The Indian Air Force (IAF) will induct six squadrons of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas after the multirole supersonic fighter gets the final operational clearance (FOC) by 2014-end, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Friday.
"The IAF will induct the first squadron of LCA Mark-1 from 2015 and second squadron from 2017. Production of Mark-1 will start soon.
"Later, IAF will accept four squadrons of Mark-II, while the Indian Navy will induct 40 of the aircraft's naval variant," Antony told reporters here after a function where Tejas received the initial operational clearance (IOC) for flight tests by the air force pilots.
Each squadron will have 20 aircraft and will replace the ageing Russian-made MiG-21 fleet the IAF will phase out gradually. The squadrons will be based at Sulur Air Force Base near Coimbatore in southern Tamil Nadu.
"The IAF requirement will go up to 200. The Mark-1 will be fitted with GE-404 engines and Mark-II GE-414 engine. As this aircraft meets the staff requirement of the IAF, it has accepted it. Improvements to the aircraft have enhanced its flight envelope and its weapon delivery capability," Antony said.
Indian Air Force chief N.A.K. Browne said the IAF pilots will start flying Tejas from Saturday over the next 12 months for its FOC by December 2014.
Noting LCA has become a reality, Antony said that the next 12 months will be critical for all the stakeholders for the FOC.
"They (defence agencies) have to do a lot. If they can do up this, they are capable of producing the most modern fighting aircraft, as only five-six countries have such a capability," he said.
The state-run Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (Cemilac) are the defence agencies which have designed, developed, manufactured and certified the world's lightest and smallest combat jet.
"As we don't have an LCA simulator, our senior and very experienced pilots will fly Tejas over the next 12 months to assess its flying and combat capabilities for FOC and induction into the fleet," said Air Chief Marshal Browne, adding that an LCA simulator was on cards.
As the indigenous Kaveri engine of the state-run Gas Turbine and Research Establishment (GTRE) of the DRDO, which is yet to qualify for certification, HAL, the lead manufacturer of the LCA, will source the GE-404 and GE-414 aero-engines from the US-based General Electric (GE) for Mark-1 and Mark-II aircraft.
"The Kaveri engine is under development. It will take time. At the moment, we are using GE engines. Kaveri project is not abandoned. We can make it. Indigenisation of an aero-engine takes time. We have plan for that. If we can make aircraft like the LCA, warships, tanks and missiles, we can also make aero-engines," Antony said.