Bengaluru: The last Light Combat Aircraft Tejas Mk1 fighter from the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) block has flown out of the hangars of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
And most significantly, it (SP-16; SP stands for Series Production) flew on the wings made by Larsen & Toubro (L&T). This is a major step in HAL’s efforts to outsource Tejas parts to the private industries, in line with the Make in India mandate.
Engineers in HAL familiar with the Tejas Mk1 production confirmed to Onmanorma that the L&T wings came to LCA Division in January this year.
“The full structure (both left and right wings) came from L&T and our teams completed the wiring and pipeline work within two months. This is a significant development in Tejas production,” an official said. Tejas SP-16 first flew on March 11 while SP-15 on March 22.
HAL has installed the looms supplied by its subsidiary Naini Aerospace on SP-15 and SP-16. The assembly cycle time has been reduced considerably, thanks to TATA-HAL sub-assembly tools.
Full quota of fighters
The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) No 45 Squadron, Flying Daggers, based at AFS Sulur has so far 12 Tejas fighters operating under its command. It will now add another four more to the fleet after completing the CAF (customer acceptance flights).
The Flying Daggers are expected to have the full quota of 16 IOC Tejas Mk1 fighters within a month.
Two of the Squadron fighters are now at Langkawi in Malaysia participating in the Langkawi International Maritime Aero Expo (LIMA-2019) set to begin on March 26.
HAL on Monday said that it has rolled out the 16th LCA as per the target till March 31, 2019.’
As this piece goes live, the SP-13 awaits one more CAF before being signalled out to AFS Sulur by IAF. SP-14 has completed all CAF flights and is awaiting IAF pilots to take it to Sulur.
Normally, a Tejas Mk1 undergoes three test-flights undertaken by HAL’s Test Pilots followed by another three CAF by the IAF pilots. The CAF flight could be undertaken by pilots from Flying Daggers or those from the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment of IAF.
Onmanorama had reported extensively in November last about HAL plans to ramp up the production facilities.
The TD (technology development) phase for LCA project was sanctioned in 1993 and only after the first flight of TD-1 in 2001 (proving the technologies), the LCA programme was sanctioned. The first Tejas was inducted into the IAF in July 2016.
Tejas Mk1 was given FOC on February 20, 2019 at Air Force Station Yelahanka, during the 12th edition of Aero India.
HAL began preparations for producing the next version of Tejas fighters towards the end of last year. The provisional DAL (Drawing Applicability List) for FOC fighters was released in October 2017 and the amended one in August 2018. (DAL is the standard of preparation for production that forms the basis for the final product to be delivered to the customer.)
To augment Tejas production, HAL established a second production line at its Aircraft Division which has been carrying out structural assembly, final assembly and equipping of the aircraft.
Out of the 16 Tejas Mk-1 IOC fighters SP-5, SP-8, SP-11 SP-13 and SP-15 were produced by the Aircraft Division. The load of producing the next 16 FOC block fighters too will be shared by HAL’s LCA and Aircraft Divisions.
As on today, four assembly structures are loaded with FOC components. Two real fuselages (SP-21 and SP-22) have been removed from the assembly jig and ready for loading to the coupling jig.
The front fuselage of SP-21 is in the advance stages with the mid-air refuelling probe requirement installed on it. The central fuselage too is in an advance stage and all the three fuselages are expected to be ready by end of April this year.
HAL now says SP-21 will roll out by the end of this year. The entire 16 FOC fighters will be delivered to IAF during 2019-2021 – which again accounts for eight aircraft per year.
For the record, HAL delivered one Tejas in 2015-16; two in 2016-17; five in 2017-18 aircraft and eight in 2018-19 (subject to acceptance of last four fighters).
HAL says the build-standard of eight FOC trainers should be ready by next month. The first FOC trainer is expected to fly out towards the end of 2021.
HAL has now confirmed orders of 32 Tejas Mk-1 fighters (16 IOC & 16 FOC) and eight FOC trainers.
IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa has said during Aero India 2019 that the process of issuing RFP (request for proposal) for 83 Tejas MK1As (the advance variant) is in advance stages.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)