Further delaying complete weaponisation of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, the Aeronautical Development Agency has now scheduled the indigenous jet's Final Operational Clearance for December 2018.
“The current target date for FOC is December 2018. The production of 20 FOC aircraft will be taken up after the FOC clearance by Aeronautical Development Agency,” Subhash Bhamre, Minister of State for Defence said in a written response in the Rajya Sabha.
On March 31, 2006, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited signed a contract to deliver 20 LCA to the Indian Air Force in IOC (Initial Operational Clearance) configuration by December 2011. Out of these, only nine fighters have been delivered to the 45 Squadron of the IAF till date.
The production of the remaining 11 Tejas in the IOC configuration is now being taken up at the HAL. Out of the 11 jets, seven would be single seater combat aircraft and four would be twin-seat trainers.
In its present format, the LCA Tejas was capable of only undertaking air defence operations and conventional ground attack with heavy bombs, Bhamre said.
Even before the production of the aircraft began, HAL signed a second contract in December 2010 to deliver another 20 aircraft to the IAF in FOC configuration by 2016.
Bhamre said the government sanctioned Rs 1,381 crore to HAL in March 2017 to augment its production capacity from 8 aircraft in a year to 16 aircraft. The aircraft manufacturer has also taken a number of steps to fast pace the production cycle.
These include increasing the number of jigs for front, centre and rear fuselage and wings, modularisation of the electrical looms and outsourcing of major modules to private manufacturers with HAL playing the role of an integrator.
One key step towards FOC was achieved in April 2018, when Tejas successfully fired Derby Air-to-Air Beyond Visual Range Missile to expand the aircraft's firing envelope and demonstrated safe operation of the aircraft during missile plume ingestion into the aircraft engine under worst case scenarios.
Cost review ::
In November 2016, the Defence Acquisition Council of the Defence Ministry cleared acquisition of 83 Tejas LCA Mk1A for IAF at a cost of Rs 50,025 crore for which a quotation has been submitted by HAL. But the ministry has now decided for cost review of the project.
After 30 years of design, development and production work, the LCA achieved the IOC in December 2013 after a delay of eight years from the original schedule. At that time, the target deadline for the FOC was December, 2015, which was deferred thrice in the last three years.