walia, Air Officer Commanding-in Chief, Southern Air Command, Air Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and HAL Chairman Suvarna Raju were present.
A ‘Sarvadharma Samaroh’ (inter-faith prayer), a practice followed by Air force during such inductions, was also held.
The two Tejas aircraft were inducted into 45 squadron of IAF, also called as “Flying Daggers”, which will be based in Bengaluru for the first two years before it is moved to Sulur in Tamil Nadu.
The aircraft was named “Tejas” (meaning radiance in Sanskrit) by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister.
Calling it a “capable” aircraft, HAL said it would be used for air to air and air to ground strikes.
Conceived as a replacement to the ageing MiG 21s, it has been designed by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and produced by HAL. The LCA has flown more than 3,000 sorties or 2,000 hours till date.
Citing induction of Tejas as an important moment for the IAF, Air Marshal Jasbir Wali said it is a “milestone” with regard to indigenisation and self reliance.
Asked why only two aircraft formed the first LCA squadron, he said, “It is our aircraft, when we buy, we buy eight or 20. It is our aircraft, we are part of it, and it will keep coming to us.”
On Final Operational Clearance in March 2017, he said, “yes, yes we are hopeful. This (induction) is a big milestone. After this, things will move at a rapid pace.”
IAF said the idea is to have a total of six aircraft this financial year and about eight in the next and by 2018 the full complement of 20 aircraft. All squadrons of Tejas will be made up of 20 planes, including four in reserve.
As per the plan, 20 will be inducted under the “Initial Operational Clearance” and another 20 later with Beyond Visual Range Missile (BVR) and certain other features.
IAF plans to induct over 80 aircraft with better specifications known as Tejas 1A.
The upgraded version of Tejas, with Active Electrically Scanned Array Radar, Unified Electronic Warfare Suite, mid-air refuelling capacity and advanced BVRs, will cost between Rs 275 crore and Rs 300 crore.
Pointing out that there could be some more developmental activities along the lifecycle of this product, Suvarna Raju said HAL has an order for 120 aircraft from IAF. “We have an IOC order of 20, FOC of 20 and we are looking at another 80.’
Group Captain Madhav Rangachari, who flew Tejas, said it is “excellent”. “It will be excellent for the air force and we hope to get more such aircraft from HAL.”
He said Tejas can carry at least four tonnes of payload or bombs and drop them on enemy territory and is capable of attaining 1.6 times the speed of sound (1.6 Mach).
Noting that he had maintained minimum speed of 120 knots today, he said Tejas can go even further down to 100 knots. “It is as low as to any other contemporary fighter in the world.”
The idea to have an indigenous fighter aircraft was conceptualised in the 1970s, but actual work on the aircraft project started only in the 1980s. The first flight was in January 2001 after the project often ran into rough weather and came in for criticism over delay.
Suvarna Raju said it is a great moment as the project had overcome obstacles and it has been an incident free aircraft.
He said “People say that we have taken a long time, but when you have no product of this nature, no support anywhere and in addition we were put on to the restrictions by the countries which are advanced; we could, our people and scientists and flyers could develop this product. We are so proud of it. Now we should see this in numbers,” he added.
International sanctions after nuclear tests by India in 1998 and inadequate development of the aerospace industry in the country was seen as the cause for delay in the LCA project, besides alleged change of goalposts by IAF.
The project to develop LCA was initiated in the early 1980s, but soon after the Missile Transfer Control Regime came into effect in 1988.
Explaining the delay, the then DRDO chief V K Saraswat in May 2013 had said “Time was taken to overcome blocks created by MTCR. This is the reason for the longer time taken.”
The project had also come under severe criticism from CAG last year, which pointed out that its Mark-I version has 53 ‘significant shortfalls’ which have reduced its operational capabilities, as well as survivability.