A more potent version of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) matching current generation of fighters is not expected to be available to the Indian Air Force before 2025.
“Tejas”, the home-built jet, was meant to be a replacement for MiG-21s but even after four decades in the making, the aircraft is still undergoing the process of induction.
The LCA got Final Operational Clearance (FOC) from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) only earlier this year. The certification confirmed Tejas as a multi-role fighter with capabilities like beyond visual range air-to-air and air-to-ground attack capabilities and longer endurance through mid-air refuelling.
Despite these advanced features, Tejas in its current form is only an improved version of MiG-21 but it falls short when compared to other modern day fighters.
Even the production of these variant is slow with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) delivering only about a dozen of them so far. The IAF is looking for more numbers as Tejas is meant to strengthen the air defence capabilities. The current variant of the aircraft has the same role as MiG-21s.
The follow up versions of LCA Mk 1 (a) and LCA-Mk 2 will be the improved version of Tejas.
The LCA Mk 1 (a) will have improved serviceability, faster weapon loading time, enhanced survivability, bettter electronic warfare suit and AESA radar significantly enhancing its capability.
The LCA Mk 2 will be a bigger aircraft (1.6 meters longer) with a wider wing span (0.6 meter). It will have more powerful GE 414 engine. Because of size and power the aircraft will be able to carry much more load. Its weight will go up from 4 tonne to 6.5 tonne.
As of now, 40 Mk 1 and 83 Mk1 (a) have been ordered by IAF. The orders for Mk 2 will be placed as and when the aircraft starts flying. The LCA Mk 1 (a) will fly in 2022, according to the current schedule.
Out of the first 40 Tejas ordered by IAF, only 20 will be FOC certified.
The officials said that the production line needs to be enhanced substantially to deliver the aircraft to IAF. The HAL has managed to achieve a rate of eight aircraft per year as against 16 to 17 produced by big manufacturers.