Indian Air Force’s first squadron of home-grown light combat aircraft Tejas became a reality with the induction of two aircraft into the force on July 1, 2016
|By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)
Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command, IAF
After a wait of over three decades, on Friday, July 1, 2016, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was finally handed over by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) two Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk I in the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration to raise the first squadron of this type. This new squadron has been christened by the IAF as the “Flying Daggers 45”. The induction ceremony was held at the Aircraft System Testing Establishment at the HAL airport in Bengaluru in the presence of Air Marshal Jasbir Walia, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Air Command. The Flying Daggers 45 will be based in Bengaluru for the first two years after which it will be relocated at Air Force Station, Sulur near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
While commissioning of the Flying Daggers 45 will go down in the history of the IAF as a milestone to be cherished, the LCA Tejas has still a long way to go.
The Tejas is a single-engine, lightweight, highly agile, multi-role supersonic combat aircraft, reported to be the smallest in its category in the world. Capable of achieving a speed of up to Mach 1.4, the platform that has a ‘Tail-less Delta’ plan form with shoulder-mounted wings, has been developed as a single-seat fighter aircraft and also has a two-seat trainer version. The aircraft is fitted with Martin Baker zero-zero ejection seats. The airframe is crafted with lightweight materials, including aluminium. lithium and titanium alloys as well as carbon composites. The ribs in the wing structure is made of h composites with a carbon fibre-reinforced plastic skin. In respect of its speed, acceleration, maneuverability and agility, the design features of the LCA Tejas have been configured to meet with the challenges of modern aerial combat in future warfare scenarios. HAL is currently working on the establishment of facilities to scale up production initially to eight aircraft per year and then progressively raising the annual output to 16.
As per the existing plan, the IAF will induct a total of 120 LCA Tejas, the first 40 of the Mk I and the remaining 80 of the significantly improved version, the Mk IA. Of the initial order of 40 aircraft, the first 20 will be inducted in the IOC configuration and the next batch of 20 will be with Final Operational Clearance (FOC) that will have some new features and marginally improved capabilities. The Mk IA, the upgraded version of Tejas, will be equipped with Active Electrically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Unified Electronic Warfare Suite, mid-air refuelling capability and the capability to carry advanced Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Missile.
As for its other notable attributes, the Tejas incorporates state-of-art technologies such as a quadruplex fly-by-wire digital Flight Control System, Advanced Digital Cockpit, Multi-Mode Radar, Integrated Digital Avionics System and night vision compatible glass cockpit. Its navigation suite includes Sagem SIGMA 95N ring laser gyroscope inertial navigation system with an integrated global positioning system. The pilot has the facility of helmet-mounted display and sight (HMDS) while the hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) control system minimises pilot workload and maximises situational awareness. The aircraft’s electronic warfare suite has been developed by the Bengaluru-based Advanced Systems Integration and Evaluation Organisation (ASIEO) and includes a radar warning receiver, jammer, devices for laser and missile approach warning as also and chaff and flare dispenser.
The aircraft has eight external hard points for the carriage of weapon load and drop tanks. These are located three under each wing, one on the centre fuselage and one installed under the air intake on the port side. A 23mm twin-barrelled GSh-23 gun is installed in a blister fairing under the starboard air intake. The aircraft can be armed with air-to-air, air-to-ground and anti-ship missiles, precision-guided munitions, rockets and bombs. Electronic warfare, targeting, surveillance, reconnaissance or training pods can be carried on the hard points.
While commissioning of the Flying Daggers 45 will go down in the history of the IAF as a milestone to be cherished, the LCA Tejas has still a long way to go. It is indeed heartening that of the 50 odd deficiencies observed initially, most have been cleared and the remaining too should be resolved with the Mk IA. Hopefully, this success will inspire the Indian aerospace industry to move forward and achieve greater heights of glory with the Tejas Mk II and subsequently with the fifth generation combat platform that is on the drawing board!