Bangalore: Marking a milestone in India`s military aviation, the indigenously-built Light Combat Aircraft Tejas on Friday received initial clearance for induction into the Air Force, 30 years after the sanction of the programme estimated to cost around Rs 25,000 crore.
The single-engine light weight state-of-the-art fighter aircraft will replace the ageing fleet of MiG 21s from the IAF and will be fully operational after attaining the `Final Operational Clearance` (FOC) scheduled for the end of 2014.
Defence Minister AK Antony handed over the 500-page `Release to Service Certificate` of the aircraft to IAF Chief NAK Browne marking the country`s elevation into the select club of nations with capability to produce fighter aircraft.
"During the last three years, the capabilities of the aircraft have been improved significantly. In recognition of the enhanced capabilities, IAF has decided to grant it a higher status, namely, the IOC-II for induction into the service," Antony said.
IOC II signifies that the multi-role single engine light weight fighter is airworthy in different conditions and can now be flown by regular IAF pilots, but it will have to pass several key tests before receiving the FOC.
"After the test now, next is induction. Our Air Force will induct two squadrons of Mark 1 (of Tejas). It will start 2015 onwards," Antony told reporters here. The FOC would come next year which would be "critical", he said.
"It is a great day for India today," the minister said while admitting that due to time and cost overruns, he had his "share of anxieties regarding the future of LCA when he had taken over as the Defence Minister in 2006."
"But today we are putting behind the moments of self doubt, frustrations and setbacks which we as a nation have gone through in the last 30 years," he said.
The project was sanctioned in 1983 at a cost of Rs 560 crore, but the overall project cost of the programme including its naval and trainer variants would come to around Rs 25,000 crore. The DRDO has claimed that the IAF version of the LCA has cost around Rs 8,000 crore.
Antony said the improvements in the LCA have enhanced the
flight envelope of the aircraft and also its weapon delivery and its performance at recent exercises including Iron Fist at Jaisalmer and the recent missile firing at Goa are examples of such improvements.
"The number of flights nearing 500 within this year provides an indication of this. Operating at IAF bases namely, Jamnagar, Jaisalmer, Uttarlai, Gwaliar, Goa, Leh, Pathankot, the aircraft on occasions has flown thrice on the same day, indicating the operational reliability of this home-bred fighter aircraft," he said.
The Defence Minister said there were several new projects which will give a major boost to military aviation in the country.
The programmes include the LCA Mk2 variants of Navy and IAF, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, Unmanned Air Systems, Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and Medium Transport Aircraft.
"This day marks a historic milestone and signifies India`s entry into a select group of nations capable of designing their own state-of-the-art fighter aircraft," IAF Chief NAK Browne said in his speech.
He said it was a proud day for the nation as the grant of IOC acknowledges the capabilities of this aircraft and paves the way for the induction of LCA Mk 1 into operational service.
"The progress of such a challenging experimental project without any accident or major incident is unprecedented in the history of aviation," he said.
The IAF chief, who will retire on December 31, said, "He would have gone home as a disappointed person if the IOC of the LCA had not been achieved."