India is to induct two squadrons of the long-delayed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft from 2010, with up to six squadrons possible if the first batch impress in operations.
The decision is a shot in the arm for the programme, which national research organisation Aeronautical Development Agency developed and state-owned contractor Hindustan Aeronautics is responsible for production.
The long-delayed and much derided aircraft was to enter service early this decade, but design and performance issues and problems with the development of an indigenous engine have delayed it.
“There were hitches in the past but in the tests that we have been doing over the last few months indicate that those have been resolved. The programme was streamlined and it is a much better aircraft now. We are confident that it can serve our needs,” says Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, Chief of Air Staff, at the Singapore Airshow.
The induction of the LCA, a replacement for India’s aging MiG fighters such as the MiG-21s that is scheduled to be retired in 10 years, will boost the service’s operational capability.
The programme’s problems and delays in the progress of a tender to select 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), led some analysts to say that the Indian Air Force’s operational capability could soon fall below optimal levels.
New Delhi has tried to overcome this by ordering additional Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters that are licence-produced in India by HAL.
Responses to the request for proposals (RFP) for the MRCA competition will be submitted in the first week of March, and ACM Major says that the first aircraft will be delivered in 2012.
“As the Chief, I’m in a hurry to rejuvenate the service as soon as possible,” he adds. “I will do my darnest to ensure that we keep to that schedule.”
The Boeing F/A-18E/F, Lockheed Martin F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon, RAC MiG-35, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen are in contention for the $12-15 billion contract, an indication that India seeks to move away from its traditional dependence on Russian arms.
The relationship with Moscow, however, remains strong through joint programmes to develop a Medium Transport Aircraft and fifth generation fighter.
“The relationship with Russia is excellent, they have been very good friends. But the political imperatives of the past that dictated that we source almost everything from them has changed.
That’s good for India, which has top companies from around the world keen to do business with us. It leaves us in a good position to get the best deal,” says ACM Major.