India's Light Combat Aircraft
India’s fighter strength has been declining in recent years, as the MiG-21s that form the largest component of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Some MiG-21s are being modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, while other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs in order to maintain the fighter force until replacements can arrive. On which note, an ongoing tender has Russian, French, American, Swedish and European manufacturers dueling for the MMRCA, a multi-billion dollar, 126+ plane light-medium fighter sale.
This still leaves India without a low-end solution to the twin problems besetting its overall fleet: numbers, and age. The MiG-21bis program adds years of life to those airframes, but that extended lifespan is still quite finite; by 2020, it is very unlikely that any MiG-21s will remain. MMRCA may replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but that still leaves replacement of the MiG-21 fleet. Hence the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project’s importance to the Indian Air Force’s future prospects. Choices made in the LCA’s design will also affect the lightweight fighter’s export potential, which feeds back into the overall program’s lifetime costs and viability. As time presses, however, India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft.
In 1990, based on a project definition document ADA told MOD that it would take seven years and Rs.4,000 crore to develop the LCA. The programme began in 1993 when the Government of India decided to support the technology development for the aircraft, which was completed in March 2004.
The first Technology Demonstrator for flight took place earlier, in January 2001.
Tejas was conceived and developed as a fourth generation aircraft with
- Fly-by-wire flight control systems
- Unstable aerodynamics
- Glass cockpit incorporating the latest all-digital open architecture avionics systems. Head-up display, active matrix multi-function displays and helmet-mounted display are integrated
- Advanced composite materials for the airframe
- Computer-based control of all electromechanical systems.
As on February 17, the Tejas had flown more than 1,550 flights. There have been no incidents at all.
Tejas has been flown successfully in extreme conditions – in Nagpur during peak summer at a searing 48° Celsius and in the rarefied heights of Leh at −28° C.
Flight testing of Tejas started in January 2001.
A total of 11 Tejas aircraft were flying as on November 19, 2010, including five LSP aircraft built at HAL.
LSP-5 made its maiden flight on November 19, 2010. It features internal cockpit lighting for night flying, a new communication set similar to that on the Dhruv chopper, and an autopilot developed by NAL.
The LSP-5 represents the final configuration of the Tejas aircraft.
LSP-6 will be a test vehicle for high angle of attack.