Bangalore: India`s long-delayed, indigenously-developed, multi-role combat aircraft Tejas will join the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Monday for initial operational clearance (IOC) in this aerospace hub.
Considered to be the world`s smallest military aircraft with a single seat, Tejas will form a 200-strong fleet for the IAF to replace the ageing Russian made MiG-21 fleet, a senior official said here.
Defence Minister AK Antony will hand over the service certificate of Tejas to Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal PV Naik to enable IAF fighter pilots to fly the light combat aircraft (LCA) for final operational clearance and its induction as the country`s potent strike force by 2012, the official told a news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The fly-by-wire supersonic fighter, which took over a generation in the making with chronic delays and cost escalations, has been developed by the state-run Aeronautical Defence Agency (ADA) and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bangalore.
The successive delays caused by multiple factors, including sanctions by the US over a decade ago against India for conducting the second nuclear test in May 1998, led the project cost to rise to a whopping R 5,778 crore from the initial estimate of Rs 3,300 crore in the mid-1980s.
"Initially pilots fly four aircraft to check all its parametres, including flight controls, Mach speed and weaponisation for FOC and induction into the fleet as frontline fighter jets," the officer said.
Under the limited series production, HAL is manufacturing eight aircraft for clearance flights and will take up the Air Force`s initial order to deliver 20 jets to form the first Tejas squadron. It will be based at the Sulur air base near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
The IAF has also placed an additional order in 2010 for 20 more Tejas for the second squadron to be raised at Kayathir near Tuticorin in the southern state where the Air Force is setting up a new base this decade.
"The Tejas handing over will be another red letter day for the Indian aerospace industry a decade after its first prototype made a maiden flight Jan 4, 2001," former ADA director Kota Harinarayan recalled.
The lean and mean flying machine is powered by the F404-GE-IN20 engine from the US-based General Electric as the indigenously developed Kaveri engine is still undergoing advance trials.
The last test flight of the aircraft was carried out Dec 15 at the new aeronautical test range of DRDO at Chitradurga in central Karnataka, about 200 km from here, when its advanced prototype vehicle (PV-5) dropped a bomb successfully on target.
A naval version of the LCA for aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy is also under development.