India has ruled out a foreign partnership to accelerate development of its long-delayed Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), with defence minister AK Antony saying the domestic agencies responsible for the programme are able to manage on their own.
"Currently, no need is felt for a strategic partner," he says. "Efforts are being made to accelerate the flight tests. Regular review meetings are being conducted involving the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Hindustan Aeronautics, the Indian air force and other concerned agencies to take collective decisions and co-ordination."
Antony says 48 billion rupees ($1.2 billion) has so far been spent on the LCA project, which was scheduled to deliver a single-seat fighter in 1993. However, this has now been pushed back to 2010 because of several technological setbacks and bureaucratic red tape.
The Aeronautical Development Agency says the next prototype to fly will be the two-seat trainer version designated PV-5. Assembly has been completed, and coupling and ground vibration tests are now being conducted. First flight is expected in June, it says.
This is the fifth LCA prototype to be assembled by HAL. Two technology demonstrators, three prototypes and one limited series production aircraft which first flew in 2007 have completed 829 flight tests between them.
The air force has so far committed to 40 LCAs, or two squadrons, to replace its ageing RSK MiG-21s. According to various reports, the service could eventually order up to 200 fighters and 20 trainers, with the Indian navy also keen on 40 naval variants to replace its British Aerospace Sea Harriers.
Delays to the LCA have affected the navy, with ongoing upgrades to its Harriers resulting in a shortage of aircraft that will ease only in 2009. HAL is leading the upgrades to equip the aircraft with Rafael Derby beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and a helmet-mounted sight. The Harriers serve on India's only aircraft carrier, INS Viraat.