At a time when the Indian Air Force (IAF)'s shrinking squadron strength has emerged as a major problem, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has missed its delivery target of Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) for the year's first quarter, said reports.
This is a major worry as IAF is already down to 31 squadrons of fighter aircrafts against an authorisation of 42. To fight a two-front war, the IAF needs the optimum strength of 42-plus squadrons.
According to a Hindustan Times report, HAL has delivered only six LCAs to the IAF, missing its target of supplying 20 aircraft by the end of the year's first quarter.
"We are not getting as many jets as we would like. By now the first Tejas squadron should have inducted 20 planes...Six planes can hardly be called a squadron," the HT report quoted a person familiar with the Tejas program as saying.
Tejas is a single-seat, single-jet engine, a multirole light fighter designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The cost of operating a single-engine fighter is lesser than that of a double-engine fighter. IAF is also looking at indigenously developed Tejas fighter aircraft to increase its squadron strength.
Sometime back, reports had emerged that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was showing interest in Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters. The fifth-generation combat aircraft is designed to perform a ground attack and air superiority missions.
But on March 1, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa rubbished the reports and said that no such "request been made to the Americans."
Timeline of developments regarding Tejas' induction in IAF:
- In March 2005, the IAF placed an order for 20 aircraft, with a similar purchase of another 20 aircraft to follow. All 40 were to be equipped with the F404-GE-IN20 engine.
- In December 2006, a 14-member "LCA Induction Team" was formed at Bangalore to prepare the Tejas for service and assist with its induction into service.
- On 25 April 2007, the first Limited Series Production (LSP-1) Tejas performed its maiden flight, achieving a speed of Mach 1.1.
- In December 2009, the government-sanctioned ₹8,000 crore to begin production of the fighter for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy.
- On 10 January 2011, IOC, allowing IAF pilots to fly the Tejas, was awarded by then Defence Minister A K Antony to Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal P V Naik.
- HAL was instructed by the Indian government to strictly adhere to deadlines to ensure Initial Operational Clearance-II by the end of 2013 and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) by the end of 2014.
- On 20 December 2013, the IOC-II was issued, after which the aircraft was cleared to be flown by regular IAF pilots and begin induction into squadron service.
- The Final Operational Clearance (FOC) campaign began in December 2013, with three aircraft from Tejas flight-line successfully completing advanced weapon trials.
- In May 2015, the Mark I aircraft was criticized by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for not meeting IAF requirements.
- In October 2015, IAF Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha confirmed that the air force had ordered 120 (six squadrons) of Tejas Mark 1A, triple the 40 aircraft it had previously committed to buying.
- On 26 February 2016, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in the Lok Sabha that the Indian Air Force will accept three to four Tejas this year and stand up a total of eight squadrons in eight years.
- In November 2017, it was reported that the Indian Air Force told the government that the Tejas is inadequate for the single-engined fighter program with insufficient flight endurance, smaller payload capacity, increased maintenance hours, and higher costs for maintenance compared to other contender aircraft.
- In February 2018, refuelling of Tejas with the engine running-known as "hot refuelling"-was carried out.