New Delhi: The indigenously-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas, received around 10 concessions, which enabled it to get the final operational clearance (FOC) last month, ThePrint has learnt.
The FOC was granted during the Aero India Show at Bengaluru in February, allowing the aircraft to be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF). Production, however, has already been delayed by seven years.
Highly-placed sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint that the drop tank (external fuel tanks) and other weapon configurations in the aircraft are yet to be cleared while the airframe fatigue test is still underway.
These are some of the 10 concessions granted to Tejas with regard to the FOC.
The number of concessions is significant as the much-delayed fighter jet is being inducted into the IAF to boost its depleting squadron strength. They are set to replace the ageing MiG-21 fleet.
In military industry parlance, concessions are those requirements that could be included at a later stage, in the final make of the aircraft, when feasible.
An officer involved in the Tejas programme, on condition of anonymity, however, said these concessions do not comprise structural changes to the aircraft. But the officer did say that “the airframe fatigue test is in progress and will take some time”.
The airframe fatigue test is a crucial test to determine the strength of an aircraft. It entails hanging a fully-loaded aircraft for a certain number of hours.
HAL spokesperson Gopal Sutar told ThePrint that given the complex eco-system of defence manufacturing, concessions are a norm in the aerospace industry.
“HAL manufactures products based on mutually approved terms with its customers,” Sutar said. “In case of LCA Tejas, multiple partners are involved in its design and production and hence we cannot comment on concessions that may not imply to us directly at this stage.”
A project of concessions and waivers
When the LCA Tejas had got the initial operational clearance (IOC) in December 2013, the number of concessions was around 32, sources said.
In July 2018, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found “53 significant shortfalls” in the Mark-I version of the Tejas (weaponised version), which “had reduced its operational capabilities and survivability”.
Among these concessions, the CAG had pointed out the lack of a trainer model of the aircraft which would adversely impact pilot training, and said that the LCA Mark- I fails to meet the electronic warfare capabilities as the self-protection Jammer could not be fitted on the aircraft due to space constraints and about the poor percentage of indigenous content in the aircraft.
The LCA Tejas project has also been given as many as 22 waivers from 1985 when the IAF’s air staff requirement for the aircraft was put out. Unlike concessions, waivers are requirements that have been permanently waived.
Project has led to HAL sparring with IAF
The IAF and the HAL have been at loggerheads over the LCA project, with the aircraft manufacturer claiming that a reason for the delay in the project is because of periodic requests for upgrades from the IAF.
Last year, the Minister of State in Ministry of Defence Dr Subhash Bhamre had told Parliament that the FOC was initially planned by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) for December 2012 but that could not be achieved.
The delays in attaining the FOC was attributed to a delay in the finalisation of air-to-air refuelling contract, challenges faced in the integration of air-to-air refuelling probe and associated major hardware (structural modification) and software (flight control software) modification and flight testing among others.
The advanced features of the FOC aircraft include beyond visual range missile capabilities, air-to-air refuelling, air-to-ground FOC earmarked advanced weapons and delivery system, an official statement had stated.
The grant of the FOC was hailed as a milestone for the LCA Tejas. Till date, out of 16 IOC fighter aircraft, 10 fighters have been delivered by HAL and are operational with IAF’s 45 Squadron.
The IAF is looking at inducting 12 squadrons of the LCA, including Tejas Mark IA and Mark II.
Around 20 of these aircraft are to be in the FOC configuration and 83 of the Mark 1A make. The IAF, however, is still to order the 83 aircraft.
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