By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: India's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas should have been ideally in the hands of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots by now as part of the much-awaited user trials. But, the programme has once again lived up to its now-famous reputation of being light, but late. It was exactly on January 10 last year, a sulking IAF gave the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) to Tejas with riders longer than the cables inside the aircraft! Unhappy with the platform, the IAF chose to grant Tejas only IOC-1 status, and wanted all pending concerns thrashed out.
Its designers – Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and manufacturers – Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) are struggling to push the last two limited series production (LSP-7 & 8) platforms into the flight-line, with many promised dates coming and going like day and night. These two aircraft are meant to be for user trials by IAF pilots.
Sources tell Express that the LSP-7 will fly in 'two weeks' with engine ground runs and low-speed taxi trials (LSTT) over. “We will have to do the high-speed taxi trials (HSTT) and then go for the first flight in two weeks' time. It's a final configuration aircraft and the integration of new systems are taking considerable time. Once the LSP-7 files, the LSP-8 too will follow suit,” ADA sources claimed.
The programme is closely monitored by the project management team from IAF and reviewed every month by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff. The IAF Chief too reviews the project once in three months in addition to regular day-to-day assessments by ADA, HAL. “To earn the complete IOC mandate, all open-ended problems need to be closed. Some are critical and time-consuming. Some more missiles need to be fired at different modes,” sources said.
IAF sources tell Express that Tejas will be granted the final IOC only when they are convinced that the aircraft is fit for Squadron flying and not for publicity shows. “There are some more weapon trials (air-to-ground) remaining. We are looking for a complete closure of development phase ahead of the final operational clearance,” sources said.
HAL defended the delays saying that they are genuine. “We have done an LSTT of LSP-7 in December and will go for another one. The fuel-leak and subsequent re-cabling are over and the LSP-7 will fly with some prototype systems. Once the IAF is convinced, we will have the same systems flying on LSP-8,” a senior HAL director said. The official said that the series production version of Tejas will be of new standards, incorporating the final configuration features.
Though the final IOC for Tejas is expected in June 2012, sources say that this could go well beyond October.
(Search 'Tejas IOC' on the blog for all previous reports.)