By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas programme is likely to get a boost with the Indian Air Force (IAF) appointing Air Cmdr Raghunathan Nambiar as the Commandant of Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE). Nambiar took charge on December 28 as the 20th Commandant of ASTE, picking up his next promotion as an Air Vice Marshal (AVM). Though the IAF is yet to issue an official communication, sources at the Air HQ confirm to Express that, the current ASTE Commandant Air Cmdr B.R. Krishna is now posted to National Defence College for a one-year course.
Nambiar, popularly known as Nambi among the IAF clan, was among the first Test pilots associated with the Tejas programme. During the maiden flight of Tejas on January 4, 2001, it was Nambiar who flew the lead chase Mirage aircraft, keeping a close watch on India's late, but light fighter jet. Tejas was then piloted by Wg Cdr Rajeev Kothiyal, now a commercial pilot and consultant to India's national aircraft programme.
Nambiar takes over the reins of ASTE as an AVM, following the Phase-II recommendations of the A V Singh Committee in 2008, opening up the promotional avenues among higher ranks in the IAF, the Indian Army and the Indian Navy. “The decision to raise the Commandant of ASTE to a 2-Star status (AVM) is part of IAF's rank upgradation process. Totally, six posts of Air Marshal and equivalent, 21 Air Vice Marshal and equivalent, 61 Air Commodore and equivalent and 415 Group Captain and equivalent are in this list,” sources said. The ASTE is among the the seven Test pilot schools in the world and the best one in South Asia.
Reacting to Nambiar's appointment, Kota Harinarayana, father of Tejas programme, felt that the timing was most-appropriate. “He is a brilliant pilot and a person committed to aviation technology. He is coming at a time, when we are talking in terms of creating a Squadron for Tejas. His presence in ASTE will be a boon to the programme,” Kota said.
Nambiar's flying partner during Tejas' early flight test days Wg Cdr (Retd) Rajeev Kothiyal, said that it is for the first time in the ASTE history that a Tejas Test pilot is appointed as the Commandant. “Nambiar is the right person to see that Tejas gets inducted expeditiously into the IAF. His presence will make all the difference in terms of smooth interaction between all the agencies involved with the programme,” he said.
The No 45 Tejas Squadron (Flying Daggers) will be first raised at ASTE in Bangalore, before re-locating it to Sulur in Coimbatore. The IAF pilots are awaiting the user trial version of the aircraft (LSP-7 & LSP-8), currently got stuck in a delayed production module.
(Copyright@The New Indian Express)