The stunning manoeuvres and breathtaking aerial exercises by Tejas at Bahrain air show have made a lasting impression on the experts
Bharat’s home grown, four plus generation supersonic Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, a world class tactical fighter with a formidable array of weapons, made its impressive foray at Bahrain International Air Show held from January 21 to 23, leaving the visitors enthralled and spell bound. Indeed, this is for the first time that a Bharateeya made fighter jet has demonstrated its prowess at an international arena. By all means, the stunning manoeuvres and breathtaking aerial exercises by Tejas at Bahrain air show have made a lasting impression on the defence experts present at the show. “We had only heard about the Tejas combat aircraft earlier. We are happy with the way it demonstrated its capability, and its international debut was here in Bahrain. It’s a winner by any standard,” said Bahrain official immediately after the aircraft gave a stunning flight demonstration. As it is, the impressive debut of Tejas described as world smallest lightweight multi role fighter aircraft at the Bahrain air show marks the beginning of efforts to market Tejas across the world. Tejas is a tailless, delta winged and aerodynamically unstable fighter aircraft.
“Our aim is to ensure we have a quality product—not just for indigenous reputation but also for exports,” observed S Christopher, Director General of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Incidentally, Tejas project was spearheaded by the Bengaluru based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which was specially put in place by DRDO, to fast track the development of this first combat aircraft of the country, literally from scratch.
Going specific T Suvarna Raju, Chairman of the state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which has initiated the process for the routine production of the fighter to meet the needs of the Indian Air Force (IAF), was quick to point out that queries for the possible export have been received. “The series production of Tejas has started. We are increasing the capacity from eight to sixteen per annum. We will be rolling out them in good numbers,” quoted Suvarna Raju. He also stated that the first upgraded Tejas with an improved radar, missile systems and mid air refuelling capability will be made available to IAF in the beginning 2018. IAF, in all, plans to procure 120 Tejas. While the first squadron of Tejas made up of 20 fighters will be based on the original version, rest of the 100 will have vastly improved features good enough to make them a formidable front line fighter aircraft formation of IAF.
It was a master stroke by the Narendra Modi-led Government that brought LCA Tejas into the centre stage of the procurement by IAF. By giving a decent burial to the prohibitively costly proposal to buy 126 fighters under the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contest and going in for the outright purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft under a government to government deal to meet the immediate operational needs of IAF, decks have been cleared for the large scale induction of Tejas into the squadrons of IAF in a phased manner. Indeed, during the two successive spells of the United Progressive Alliance, the powerful import lobby supported to hilt by the corrupt ruling party politicians had tried to ground the LCA Tejas project. A massive vilification campaign was launched to leave an impression that at best Tejas can be a technology demonstrator and as such was not fit to be a part of the frontline formation of IAF.
By all means, Tejas is much superior in terms of its combat capability to the JF-17 Chinese origin fighter that is also co-produced by Pakistan. Sometime back Pakistan has claimed that JF-17 would be bought by an Asian country without naming the nation. Sri Lanka, which was considered a potential buyer, had declined that it is the buyer of JF-17. Indeed through pro-active measures, Tejas can be exported worldwide in large numbers after it is inducted into IAF. The Bharateeya Government’s commitment of turning Bharat into a defence exporter from being an importer now is beyond any shadow of doubt.
Taken up for development in early 1980s as a replacement to Mig-21 Soviet era fighter aircraft with IAF, the task of building a combat aircraft—that too literally from scratch—equipped with a fly by wire system, state of the art open architecture for avionics and best weapons was far from easy and smooth. To begin with, behind the scene manoeuvres by the import lobby, lack of industrial support, poor availability of the man power conversant with the nitty gritty of a fighter aircraft as well as the trade sanction imposed on Bharat in the wake of 1998 Pokhran nuclear blasts by Bharat all conspired to slow down the pace of project. But then sheer perseverance and grit of ADA under the leadership of never say die Kota Harinarayana described as the Bhishma Pitamaha of LCA Tejas made the project a reality much to the
disappointment of critics who were brain washed to hold on to the belief that Bharat cannot build a world class fighter aircraft.
Perhaps the brightest spot in the saga of Tejas development is that there has not been a single mishap or accident during the countless qualification trials of the aircraft in various parts of the country under varying
climatic and environmental conditions.
The most noteworthy contribution of Tejas lies in the fact that it would pave way for the development of more advanced fighters and in the process end Bharat’s dependence on imported fighter aircraft whose acquisition makes for huge outgo of valuable foreign exchange and adds to the Bharateeya dependence on the foreign vendors for maintenance of imported fighting machines.
Bharat is now in a position to take up the challenge of building a fifth generation advanced combat aircraft. The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) that will be developed as a follow on to Tejas LCAD will be single seat, twin engine air superiority fighter with multi role capability, stealth features and the latest genre integrated condition monitoring system. It is planned to power AMCA with an augmented version of the home grown Kaveri engine.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer is a freelancer who writes on Science, Tech & Defence related issues)