This afternoon a Tejas flown by Group Captain Madhav Rangachari, fresh from the aircraft’s stirring display in Bahrain, went up over the firing range in Pokharan and successfully fired the Israeli Derby air-to-air BVR missile integrated into its fire control system. With this test the indigenously designed and developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft having test-fired all kinds of missiles and dropped air-to-ground ordnance, is actually ready for active service.
It had earlier already test-fired the short-range Python air-to-air missile in Op Iron Fist several years back and, in more recent war exercises, dropped laser-guided bombs and dumb [gravity] bombs. It has also fired in ground tests the high-kinetic energy ammo-firing 23mm GsH cannon. With the British firm, Cobham, moreover, finally delivering on a few of the 200 or so units of the radome ordered — which delivery delay has unduly stretched out the aircraft’s certification process, the LCA is ready for operational service. Trying out external fuel probe with actual mid-air refueling will happen soon but is, in any case, extraneous to the short range air defence mission of the Mk-1 & 1A variants of this aircraft and shouldn’t stop the IAF from giving it an FOC (Final Operational Clearance).
Having failed in the past to subvert and undermine the development of the aircraft in small and big ways, IAF has now taken to making all kinds of mostly feeble excuses to postpone induction of the Tejas. Until now when there’s no excuse left, especially with one of its own ace fliers, Rangachari, proving the plane’s brilliant flying qualities publicly at the Bahrain Air Show, which the IAF has studiously kept away from saying anything about because it cannot credibly pooh-pooh them. The aerial testing of the fuel probe, 23mm GsH cannon, and the Cobham radome can follow the FOC by IAF.
Indeed, it is only only with the indigenous Tejas that IAF has been so punctilious in demanding that the aircraft comply fully with every last ASR. Mirage 2000 was allowed to enter active IAF service without being armed with any A2G or A2A missiles, and for the first several years in 1 Squadron and 7 Squadron thereafter featured nothing by way of armament than its 30 mm cannon, which made this aircraft good for very little. But, hey, that’s a French plane! Now consider how sophisticated air forces handle new aircraft. The US fighter aircraft the F-35 Lightening-II has joined frontline squadrons without, however, being “battle ready”. Meaning that such faults as may be discovered in the underway “initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E)” will be rectified subsequently in the aircraft already in service. This incidentally is the normal procedure followed by all major air forces. IAF is apparently not among them because left to itself it will be in no hurry to grant Tejas FOC.
Hence Defmin Manohar Parrikar has to step in. He can choose to be led by the nose by IAF, or use his common sense, see what’s being done by other air forces the world over, and order IAF immediately to give FOC to Tejas. And in parallel, he should instruct HAL to get into a ramped up production mode, with a whole string of MSMEs being transferred Indian origin technologies for them to produce and improve, and to procure TOT on imported components and assemblies in the Tejas, or hand them over for reverse engineering to a multitude of Indian enterprises. Normal ministerial prompting won’t do. Because IAF, seemingly insensitive to the indigenization imperative, has time and again shown by its actions that importing aircraft now constitutes its institutional DNA.