The much awaited Light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas, being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has received its initial operational clearance certificate and has been inducted into the Indian Air Force(IAF). The Indian navy, too, is expected to purchase few of these aircrafts. The LCA will be an important entity in the Indian Air Force and will enhance the Indian Defence aviation capabilities. As we already know that the Indian Air Force is the fourth largest air force in the world .It currently has a strength of 1,322 aircrafts, including 680 combat aircrafts and 305 helicopters, and operates a total of 34 squadrons.
Most of the IAF’s 797 fighter jets are of Soviet/Russian origin. These include the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, Mikoyan MiG-27, Mikoyan MiG-29 as well as the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. Moreover there are the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar and French Mirage 2000 aircraft.
The principal and most obvious goal of LCA Tejas was the development of a suitable replacement aircraft for India’s aging MiG-21 fighters. The MiG-21 has been the mainstay of the Indian Air Force since the 1970s. The “Long Term Re-Equipment Plan 1981” noted that the MiG-21s would be approaching the end of their service lives by the mid-1990s, and that by 1995 the IAF would lack 40% of the aircraft needed to fill its projected force structure requirements. The IAF had initially planned to replace the MiG-21 fleet with HAL Tejas (LCA) aircraft by 2006 , however there was a delay and finally we see the LCA inducted into the IAF.
The LCA programme’s other main objective was to serve as the vehicle for an across-the-board advancement of India’s domestic aerospace industry. The value of the aerospace “self-reliance” initiative is not simply the production of an aircraft, but also the building of a local industry capable of creating state-of-the-art products with commercial spin-offs for a global market. The LCA program was intended in part to further expand and advance India’s indigenous aerospace capabilities.
This induction of LCA Tejas into the IAF can give us some joy , however the IAF and navy both intend to carry out some more tests and only time will tell if LCA Tejas will actually fulfil the role it was built for – to replace the aging MiGs. A reality check reveals some serious facts about LCA Tejas . For instance, the LCA has been in the making for 27 long years. The initial budget was Rs 560 crore , and it has spirally increased to over Rs 15,000 crore. Also 40% of the components required for the LCA are imported, including the most important engine. The Indian engine, named Kaveri, was a failure and hence General Electric F414 was used.
Ironically, even as India is trying to make the LCA Tejas a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, few would have missed the fact that just a few days ago, China unveiled its futuristic stealth aircraft the J-20. India’s defence production is still in its infancy and a major shift is required if India has to make its defence equipment comparable to the best in the world.