LCA Tejas: How long & how much did it cost to develop India’s first domestic fighter aircraft?

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HAL Tejas India’s first self-made fighter aircraft, single engine, delta wing, light multirole fighter designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in collaboration with Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC) of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy.

It is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary supersonic combat aircraft. It is also one of the most composite fighter containing 45% composites (mostly carbon-epoxy) by weight contributing to its reputation as the world’s smallest light weight fighter aircraft.

The LCA programme began in the 1980s to replace India’s ageing MiG-21 fighters but later became part of a general fleet modernisation programme to become more self-reliant by reducing the country’s dependence on foreign imports for its aerial arsenal.

The Indian Armed Forces’ inventory of fixed-wing and rotary-wing military aircraft comes from a hodgepodge of 11 different foreign countries, including France, Russia, and the U.S. The most advanced of these is Dassault Rafale F3R currently India has 36. While the Sukhoi Su-30 “Flanker-H.” is the backbone of IAF India currently has 272 of these aircraft.

As stated by HAL’s official website: “Tejas is a single engined, light weight, highly agile, multi-role supersonic fighter. It has quadruplex digital fly-by-wire Flight Control System (FCS) with associated advanced flight control laws. The aircraft with delta wing is designed for ‘air combat’ and ‘offensive air support’ with ‘reconnaissance’ and ‘anti-ship’ as its secondary roles. Extensive use of advanced composites in the airframe gives a high strength to weight ratio, long fatigue life and low radar signatures. Aeronautical Development Agency is the designated project manager for the development of LCA.

The Tejas indeed turned out to be the world’s smallest and lightest supersonic combat aircraft. The warbird is 13.2 meters in length and 4.4 meters tall, with a wingspan of 8.2 meters, and it has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.5 tons. This slim & trim fighter zips along at a max airspeed of Mach-1.6 (1,980 kilometers per hour).

Armament consists of a single GSh-23 23mm twin-barrel cannon, and eight hardpoints with a capacity of 5,300 kilograms’-worth of bombs or missiles such as the Russian R-73, Derby, domestic Astra, or the Israeli Python-5.

Tejas Light Combat Aircraft first flight
Tejas Light Combat Aircraft first flight

Though the Tejas made its maiden flight on Jan. 4, 2001 — piloted by now-retired Wing Comm. Rajiv Kothiyal — a seemingly endless series of bureaucratic snafus prevented the warbird from reaching operational status until Jan. 17, 2015. Mind you, even that maiden flight was the culmination of a series of long delays. The LCA project was established in 1983, and the project definition phase began in October 1986.

Harrison adds, “To address the lack of combat endurance, the Tejas was modified to include onboard fuel monitoring with an Integrated Environmental Control and Fuel Management (ECFM) system. Plus, the Tejas can now refuel with the Ilyushin II-78 tanker or the Sukhoi Su-30. New variants of the Tejas are expected to enter production in 2023-24 – and should complement the domestically-built advanced fighters that were announced this week, whenever those happen to be completed.”

Indeed, India takes nearly 40 years to develop its first fighter aircraft. But you have to understand it’s not easy to develop a fighter aircraft and it more harder when you make it for the first time. Even US also take 20 years to develop the F-22 Raptor and Russia is struggling to make the Su-57 perfect.

Tejas fighter aircraft
Tejas fighter aircraft of Indian air force

On LCA Programme India spend ₹9,063.96 crore (US$1.1 billion) up to March 2020 which is too low compared to other fighter development costs like the USA and its allies burn 50 billion USD to develop F-35 aircraft. The unit cost of Tejas FOC version is only $37 million while MK1A will cost $38 million and export variant will cost around $42 millions.

By far 32 Tejas Mk1 FOC  and IOC single seaters were produced ; 30 were delivered to IAF. Production of 18 Trainers ongoing. 4 to be delivered this year and remaining next year.

Indian Air Force has already given a commitment to the induction of six squadrons of Light Combat Aircraft Mark 2 fighter jets. We will decide on additional numbers once the production of these aircraft starts, said IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, as reported by ANI.

Tejas MK1A
Tejas MK1 FOC version

Along with that IAF is also committed to inducting at least 7 Squadrons of the 5th Gen AMCA which is progressing very well. In the future IAF will be equipped with LCA Tejas MK1A, Tejas MK2, and AMCA along with the 114 MRFA.

Tejas mk2 is also known as the Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) aircraft. It’s highly likely that it will get a totally new name in the upcoming period. It is going to be a single engine, 4.5 generation fighter aircraft. MWF will have many state-of-the-art technologies integrated with it. It is going to be the mainstay of the IAF in the future.

The Tejas Mk2 variant is currently slated to make her maiden flight in 2023 and to officially enter into Indian military service in 2026. Time will tell if the sequel meets deadlines any better than the original.

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