In another step toward achieving final operational clearance, the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark-I has successfully conducted its first-ever mid-air refueling, the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement published today.
The Tejas LCA Mark-I conducted a number of “dry contact trials” with an Ilyushin Il-78MKI aerial refueling tanker on September 4 and 6 respectively, the statement reads. The successful “wet contact” trial was finally carried out on September 10 with an Tejas LCA Mark-I launched from Maharajpur Air Force Base (AFB) in Gwalior and a tanker aircraft launched from an IAF base in Agra.
A second Tejas LCA, flying in formation, “observed the exercise closely,” according to the MoD. The test was overseen by India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which, along with India’s state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has been developing the supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multirole light fighter aircraft since the early 1980s.
The Indian MoD called the test a “significant achievement.” The mid-air refueling capability for LCA is “a is a ‘force multiplier’ for the IAF, giving the aircraft the potential to stay airborne for much longer periods of time,” according to the press release.
“The enhanced range and endurance in air is expected to provide IAF a host of options in exploiting the operational potential of the LCA as well as to participate in international exercises without having to stage through several locations en route.”
As I noted in July:
The [Ministry of Defense] MoD first announced in 2011 that the Tejas LCA would be combat-ready by 2012. However, six years later the IAF flies 20 (…) Tejas LCA in initial operational configuration (the service’s minimum operational requirements).
The Indian Air Force placed an initial order for 40 Tejas LCA Mark-I with HAL. Moreover, in December 2017, the IAF issued a tender for the procurement of 83 additional Tejas LCA including 73 single-engine Tejas LCA Mark-IA and 10 tandem two-seat LCA trainer aircraft.
Additionally, I explained previously:
The IAF has listed several technical deficiencies found on the Tejas LCA Mark-I variant in 2017. These flaws will purportedly will be addressed in later variants of the aircraft, which will include 43 improvements over the existing version.
HAL is in the process of increasing production capacity from eight to 16 aircraft per year, although as of this July, the Indian aircraft maker has so far failed to meet the target of even producing eight Tejas LCA per year.
The aircraft has yet to achieve final operational clearance.
Tejas LCAs participated in the IAF’s Gaganshakti-2018 air combat exercise, which involved 1,100 aircraft and 15,000 military personnel. The aircraft’s principal air-to-air weapon will be the beyond-visual-range (BVR) I-Derby BVR air-to-air missile, which last test fired from a Tejas LCA in April. A simulated missile launch was also conducted during a demonstration flight in August.