India's Tejas light combat aircraft is entering a crucial test phase, with manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics aiming to hand over the first limited series production aircraft to the nation's defence ministry by the end of 2009.
The programme's second and third prototypes, PV-2 and PV-3, are scheduled to begin armament trials in November at Jaisamler in Rajastan state and Jamnagar in Gujarat, although details of the weapons systems involved have not been disclosed. The aircraft will then undergo cold weather trials in December and January, with these likely to take place at Leh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. The first limited series production aircraft, LSP-1, could also join these trials, says HAL.
In March and April next year, all three aircraft will take part in hot weather trials at Nagpur in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, possibly joined by LSP-2, which has just begun flying.
"These tests are key milestones, and we are confident that the aircraft will do well," says HAL. "We hope to hand over LSP-1 soon after all of these are completed, proving that the Tejas is on its way towards becoming an integral part of the Indian air force."
India's Aeronautical Development Agency, which is responsible for the LCA's development, had completed 934 test flights by 16 October. This total includes 520 sorties flown by two technology demonstrators and 175 by the first prototype, PV-1. The aircraft are unlikely to be involved in further tests. PV-2 has meanwhile completed 105 tests, PV-3 96, LSP-1 27 and LSP-2 11.
The ADA is also working on PV-5, which will be the prototype of a two-seat trainer version of the Tejas. Studies are also continuing on a naval variant, although the production of a prototype is still some time off.
The ADA had hoped to have the Tejas in service with the air force by early this decade, but design and performance issues and problems with the development of the aircraft's indigenous Gas Turbine Research Establishment Kaveri engine have caused lengthy delays. The Tejas currently uses one General Electric F404-IN20 engine, but the ADA is expected to choose a replacement between GE's F414 and the Eurojet EJ200 in the coming year. Its initial order will be for 80 engines and an option for 80 more, with the majority to be licence-produced in India.
India's air force has ordered a squadron of 20 LCAs, which should enter service in 2011. Defence minister A K Antony recently reaffirmed the government's commitment to the project, and said the air force should in time order enough aircraft to equip another seven squadrons.