By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) wait to induct the Tejas might get bit longer till the four series production (SP) aircraft roll out from the brand new hangars of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). While today’s second initial operational clearance (IOC-2) will signal the end of a grueling wait for the IAF to officially undertake flight evaluation trials, the formation of No 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers) earmarked for Tejas might take another two more years. The same squadron last flew the MiG 21 Bison aircraft operating from Naliya (Gujarat), an airfield closer to Karachi. The Tejas squadron will eventually be operating from the Sulur air force base, near Coimbatore.
Sources monitoring the Tejas programme said that, HAL’s promise of delivering the first production variant of Tejas (SP-1) by March 2014 might be little far-fetched. “We hope to have the first aircraft by end by mid of 2014. The first two aircraft (SP-1, SP-2) might not meet our standards for squadron formation as the metal cutting and hardware were done before we froze the IOC-2 test points. We will raise the first Tejas squadron with four aircraft starting from SP-3 to SP-6,” a top source said. The IAF will use SP-1 and SP-2 for evaluation flight to be undertaken by the Test pilots of Aircraft System and Testing Establishment (ASTE). The limited series production variants LSP-7 and LSP-8 too will be used for evaluation flights by IAF.
The IAF has already identified the first Commanding Officer for Tejas Squadron, now part of the ASTE team, but he’s yet to fly the Tejas. More officers are expected to join the squadron soon, with only few technicians currently being trained to handle the aircraft. For IAF, the maintainability of Tejas is the most primary concern. “The hardware-related issues need to be fixed first. The software can be upgraded without much delay. The critical factor for any aircraft is its maintainability. Truly speaking, before the IOC event, all hardware must be finalized, which might not still be the case with Tejas,” the source said.
A programme management team from the IAF sits at the Aeronautical Development Agency to ensure that the Tejas comes out as a ‘usable aircraft’ befitting the squadron standards. HAL will deliver first 20 aircraft in IOC configuration and another 20 more in the final operational clearance (FOC) format. Appreciating the safety features of the aircraft, the official said that notwithstanding the delays, the safety features of Tejas was world class. “We are way ahead of F-22, Rafale and Eurofighter. We are very lucky to have a safe Tejas flying today. All other similar programmes had crashes during developmental phase. It is a very creditable achievement,” the official said.
Preparations in Sulur are going as per plans with the engine test bed already being readied. The IAF is awaiting the release of Rs 580 crore from the Ministry of Defence to undertake infrastructure work like taxi tracks, hangars and squadron complex. The IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne on Wednesday (18 December) reviewed the progress of Tejas base in Sulur, during his visit to Thiruvananthapuram.
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