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India’s Tejas launches first R-73 AAM

India's Tejas light combat aircraft has successfully fired the Vympel R-73 air-to-air missile for the first time, capping an important year for the long-delayed aircraft.

The launch was conducted from the Tejas LSP-4 test aircraft flying out of an Indian naval air station near the city of Goa. The test was monitored by a chase Tejas, which provided a real-time data and video link to a base station in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

"As a run-up to the impending initial operational clearance and release to service, a Tejas contingent has been operating from INS Hansa in Goa, conducting the last phase of flight trials," says India's Defence Research & Development Organisation. "One of the main objectives was clearing the firing envelope of air-to-air close combat missiles from the Tejas."

The Russian-made R-73 is an infrared-guided short-range missile. It is integrated with the Tejas's on-board digital stores management system, says the DRDO, with missile selection performed using the aircraft's high-resolution multifunction display.

The DRDO says the test's main objective was to gauge the effect of the launch on the Tejas aircraft itself. Key parameters the test considered were the safe separation of the missile, the effect, if any, of the missile plume on the aircraft's engines and composite structure, aircraft handling during missile release, and the functionality of the avionics and weapons systems.

The launch caps an eventful year for the long-delayed Tejas-programme. In early October General Electric defeated the Eurojet consortium in a contest to provide 99 F414-INS6 turbofan engines for a Tejas Mk II, following a selection decision by India's Aeronautical Development Agency.

New Delhi had previously ordered 41 less-powerful GE F404 engines to power early examples of the Tejas. Plans to field the Gas Turbine Research Establishment's indigenous Kaveri have suffered numerous delays, though the engine is now undergoing flight tests in Russia using an Ilyushin Il-76 transport as a testbed.

In July, a two-seat naval version of the Tejas was rolled out. To enable carrier operations it has strengthened landing gear and an arrestor hook. Additional control surfaces and a leading edge vortex controller will help reduce the fighter's required speed on approach to the vessel, and the front fuselage was changed to provide better visibility over the nose. At the time of the rollout the ADA said the navalised Tejas's first flight would take place by year-end, but this has yet to happen.

In March, India's first operational-standard Tejas made its maiden flight from Bangalore, reaching a speed of Mach 1.1. At that time, India's air force had committed to buying 40 Mk I examples of the Tejas.

According to the ADA web site, the Tejas has flown more than 1,450 test flights.

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