The Flying Daggers, the first squadron of the Tejas indigenous light combat aircraft, which currently comprises two jets, will touch its full strength of 20 by 2018.
Though it has been inducted, the Tejas is not completely combat-ready. It is equipped with close combat air-to-air missiles, helmet-mounted display and precision-guided bombs. The final version will incorporate beyond visual range (BVR) missiles, improved stand-off weapons, and mid-air refueling capability. IAF also wants an active electronically scanned array radar and advanced electronic warfare suite. The Air Force will begin to get the Tejas it really wants only by 2020.
Group captain Madhav Rangachari, the first commanding officer of the Tejas squadron, completed the first 20-minute flight after Tejas was inducted. The squadron will have seven officers, 42 air warriors and 20 non-commissioned officers to begin with.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations with: “Induction of indigenously made Tejas fighter jet into the Air Force fills our hearts with unparalleled pride & happiness.”
The Flying Daggers will remain in Bengaluru for about two years before moving to its permanent base in Sulur in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district in 2018. HAL is expected to deliver the next two aircraft in the next few months and three more by mid-2017. The fourth generation aircraft, Tejas has the best record (with no crashes) for any new fighter platform in the world, having flown 2,029 hours in 3,187 sorties.
Air Marshal Walia said: “It is our aircraft and we will get more of it. The final operational clearance (FOC) is expected in March 2017 and by 2018-end we should have 20 aircraft (including four trainers) as part of the squadron, when it goes to Sulur.”
While Team Tejas -Aeronautical Development Authority (ADA) and HAL -maintains the official cost of Tejas MK-I at Rs 9,000 crore, the Centre, citing delays, has put the overall cost at Rs 57,000 crore.
The IAF has committed to acquiring 40 Tejas aircraft, 20 in the initial operational clearance configuration and 20 in the FOC configuration, and the IAF is expected to increase orders to 80 aircraft.Team Tejas has built prototypes of the naval version.A single unit of the upgraded Tejas is expected to cost Rs 275 crore to Rs 300 crore.
Tejas, which compares with the best in its class, will prove much cheaper than imported jets over time. It will reduce the country’s strategic vulnerability to foreign-weapon supplies being choked in times of conflict.
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