India's Latest Light Combat Aircraft Standard Gets Airborne

 - March 19, 2020, 5:55 AM
The first FOC aircraft is seen on the runway at Bengaluru on the occasion of its first flight. The aircraft has a fixed refueling probe. (Photo: HAL)

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) conducted the first flight of the Light Combat Aircraft (also known as Tejas) Mk1 in its Final Operational Configuration (FOC) on March 17. The aircraft was flown by HAL’s chief of fixed-wing test flying, Air Commodore (Retd) K.A. Muthanna. The aircraft lifted from HAL Airport at Bengaluru just after noon and was airborne for around 40 minutes. Low-speed taxi trials had begun on March 10.

FOC represents the final iteration of the baseline LCA Mk1, most noticeably adding a fixed refueling probe on the starboard side of the forward fuselage, which raises endurance to more than eight hours. From a combat viewpoint the main changes are that the FOC aircraft has a gun in the form of the Russian-designed GSh-23 twin-barrel 23mm cannon, and Rafael Derby beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles.

HAL received the go-ahead for series production of the FOC variant in February 2019, and will now produce a further 15 aircraft to equip a second LCA Mk1 squadron within the Indian Air Force. Currently, No. 45 “Flying Daggers” Squadron operates 16 earlier LCA Mk1s in the Initial Operational Configuration (IOC) from Sulur Air Force Station in Tamil Nadu. Its aircraft are due to be upgraded to FOC standard at some point. No. 18 “Flying Bullets” Squadron is expected to be the second LCA unit, also to be based at Sulur.

Series production of LCA Mk1s is to cover 40 aircraft for the IAF, comprising 16 each of the IOC and FOC standards, and eight two-seaters for training. They follow two technology demonstrators (TD), five prototypes (PV), two prototypes of a naval version (NP), and eight limited series production (LSP) aircraft that have been engaged in trials.

HAL and the Tejas team are now awaiting the contract to begin work on building 10 more trainers and 83 LCA Mk1A aircraft, an interim variant to be procured pending full development of the LCA Mk2. The Mk1A has an e-scan radar, external jammer pods, and numerous avionics and aerodynamic improvements. The definitive Mk2—also known as the Medium Weight Fighter—features a more powerful General Electric F414 engine and internal electronic protection suite, among many other advances.