Bengaluru, Dec 19: The Indian Air Force (IAF) will ‘officially' get to fly the first series production (SP-1) variant of India's Light Combat Aircraft Tejas by March 2015. Having skipped many deadlines in the past, the fresh dates announced by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in Lok Sabha today, will again put the spotlight on Tejas, which is currently meeting the mandatory Final Operational Clearance (FOC) test-points.
Interestingly, Parrikar's statement comes on the eve of Tejas completing one year after being given the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) on December 20, 2013. "The first of the IOC standard Tejas (SP-1) has been built and successfully completed its maiden flight on September 30, 2014. This aircraft will be handed over to IAF by March 2015 after some upgrades," Parrikar informed Lok Sabha in a written reply.
The SP-1 was rolled out from the brand new Tejas facility of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bengaluru. The minister said that the second aircraft (SP-2) will also be ready by March 2015 for its maiden flight and the first 20 aircraft will be built by 2017-18.
The first 20 Tejas will be in the IOC configuration and the remaining 20 in the FOC configuration.
FOC dates further pushed to Dec 2015.
The minister also announced that the crucial FOC (meeting all parameters set by the IAF, which is called Air Staff Requirement) is "likely to be only achieved by end of 2015." This programme was expected to get FOC by mid-2015 and sources tell OneIndia that the minister might have announced the fresh likely dates after getting a briefing from the IAF.
DRDO Chief Dr Avinash Chander told OneIndia on Friday that all planned events of Tejas FOC are on track. "The programme is heading in the right direction and the trials mandated under FOC are being done," Dr Avninash said.
On another query, the DRDO chief said that the third trial of Agni-5 missile will not happen this month. "The fresh dates are being worked out. It will be only sometime in January next year," Dr Avinash said.
He also complemented the DRDO for successfully testing a 1000 kg glide bomb today (in Bay of Bengal off the Odisha coast). "India has now the capability to design, develop and launch heavy bombs for delivery up to 100 km away with high precision," Dr Avinash was quoted by DRDO in a release.
All major critical challenges achieved
DRDO Director-General (Aero) Dr K Tamilmani told OneIndia that the project has achieved all major challenges so far. "So far there are no critical challenges to overcome. A number of Tejas variants are undertaking trials and that's a positive sign for the project," Dr Tamilmani said.
When specifically asked about the FOC dates getting postponed, the top DRDO brain said: "We are awaiting for some more components (nose cone quartz radome and the air-to-air refueling probe) to arrive. There is a delay from the part of getting them."
He said Tejas has proven multiple test-points related to its weapon release. "Functional aspects of the radar have been proved. Issues related to range will be fixed with the new radome," he added.
We will ramp up production: HAL
HAL Chairman Dr R K Tyagi said that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will ramp up the Tejas series production soon. "We are confident of increasing it from eight to 16 aircraft and we are in talks with the government. We hope the IAF order for Tejas goes up significantly from the current numbers," Dr Tyagi said.
He also demanded a level playing field for HAL when the Ministry of Defence invites competitive bids. "Everyone should be given an equal chance. The HTT-40 programme is a challenge to our prestige and pride," Dr Tyagi said, while releasing a new book on Tejas, IJT and Jaguar upgrade written by former LCA (Director) in HAL Yogesh Kumar. The book is titled: "Lead and Execute: The Art of Managing Large Scale Projects."
Our Take | OneIndia
* It is a matter of concern that Tejas deadlines are getting shifted again.
* MoD must bring in more synergy between HAL-ADA.
* Lessons learnt from Tejas Mk-1 must act as pointers for future projects like Tejas Mk-II (if IAF needs it), AMCA, UCAV etc.
* Emotions have no place when your fighter plane needs to gain combat-readiness as desired by the user.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)