India’s own fighter, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), is playing a growing role in protecting Indian airspace. On December 20, when the Tejas was cleared for operational service in the Indian Air Force (IAF), Defence Minister A K Antony declared 200 Tejas fighters would eventually enter combat service. Today, that figure quietly swelled to well above 300, with the government indicating the IAF would have at least 14 Tejas squadrons.

Each IAF combat squadron has 21 fighter aircraft; 14 squadrons add to 294 Tejas fighters. The 21 comprise 16 frontline, single-seat fighters, two twin-seat trainers and three reserve aircraft to make up losses in a war.

In a written statement tabled in the Lok Sabha on Monday, Antony’s deputy, Jitendra Singh, stated, “The MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircrafts of the IAF have already been upgraded and currently equip 14 combat squadrons. These aircraft, however, are planned for being phased out over the next few years and will be replaced by the LCA.”

So far, the IAF has committed to inducting only six Tejas squadrons — two squadrons of the current Tejas Mark I, and four squadrons of the improved Tejas Mark II. In addition, the navy plans to buy 40-50 Tejas for its future aircraft carriers.

Since the programme began in 1985, about Rs 7,000 crore have been spent on the Tejas Mark I, which obtained Initial Operational Clearance in December, allowing regular IAF pilots to fly it. By the end of this year, when it obtains Final Operational Clearance, it would have consumed a Budget of Rs 7,965 crore.

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