HAL LCA Tejas: India’s Own Flying Machine
The recent development in the Indian defense sector has seen a significant up-gradation with the induction of the first batch of five Rafales flown into India amid the rising Sino-Indian border tension in the area near the disputed Pangong Lake, in Ladakh and near the border between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region as on-going military standoff gets more intense between India and China with brutal consequences being witnessed.
With frequent border skirmishes that have gained prominence in the international circuit, the arrival of the first batch of Rafale equips India to obstruct China’s ambitious expansionist policy at a time when it is most needed. The deal for the procurement of thirty-six Dassault Rafale from France over a stipulated timeframe has been considered as a turning point for India as such procurement adds to its powerful military competency. With the most advanced 4.5th generation fighter jets joining the Indian Air Force fleet, India makes history in terms of consolidating its defense capabilities to a more comprehensive standard.
However, with the Rafale news doing the rounds, the country’s very own indigenously manufactured Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) – Tejas - is worthy of similar acknowledgment. It has been built to match the ever-growing requirements of the Indian Air Force. The LCA Tejas is an outcome of thirty-two long years of labour put into developing a flying machine that safeguards the national security of the country.
Introduction of the light combat aircraft (LCA) programme
Ever since India got independence, the nation has faced multiple military threats from neighbouring countries in the past. History has definitely played a crucial role in guiding the nation to achieve the goal of self-reliance in terms of research and development of potent weapon systems and production of the same to defend the sovereignty of the country.
The LCA programme is an example of such self-reliance. The programme was launched in the early eighties predominantly for two reasons. The first was the development of a replacement aircraft for the long-serving Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 which had been in action since the 1970s and secondly, to provide momentum for technological advancement of domestic aviation potentiality. In order for these goals to materialize, the government of India, in 1984, established the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to manage the LCA programme. While various DRDO and CSIR laboratories along with public and private sector industries participated in the venture, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) became the principal partner of the programme. It was in 2003 that the LCA was officially named “Tejas”.
Tejas – the light combat supersonic fighter
With its maiden flight on 4th January 2001, this single-engine aircraft is the lightest and the smallest multi-role supersonic fighter aircraft in its class. It is the second supersonic fighter developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) after the HAL HF-24 Marut. It comes in both fighter and trainer versions and uses fourth-generation technology for its maneuvering. Advanced composite materials have been used for its build-up to reduce the weight of the aircraft. The LCA Tejas carries a range of air-to-air, air-to-surface, precision-guided, and standoff weaponry and is based on tailless delta wing configuration. The all-weather capability and mid-air-refueling option of the aircraft make it highly adaptable.
The up-gradation process
With LCA Tejas Mk 1 version already in operation, trials of India’s upgraded HAL Tejas Mk 2 are reportedly in the final stage as tests are being carried out under guided supervision. The 4.5th generation HAL Tejas MK 2 version carries added features like better serviceability, enhanced electronic warfare suit, and comparatively faster weapon loading time. It is a single-engine delta wing, multirole fighter like its predecessor the LCA Tejas Mk 1 but falls under the medium weight category. Sanctioned by the Government of India in 2009, the Mk 2 edition will be equipped with an advance AESA radar system. The MK 2 fitted with a heavier F414-GE-INS6 engine is set to debut in 2022 and expected to join the Indian Air Force by 2026. The HAL Tejas Mark 2 has been projected as a Dassault Mirage 2000 replacement to conduct operations similar in nature.
SOME IMPORTANT FEATURES OF TEJAS:
-High degree of agility.
-New variant can fly nonstop for over eight hours.
-Can carry long range and beyond visual range weapons.
Following months of talk and an agreed deal amounting to Rs 39000 crores between IAF and HAL, the latter expects an order of 83 Tejas MK 1A variant jets to be confirmed before the end of this year. As the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), India’s national security decision-making body, approves of this, a formal contract will be signed by IAF and HAL.
With delivery of the aircrafts expected to start within three years of the signing of the contract, it concludes with all aircrafts being delivered in a five-year deadline. Under ‘MAKE IN INDIA’ initiative, the state run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is getting ready with its major plan to outsource a significant portion of the manufacturing responsibility to private players such as Larson & Toubro, Dynamatic Technologies, VEM Technologies and Alpha Designs to supply major part of fuselage for the aircrafts with a target to double its annual production capacity to meet the requirements.
The aerial capabilities of the LCA Tejas has always been in question because of its slow paced development and occasional quality issues, but its ceaseless evolution and routine improvements can ensure India’s position on a higher level in the global platform by making India a key exporter of defence equipments. The induction process of the indigenous aircraft into the IAF is a well calculated move that aims to create self-sufficiency while boosting the homegrown integrated defence network.
(The author is a post graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication. He has been involved in writing, branding and advertising for the past eight years. The views expressed in the article are his own.)