'Upgraded LCA Mk-1A to fly in 2022, to be exported too'

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been given the nod to manufacture the weaponised version of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas for the Indian Air Force and the first such aircraft is expected to be out by the year-end, according to a company spokesperson. PTI file photo

State-owned aviation major, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has set a 2022 target for the first flight of the Light Combat Aircraft Mk-1A, an upgraded version of the Tejas. Eighty-three of this aircraft are being considered for induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF), although final approval is still awaited. 

Buoyed by the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) for the LCA’s weaponised version accorded on Wednesday, HAL Chairman and Managing Director, R Madhavan was confident that the delivery will happen in 2022. His remark at the Aero India 2019 airshow was apparently set to calm apprehensions about the company’s capabilities to meet the rising demands of IAF. 

Although HAL is yet to get an order from the IAF, Madhavan said the company will take up the LCA upgrade with its own funds over the next four years. The Defence Ministry is expected to take a final decision on the upgraded LCA version within the next two months. “We are also hoping the Mk-1A to be exported too.” 

HAL has orders for 40 aircraft of the Mk-1 version, 16 of them in Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration and four in trainer configuration. “We are planning to deliver 16 in FOC configuration by the end of this year. The jigs will be loaded by October,” Madhavan said.

Tejas Mk-2 unveiled

At Aero India, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) unveiled a model of the Tejas’s Mk-2 version. But the Agency, which designed the first version, chose to call it a Medium Weight Fighter (MWF). 

This aircraft is expected to fit into IAF’s requirement for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). If approved, the Tejas Mk-2 could potentially replace the fleet of Mirage 2000s, an upgraded version of which had crashed at the HAL Airport on February 1. 

An enhanced version of LCA, the Tejas Mk-2 MWF is 14.6m longer with a wingspan of 8.5m. This would increase its payload-carrying capability. The aircraft will also be equipped with a compound delta wing with close-coupled canards. This would reduce drag in all angles of attack. 

The longer fuselage will allow for more fuel behind the cockpit. The Mk-2 design also shows that it could carry more drop tanks. The engine, General Electric F414-INS6, will be an upgrade of the less powerful F404 that powers the Tejas Mk1 and Mk-1A.

Naval LCA

The Naval version of the Tejas will also have an Mk-1 and Mk-2 upgrade. “Technical development of these is now with ADA. We will support them wherever required,” said Madhavan. 

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