The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) third series production Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), dubbed Tejas-SP3, successfully completed its first maiden flight in Bangalore on September 28, according to local media reports.
The sortie lasted for 15 minutes, during which the flight performance of the aircraft was tested. “The flight was restricted to just 15 minutes due to low-hanging clouds, but it was enough to profile it in detail,” said Gopal Suttar, spokesman for Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL). The initial plan was to fly longer.
Two more crucial test flights are planned in the coming days before the aircraft will be handed over to the IAF. The new aircraft is slated to join the two other Tejas LCA currently in service with the IAF in this year’s 84th IAF Day parade on October 8 at Hindon in the outskirts of New Delhi.
In July, the IAF stood up its first Tejas LCA squadron, the Flying Tigers 45 LCA squadron, consisting of two fighter jets in Bengaluru. Once handed over to the IAF, the Tejas-SP3 will join the squadron, which eventually will be permanently based in Sulur, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu in the south of the country.
The Tejas supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multirole light fighter aircraft has been under development since 1983 by the Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with HAL in order to replace the IAF’s aging fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-23 aircraft with a domestically designed and produced light fighter jet.
The IAF plans to induct a total of 20 Tejas Mark-I aircraft by early 2018. The Mark-I variant, including the first operational Tejas LCA, suffered from a number of technical shortfalls, according to a May 2015 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India — the Indian government’s principal oversight body —including inadequate electronic warfare capabilities, problems with the onboard radar system, and reduced internal-fuel capacity.
According to IAF sources, some of these technical deficiencies have been addressed in the Mark-I aircraft currently in service with the IAF and also in the latest Tejas fighter jet slated to join service in a few days. As I reported previously, the IAF abandoned “plans to develop an upgraded Mark-II Tejas LCA and instead will field an improved Mark-I Tejas LCA — dubbed Tejas Mark-IA — in which the technical problems of the Mark-I version outlined in the May 2015 government report will be addressed.”
As of now, the IAF plans to induct a total of 100 Tejas Mark-IA aircraft. “We are ready to take more — 120 (fighters), six squadrons of Tejas… We are ready to take it as soon as they (HAL) can provide it. That means they have to ramp up the production rate, which is running behind schedule… But we will take all 120,” IAF Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said in October 2015.
A Tejas Mark-I LCA participated in this year’s Iron Fist live fire exercise, which took place in the Thar Desert in Pokhran, Rajasthan in northwestern India. India is also working on two naval prototypes of the Tejas LCA for its first 65,000-ton supercarrier, the INS Vishal, the second ship of the Vikrant-class (See: “Naval Version of India’s Light Combat Aircraft Successfully Completes Flight Tests”).