There's been a typical but welcome flurry of dates and excitement about the Light Combat Aircraft, which usually happens when there's a change of guard at the DRDO. First, Defence Minister AK Antony on May 29 declared that certification
of the platform needed to speeded up so that it was delivered to the Indian Air Force, fully cleared, by the end of next year. Then, with the change of guard at the DRDO, there was talk of moving up the IOC-2 deadline
to September-October this year. I hate to be a stick in the mud, believe me, but I think we can all be pretty clear that 30 years have proven how futile it is talking dates and deadlines when it comes to the Tejas. Instead of getting swept away by illusory milestones, it's important to quietly finish the job and deliver. It stopped being a joke over a decade ago. Now, here's a quick round-up of the latest developments:
- As on June 9, the Tejas programme has logged 2193 flights, which includes six flights by the latest airframe, the LSP-8 that flew first in March this year.
- On May 29, Defence Minister A.K. Antony declared that the Tejas needed to be available to the Indian Air Force by the end of next year at all costs. Sources say that Antony doesn't want any more requests for project extension on the programme and wants final operational clearance by November-December 2014 "no matter what".
- With IOC-1 achieved in January 2011, the programme has struggled and floundered for over two years, and will be looking to complete IOC-2 only by November-December this year, as against an official target of June. (The DRDO's new chief Avinash Chander, sources say, has appointed a special unofficial board of his own appointees who will supervise all aspects of work on the Tejas and report to him every 48 hours on progress. Five of these officials will be based out of Bangalore.)
- Apart from a host of test parameters -- at least 1,250 test points, according to the latest progress review report -- that need to be met, the Tejas needs a new radome (reported first on Livefist), since the current one has deficient electromagnetic performance, isn't fully lightning protected and allows a measure of rainwater ingress, causing the Israeli multimode radar to go glitchy.
- The parameters that need clearance for IOC-2 include wake penetration, lightning clearance, all-weather clearance among a host of others. My sources indicate to me that all-weather clearance has been achieved, not the other two.
- Parameters such as handling/speed at low altitudes and sustained turn rate have been sorted out to the satisfaction of the IAF as far as the Mk.1 airframe is concerned.
- The bridge between IOC-2 and FOC will include the following: integration of beyond visual range weapons, gun, rockets, guided and unguided bombs, and the further expansion of its flight envelope to -3.5 to 8G (-2 to 6G for IOC-2) and 24-degrees angle of attack (22 for IOC-2).
The LCA Navy, as I've reported here before, is on the drawing board for a re-designed landing gear that's seeing a deep degree of involvement by EADS. It's only had four flights, the last one in July last year. More on that soon.