First Tejas squadron to come up by July; IAF chief Arup Raha flies the indigenous jet

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NEW DELHI: It was a routine sortie of the Tejas light combat aircraft, which has so far clocked well over 3,050 flight tests since its first prototype took to the skies in January 2001. But the message was significant: India’s first home-grown fighter has finally come of age after a meandering developmental saga of 33 years.

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha became the first IAF chief to fly in the multi-role supersonic Tejas at the Hindustan Aeronautics facility in Bengaluru on Tuesday morning. “The twin-seat Tejas trainer will undergo a full-profile sortie. It will convey IAF’s confidence in the indigenous fighter,” said HAL chief T Suvarna Raju, speaking to TOI.

That is certainly true. After years of being highly critical of the excruciatingly slow progress in developing the fighter, which was supposed to replace the virtually obsolete MiG-21 but kept on missing deadlines, the IAF finally has something to cheer about.

First Tejas squadron to come up by July; IAF chief Arup Raha flies the indigenous jet The force, after all, is down to just 33 fighter squadrons (each has 16-18 jets), which includes 11 squadrons of old MiG-21s and MiG-27s with poor serviceability. This when 45 squadrons are needed to counter a two-front collusive threat from Pakistan and China.

The first Tejas squadron with four jets is slated to come up at Bengaluru by July. “It will operate from a dedicated HAL hanger, with designers and manufacturers being close by to resolve teething problems. The squadron will shift to its earmarked airbase at Sulur after a year,” said an official.

The single-engine Tejas, of course, is still not combat-ready. Its final phase of weapon trials, including firing of BVR (beyond visual range) missiles, is currently under way. Moreover, the fighter is to get an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar and advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite, apart from becoming capable of mid-air refuelling, for its Mark-IA version that the IAF actually wants.

All this will take another two to three years. Global arms majors like Raytheon , Israeli Aerospace Industries, Thales, Saab and others have already responded to the “search and select process” underway to find an AESA-EW package for the fighter. “Tejas jets produced after 2018 will be up to the Mark-IA standards,” said Raju.

In effect, IAF will get the first 20 Tejas Mark-I jets by 2018. With the annual production being stepped up to 16 jets from the existing 8, another 100 “improved” Tejas Mark-IA jets will follow by 2026 or so.

While Tejas will certainly help IAF to make up depleting numbers, the light-weight jets cannot substitute the need for medium-weight multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) or heavy-weight fighters. The 36 Rafales India is negotiating hard to acquire from France for Rs 60,000 crore, for instance, have more than triple the weapon-load carrying capacity and range of the Tejas fighters.

Tejas, with a limited reach of just about 400-km, will basically be used for “air defence” to take on incoming enemy fighters or “close air-to-ground” operations to support the Army. Strikes deep into enemy territory will have to be undertaken by Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKIs or the Rafales.

 

 

 

Source:- Economics Times

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