Bengaluru: India’s desi fighter jet Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk1 today jettisoned into one of the most-awaited moments in its turbulent yet inspiring history, by bagging the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) on Wednesday.
At a simple event at Air Force Station Yelahanka, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chairman Dr Satheesh Reddy and HAL Chairman R Madhavan handed over the ‘release to service’ documents to Indian Air Force Chief (IAF) Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa.
The IAF Chief termed the event as a significant milestone for the programme and said the fighter performed exceedingly well during 'Gagan Shakti' military exercise in April 2018 and during the just-concluded 'Vayu Shakthi' this month.
“Proof of the pudding is in eating and you saw how much the aircraft could fly and the number of sorties it could generate so far. In February this year, during Vayu Shakti, we showed you as to how accurately Tejas could dispense weapons on the target,” Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.
He said Tejas can not only sustain a very high sortie rate but also can carry out very accurate weapon delivery, be it air-to-ground or in air-to-air modes.
“We are in the process of issuing RFP (request for proposal) for 83 Tejas MK1As (the advance variant) so that the production continues,” the IAF Chief said.
He said the IAF is also keenly pursuing the Mark-2 version of Tejas, a completely new variant now being called as the MWF (medium weight fighter).
“The Tejas Mk-2 will be over six squadrons that will replace the Jaguars, Mirages and Mig-29s,” he said.
To a specific question from Onmanorama on the response from IAF pilots (No 45 Squadron Flying Daggers), now flying the Tejas, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said: “The pilots are very happy with the Tejas performance.”
Dr Satheesh Reddy termed the FOC event as one of the best ever moment for any aeronautical engineer in the country.
“Right from the 'pithamahas' of this project, I want to thank everyone who were part of the project,” Dr Reddy said.
Dr Girish Deodhare, Aeronautical Development Agency Programme Director told Onmanorama that Tejas has completed all critical operational test points as required by the IAF.
“It is a great day for us. It is the culmination of all our efforts in the last 15 years. Tejas is now a fighting platform and recently we have integrated the refuelling probe as well that will get into all FOC platform,” Girish said.
Tejas conceptualisation started with seed money in 1983 and the Project Definition Phase report was finalised in 1988. It was decided that first only a technology development (TD) programme would be sanctioned since many of the technologies were non- existent in the country.
The TD phase was sanctioned in 1993 and only after the first flight of TD-1 in 2001 (proving the technologies), the LCA programme was sanctioned in 2001. The first Tejas was inducted into the IAF in July 2016.
When asked about the oft-repeated accusation from many quarters that Tejas is a delayed programme, an official now part of the MWF team said, it was ‘unfortunate.’
“You have seen how jubilant various teams that have worked with the programme were today after the FOC event. If you compare with any fighter programmes, they already had an aero-technological base to start with and we lacked this,” he added.
Onmanorama had reported early this year about the release of final DAL (Drawing Applicability Lists) of Tejas to HAL on December 31, 2018.
DAL is the standard of preparation for production that forms the basis for the final product to be delivered to the customer. And, release of document as part of FOC on Wednesday signals that the fighter has satisfactorily completed all that the user wanted.
“The pending minor points are not flight critical and will be completed. The upgradation of software is a constant process,” he added.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)