LCA to get initial clearance

Last Updated 19 December 2013, 20:31 IST

December 20, 2013, will be etched in the memory of the makers (Aeronautical Development Agency) of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) as it will formally be anointed as having cleared the second initial operational clearance (IOC-II), like January 10, 2011, is etched in their memory when the first IOC was realised at HAL airport.

The second operational clearance, which will also be realised at the HAL airport on Thursday, implies that the aircraft is ready to be flown by Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots who can now test the aircraft’s combat capabilities live.

 So far, only test pilots of the National Flight Testing Centre have been flying the LCA though they also happen to be former IAF pilots. IAF pilots who will test the LCA the entire next year will have the final say on the aircraft.

While the second operational clearance is a moment of celebration for the makers of LCA, it carries strong symbolic value because it is only one year from now that the IAF will decide whether the aircraft can be actually inducted for combat operations and be made part of live IAF squadrons.

The real test for LCA is not the second operational clearance, but the live testing of combat and weapon systems of the aircraft for over one year by IAF pilots who will certify whether they are induction-and battle ready after the formal IOC-II is handed out.

Based only on their approval, of its air prowess and strike power, will the aircraft’s induction begin. This doesn’t take away credit from its makers who have ensured that the aircraft has clocked over 2,400 test flights and 3,000 hours of flying without a single incident and accident since 2001 when the first test flight began.

Additionally, the second IOC is not a climax of work on the LCA, because the IAF has been very grudging about accepting it as a fourth generation fighter, which the scientists say it is. IAF says the aircraft is third generation plus, not superior to the MiG-21, that it will be replacing.

But since January 2011, the makers of LCA have weap­onised the aircraft and made it combat-ready. IAF is not willing to accept this until they test the LCA arsenal in live situations.

There is an opinion in certain quarters that the scientist community is pressuring the IAF to accord the LCA the second operational clearance so that it is ready for the final operational clearance and so that it indicates that the aircraft is far more amenable to IAF’s demands compared to what it was in January 2011 and establishes the scientists as being capable of designing a combat aircraft on their own.

The difference of perception on the LCA’s airworthiness between scientists and IAF has been going on for several years, but in the end the rigorous demands the IAF is making may ensure a much better LCA than what is available now.

Scientists have released a report on the strike capabilities of the LCA through the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (Cemilac) and will handover the same to IAF Chief N A K Browne soon after the operational clearance is given on Friday and flight displays are completed. The report is a kind of authentication of the weapons and combat capability of LCA.

(Published 19 December 2013, 20:31 IST)

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