The Indian Air Force plans to put much-delayed Tejas in combat role by next year after raising in July the first squadron of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft which it counts “Superior” to Pakistan’s JF 17 fighters.
State-run HAL handed over the first two Tejas aircraft to IAF on July 1 which will make up the ‘Flying Daggers’ 45, the name of the first squadron of the LCA which will be based in Bangalore for the first two years before being moved to Sulur in Tamil Nadu.
The idea is to have a total of six aircraft this financial year and about eight in the next. Tejas will feature in combat plan of the IAF next year and will be deployed in forward bases also, IAF sources said. They asserted that Tejas, which still has at least 19, mostly related to maintenance and easier operations, of the 43 deficiencies that the force had highlighted earlier, is “one of the exceptional single-engine fighter aircraft in the world”.
Asked how the aircraft fared in comparison to JF 17, jointly developed and built by Pakistan and China, the IAF said it was “better”. “It is a better one since it is mostly made of composite which makes it light and very agile. It also comes with smart ammunitions and bombs which help it to hit targets in a precise manner,” a source said.
Sources also said that Tejas will replace the MiG 21s and will be used for air-to-air fight and ground attack and could also be a compliment to bigger fighter planes such as Su 30 MKI. All squadrons of Tejas will be made up of 20 planes in total, including four in reserve. As per the plan, while 20 would be inducted under the “Initial Operational Clearance,” another 20 will be inducted later with Beyond Visual Range Missile (BVR) and some other features.
The IAF plans to induct over 80 aircraft with better specifications known as Tejas 1A. The upgraded version of Tejas, with Active Electrically Scanned Array Radar, Unified Electronic Warfare Suite, mid-air refueling capacity and advanced beyond the vision range missiles, will cost between Rs 275 crore and Rs 300 crore.
While the idea to have an indigenous fighter aircraft was conceptualized in 1970s, the actual work started only in the 80s and the first flight took place in January 2001. The IAF sources said that Tejas is also equipped with helmet-mounted display and fly-by-wire, a semi-automatic and computer-regulated system for controlling the flight of an aircraft or spacecraft which makes it a 4.5 generation plane.
Meanwhile, sources said the LCA will not be flown by India’s first women fighter pilots as only experienced pilots will be flying them initially. IAF sources stressed that beyond visual range missiles were a must for the Final Operational Clearance version of Tejas. They admitted that another requirement – mid-air refueling capability – is likely to happen only in the Tejas I A version which they hoped will come out in 2019.
The sources maintained that Tejas will be a shot in the arm for the IAF which has seen its strength dwindling because of phasing out of old planes. The IAF currently flies with 33 squadrons as against the sanctioned strength of 42. Tejas is designed to carry a veritable plethora of air-to-air, air-to-surface, precision guided and standoff weaponry.
In the air-to-air arena, Tejas carries long-range beyond visual range weapons, with highly agile high off-boresight missiles to tackle any close combat threat. A wide variety of air-to-ground munitions and an extremely accurate navigation and attack system allow it to prosecute surface targets over land or at sea with unparalleled accuracy, giving Tejas a true multi/swing role capability.
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