Bangalore: Nearly three decades after it was conceptualised, the country`s first indigenous combat jet on Monday received its initial operational clearance, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) saying it would form its first squadron of the fighter in 2013.
The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) "is expected to get the final operational clearance (FOC) in the next two years for induction and formation of its squadron by 2013 or early 2014," the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Naik said.
He was speaking after the initial operational clearance (IOC) for the aircraft was accorded with Defence Minister AK Antony handing over a formal "Release to Service Certificate".
The squadron, with the initial order of 20 fighters, will be located at the IAF`s Salur air base near Coimbatore in southern Tamil Nadu as a frontline aerial combat vehicle.
At an estimated cost of Rs 190 crore (USD 42 million) per aircraft, the Mark-I variant of the lean and mean flying machine would cost the exchequer about Rs 3,800 crore for the first squadron.
"The cost of the Tejas trainer variant and Mark II version with enhanced engine (GE-414) will be about Rs 210 crore each and Rs 4,200 crore for the second lot of 20 jets for the second squadron," state-run aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) chairman and managing director Ashok Nayak told reporters later.
Antony handing over the service certificate of Tejas marked India`s entry into the elite club of a few countries with the capability to manufacture combat aircraft from scratch.
The supersonic fourth generation fighter will form a 200-strong fleet for the IAF to replace its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 fleet and increase the squadron strength to 10 as a potent strike force over the next two decades.
"This is a momentous occasion that the nation has been waiting for towards building our own multirole combat aircraft," a beaming Antony said on the historic occasion at the HAL airport in this aerospace hub.
Noting that a state-of-the-art indigenous combat aircraft would go a long way in enhancing national security and the pride of the nation, Antony said that the country was poised for a major turning point with the IOC for Tejas.
"The certification process by the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (Cemilac) has evolved the roadmap for release to service certification," Antony said.
The IOC involved specific processes, including validation tests to determine the aircraft`s various operational functions, including avionics, sub-systems, thrust, aerodynamics, propulsion and radar.
"This is the first time an indigenously designed and developed military fighter aircraft has been certified for air force operations," state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) official K Jayaprakash Rao said here.
The fly-by-wire Tejas, which was beset with chronic delays and cost over-runs since 1983, has been developed by the state-run Aeronautical Defence Agency (ADA) and manufactured by HAL in its Bangalore complex in partnership with a host of defence R&D establishments and other private aerospace firms.
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 Rs 12,000 crore, twice the initial cost in the mid-1980s.
HAL "will start delivering the full-fledged aircraft with weapons from 2013 onwards for induction and operation as part of the IAF fleet," Antony said.
The ADA and HAL conducted 1,500 test flights involving 11 aircraft, including five prototypes in the past decade after its maiden flight Jan 4, 2001 as a technology demonstrator.
Powered by the F404-GE-IN20 engine from the US-based General Electric as the indigenously developed Kaveri engine is still in development, the single-seater Tejas has been built with carbon composites and boasts of unstable aerodynamic configuration, quadruplex digital flight control system, glass cockpit and digital avionics for multirole capabilities with carefree manouevering.
The aircraft is capable of carrying assorted weapon loads and drop tanks on eight hard points.
"The indigenization level in Tejas is currently around 65 percent and will be scaled to 75-80 percent when production will be expanded to meet the IAF combat needs," VK Saraswat, scientific adviser to the defence minister pointed out.