Bengaluru: Two fighters from the Tejas Final Operational Clearance (FOC) block - SP-22 & SP-23 - are likely to take to the skies in the coming days, signalling the resumption of flight activities that were halted for a while.
An official from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) told Onmanorama that the flight trials of these two fighters will be completed by the end of this month.
The low and high speed taxi trials of both fighters have been completed. The LCA-Tejas Division of HAL is currently finishing the activities ahead of their first flights. SP-23 is manufactured by HAL’s Aircraft Division.
“The FOC variants getting ready for delivery/flight are loaded with updated software to meet the operational requirements of Indian Air Force (IAF). The production rate has been enhanced at LCA and Aircraft Divisions. Structural work are in advanced stages,” the official told Onmanorama.
HAL hopes that by the end of this production year, the fuselages of the remaining FOC fighters will be loaded on to their respective jigs.
An IAF official overseeing the Tejas production activities told Onmanorama that to void further delays, HAL has been told to ensure similar build-standards for all FOC variants, especially SP-21, SP-22 and SP-23, to start with.
“This would meet our operational and maintenance requirements," the top official said.
A team consisting of representatives from IAF, HAL, Aeronautical Development Agency, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness and Regional Director Aeronautical Quality Assurance is looking into all aspects of the FOC variants, ahead of clearing them for flights.
HAL is working towards delivering the FOC aircraft to IAF without having any pending concessions. Production rate is expected to be enhanced, once the vendors start delivering major assemblies.
“With the lessons from the production of 16 IOC (Initial Operational Clearance) fighters, lots of improvements have been made during the initial build of the FOC structures,” the official said.
SP-21, the first Tejas FOC fighter that flew in March this year was produced by HAL in a record time of 12 months, post release of the documents.
The aircraft was subsequently delivered to the IAF in May and is currently undergoing software upgrade and post-delivery checks. It is expected to be with IAF Squadron by the end of this month.
HAL has put in reinforced efforts to meet the demands of IAF with the manufacturing of detail parts of all FOC fighters almost completed.
“Now the focus is on the completion of structural build of aircraft which are planned to be produced during this financial year. The first three aircraft are in advanced stage of delivery and another three (SP-24, SP-25, SP-26) are in various stages of equipping,” the official added.
The COVID-19 lockdown and associated delays too have dented the production plans of HAL.
“The pandemic has affected our plans and even hit some of the supply chain logistics. But, we never took shelter under these excuses and have provided uninterrupted support to IAF, even during complete lockdown period. We deputed multiple teams to support Tejas fleet and are further improving the serviceability through reducing the turnaround time and ensuring spare stocks in surplus,” the official added.
COVD-19 has impacted the supply chain, slowing down some of the production activities considerably. HAL is now gearing up to meet the FY targets through innovations such as flexible time approach and dynamically balancing the production lines.
“We are planning to maximise the deliveries despite the lockdown-induced slowdown in supply chain. The target is to produce eight aircraft by end of this FY and this could be enhanced if the supplies from our business partners improve,” the official added.
On the measures being put in place to improve the supply chain management, the official said efforts are on to bring back normalcy.
“The foreign supply chain is the worst hit. Since LCA-Tejas Division follows the integrator model, any supply chain disruption will bring in risk for timelines. We are working closely with our partners to tide over the current situation. We are supporting them financially and technically to come out of current situation. We have given relief to our business partners for the delay caused due to COVID-19-related lockdown,” the official added.
Meanwhile, detail part manufacturing work is currently underway for manufacturing of eight Tejas FOC trainer aircraft. The jigs are being calibrated for structural assembly and if HAL sticks to the current plan, the first trainer will fly out by end of next year.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)