Indian military aviation regulator Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) has awarded the final operational clearance (FOC) for the country’s first light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas MK I.

Authorities handed over the FOC certificate and the release-to-service document (RSD) to Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa at ongoing Aero India.

The FOC award paves the way for the induction of Tejas MK I, a weaponised version of LCA, into the Indian Air Force. FOC means LCA Tejas now has several additional key capabilities when compared to the initial operational clearance (IOC) aircraft.

New capabilities include beyond visual range missile capabilities, air-to-air refuelling, air-to-ground FOC-earmarked weapons and general flight envelope expansion.

The RSD outlines the capabilities, features and technologies that will be provided by the FOC standard aircraft.

It is a fighter aeroplane and it has to behave like a fighter and it did well both in air-to-air and air-to-ground.”

HAL obtained the IOC for LCA Tejas in 2013. The IAF inducted the IOC standard aircraft into No 45 Squadron in July 2016.

About Tejas:

Indian Light Combat Aircraft, christened ‘Tejas’, is the smallest, light weight, single engine, single seat, supersonic, fourth generation, multirole, combat aircraft and is one of the best in its class in the world.

The quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system ensures acceptable handling qualities while ensuring adequate safety throughout the flight envelope. The advanced Glass cockpit open architecture system complements piloting.

Four variants of Tejas aircraft (Combat variant, Trainer and Naval variants) are being developed for land and carrier borne operations.

Salient features of tejas:

The home-grown LCA is not very behind world class fighter aircraft and has been designed keeping every little aspect in mind, including maneuverability, ability to carry weapons, weight of the aircraft, among other things. It also has features that make it easier for the pilot to operate the aircraft.

  1. It is unique for its aerodynamically unstable tailless compound delta-wing configuration, optimised primarily for maneuverability and agility. This means it can be maneuvered in any direction regardless of pure aerodynamic principles.
  2. It is designed to meet the tactical requirements of a modern air force and is a multi-role aircraft capable of comprehensive air superiority and air defence roles.
  3. It has the fly-by-wire system i.e. the manual flight control has been replaced by an electronic interface which automatically maneuvers the flight, helping it stabilise, when needed. Signals sent by the aircraft computers are translated into actions by the aircraft itself, without the input of a pilot.
  4. The material that Tejas is made of is chosen such that the aircraft can be of the lightest weight possible and yet strong at the same time. These materials also call for fewer joints or rivets, increasing the aircraft’s reliability and lowering its susceptibility to structural cracks which may be caused by fatigue.
  5. The Tejas is also distinctive with its Glass Cockpit, which refers to a modern cockpit in which all the round dialled electro-mechanical instruments have been replaced with Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) and a Head Up Display (HUD).
  6. A glass cockpit uses several displays driven by flight management systems, which can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. This helps in simplifying aircraft operation and navigation, thus allowing pilots to focus only on the most necessary information.
  7. In terms of the weapons that it can carry, Tejas is designed to host a veritable plethora of air to air, air to surface, precision guided and standoff weaponry. In the air to air arena, the Tejas carries long range beyond visual range weapons.
  8. A wide variety of air to ground munitions and an extremely accurate navigation and attack system allow it to prosecute surface targets over land or at sea with unparalleled accuracy, giving the Tejas true multi/swing role capability.
  9. Its maximum speed is supersonic at all altitudes and it has service ceiling of 50,000 feet.

Issues surrounding it:

Defence Minister in a reply to Lok Sabha have reported the following shortcomings in LCA Tejas Mk-I:

  • Absence of Internal Jammer affecting survivability.
  • Aircraft performance shortfalls.
  • Maintainability issues.

Nearly 70 per cent of aircraft components are reportedly manufactured in India but with the engine, radar and some avionics including electronic warfare suite imported, it has its Achilles’ heels.

The aircraft was to originally enter service around 1995. However, the LCA undertook its maiden flight on January 04, 2001. Delays to operationalise the Tejas forced the IAF to extend its older fleet of aircraft, with the inevitable security and flight safety implications.

The IAF is the only repository of comprehensive military aviation knowledge in the country; yet its expertise was taken only in small bits.

The programme has been steered in parallel at three levels, fighter pilots of the IAF, bureaucrats of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and technocrats (ADA, HAL). Coordination was often lacking.

Way forward

All the above mentioned shortcomings in LCA Mk-I have been addressed in LCA Mk-II version. MIG 21 are obsolete technology and IAF is already low in number of aircrafts. LCA needs to be included in Air force as soon as possible.

More funding as when needed should be released by government so that no further delay should happen due to cash crunch.

Private sector involvement in manufacturing non-essential parts of aircraft can be given out without compromising on the quality of the materials.

Proper co-ordination mechanism should be laid down among all the stakeholders to deliver Tejas sooner than later.