Indigenous combat jet to enter service in 2011

October 25th, 2008 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Oct 25 (IANS) An indigenous combat jet that has been 26 years in the making will enter squadron service with the Indian Air Force (IAF) by 2011, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Saturday, even as he admitted to glaring gaps in the country’s radar surveillance cover.”There is no question of abandoning the LCA (light combat aircraft) programme. I am confident that by the end of 2010, the LCA will get its final operational clearance and the first deliveries will be made in 2011,” Antony told reporters after reviewing the aircraft building activities of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd here.

The IAF planned to induct seven squadrons of 20 aircraft each of the Tejas, as the LCA had been christened by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the minister added.

Of these, the first two squadrons would be equipped with the General Electric GE404-IN20 engines and the remaining with a “more powerful engine if we can find one”, as the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, put it.

The remarks make it clear that efforts to develop an indigenous Kaveri engine have finally been abandoned.

The engine has failed to meet the specified parameters during innumerable test bed firings over the years.

The Tejas, which first flew in 2000, achieved a significant milestone last year when it successfully test fired a R-73 close combat missile at an air-to-air range off the Goa coast.

The event marked the beginning of Tejas’ weaponisation, which is the focus of the current initial operational clearance (IOC) phase of the programme.

Air-to-air missile integration and testing, especially on a fly-by-wire aircraft, is a very complex task involving interfaces with aerodynamics, engine air intake, control laws, flight control system, avionics system, electrical and other general system of aircraft.

As for the yawning gap in the country’s radar cover, Antony said: “I don’t dispute the fact that there is a serious problem. The process of acquiring radars started in 1991 but for 17 years, we have not been in a position to provide the IAF with its requirements.

“Now, I can tell you that at last, things are moving fast and the most modern and world class radars would be coming,” the minister added.

“The decision has been taken, things are on the correct track and we will provide whatever modern equipment they (the IAF) want,” Antony maintained.

The minister’s statement came a day after India’s audit watchdog noted that the IAF “holds less than adequate number of surveillance radars needed for providing efficient and reliable detection capabilities for ensuring credible air defence”.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report released Friday, also pointed out that the defence ministry could not ensure timely acquisition of three additional high power static radars to provide effective air surveillance over certain sensitive areas.

“Shortage of medium power radars needed for ground control and intercept was as high as 53 percent of the projected requirement. IAF’s holding of low-level transportable radars, which are assigned the role of providing early warning, was merely 24 percent of the actual requirement of the IAF,” the audit report said of the radars in the IAF’s Signal units.

The report says that the outdated 1970-71 plan for air defence still forms the basis for determining the IAF’s requirement for radars and other associated equipment as the government is yet to approve the revised plans of 1983-2000 and 1987-2007.

The shortage of radars has also become acute in view of the significant changes in the security scenario, technology and growing magnitude of potential aerial threats in terms of sophistication and capability.

“This has created a serious mismatch between availability and requirement of surveillance systems,” the report said.

Besides non-availability of radars, the actual “watch hours” allotted to the IAF units were much lower than the hours prescribed by the government.

“The actual surveillance levels ranged between 4 and 42 percent of the approved norms,” the auditor said.

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