Among the most eagerly awaited show participants listed in pre-Paris releases was the HAL Tejas–India’s Light Combat Aircraft. Two were originally on the list, of which one was due to fly in the air display. However, a new urgency has descended on the program, and the aircraft could not be spared from test flights.
Having proceeded at a leisurely pace since the LCA’s first flight in January 2001, the program’s progress has recently been given top priority. Last month a 14-person Indian air force team was embedded in the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) that was created to manage the Tejas. This allows the air force to maintain a daily interaction with the development team and to keep it moving along at the required pace.
Key areas of the project are in the process of receiving major boosts. Elta of Israel has been brought in to fast-track development of the indigenous multimode radar (MMR). ADA is currently deciding on an international partner to bring in to similarly assist with the floundering Kaveri engine program: the choice is between the French Snecma concern and NPO Saturn from Russia. For the time being, sufficient General Electric F404-GE-IN-20 engines have been bought from the U.S. to power the trials aircraft and first production batch. While LCAs are currently flying with representative Russian R-60 and R-73 missiles, Aviation International News understands that the final air-to-air weapons mix will be the Israeli Rafael Python 5 and Derby.
Driving the new urgency is the requirement to have at least 88 LCAs (four squadrons) in service by 2017, the year in which the last of the MiG-21s (aside from those upgraded to Bison standard) are due to be retired, if they can last that long. To achieve this schedule, the Tejas has to have reached an initial operating capability by 2010, with full capability two years later. A new production facility is being built at Bangalore that will be able to produce eight aircraft a year initially, ramping up to 12 and then 20 as production matures.
Today ADA has six aircraft flying, which have now flown more than 700 sorties. Recent milestones include sorties with drop tanks and the Litening laser designation pod. The two initial technology demonstrators (TD-1/2) were followed by three single-seat prototype vehicles (PV-1/2/3). On April 21 this year the first of eight limited series production (LSP) aircraft (KH-2010) took to the air from the Bangalore plant. Three more LCAs will fly by the end of 2007: another LSP and the last two prototype vehicles, PV-5 and PV-6 (there is no PV-4). PV-6 is the first two-seater, due to fly in October or November. The eight LSPs will be followed by an initial production batch of 20 LCAs completed to IOC standards, which will allow an Indian air force trials unit to be formed. This first batch has already been paid for. A decision on which engine will power subsequent aircraft depends largely on how swiftly the Kaveri can be developed to meet its requirements.