Congratulations, Team Tejas! This is a historic day for the Indian Air Force with the first two Tejas Mk-1 light combat aircraft inducted into service in the ‘Flying Daggers’ No. 45 Squadron were handed over to the IAF in Bangalore. The 45 Sqdn will be home-based at the Sulur AFB in Tamil Nadu. This is the first time that indigenous aircraft will be featuring the IAF roundels. The last time this happened was when the HF-24 Maruts were in the air order of battle; these were retired in the late Seventies. The Tejas formation will be headed by the experienced Group Captain Rangachari, who had put the plane through its paces at the Bahrain Air Show earlier this year. The two aircraft will grow to four and soon 20. This is how particular aircraft fleet grow in air forces. Considering the stepmotherly treatment meted out to the Tejas by the air force, it is a surprise to many that this Indian aircraft survived at all. It will now thrive.
Many recall that the MiG-21 fleet started with just two aircraft flown in from Russia in late 1963 or thereabouts, grew to squadron strength around the time the hostilities broke out with Pakistan in 1965, eventually peaking to some 750-odd MiG-21 fighters in the IAF. For those hyperventilating about the initial small numbers of Tejas, they need to be reassured that this is normal. The US Air Force, which is considered gold standard by some, had just two JSF-35 Lightnings-IIs to begin with.
It is unfortunate though that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar restricted the production of the Tejas to the DPSU — HAL, instead of also farming its manufacture, as advocated by me in this blog, out to private sector companies, such as Mahindra Aerospace and Reliance Aerospace which, once they get rolling, will be far more efficient in outputting the aircraft than HAL. It would, in the process, have established a competitive production scheme, helped in getting a larger number of Tejas in the air fast and speedily enlarged the Tejas’ force fraction in IAF, and gotten the best out of both the public and private defence industries. That’s the way to integrate public and private sector production.
Parrikar should also instruct the IAF to get the growing numbers of this aircraft to not just train in-squadron under forming at Sulur, but for the Tejas to fly out in pairs to various bases all over the country, including forward bases, to exercise as the air defence component against Mirage 2000s, Su-50 MKIs, and Jaguar aircraft in the aggressor role. It will speedily familiarize the rest of the IAF to the high-performing indigenous Tejas fighter, and sharpen the skills of the Tejas pilots by helping them to test, extend, and push its operational/fighting envelope.
And to ramp up its export potential, MOD and IAF should right away begin carting air attaches especially from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and from the embassies of other countries of Asia such as Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and Malayasia, and from Central Asia, Africa, and Latin America, from Delhi to Sulur to begin with, and later to other air bases where the Tejas will be exercising with other combat aircraft, to see this Indian designed, developed, and built aircraft in action, and to naval air stations to watch the navalized Tejas in operations.
However the IAF naysayers are already cribbing. (See retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak’s lament at http://www.thequint.com/opinion/2016/07/01/celebration-over-lca-tejas-calls-for-reforming-defence-sector-too-mig-21-indian-air-force-hindustan-aeronautics-ltd.) They say the Tejas took 33 years to get into fullscale production. OK, but that is starting from a zero baseline. But consider that it has taken the Lockheed Martin JSF-35 over 25 years and it has problems galore, and is in fact rated a “lemon” by aviation experts. It is also said the Tejas will take another 15 years to be “combat worthy”! This is the kind of utter nonsense IAF often voices to dishearten the Indian citizenry and government in order to strengthen its case for continued import of combat aircraft. Parrikar better throttle this sort of bad mouthing in the crib, as it were, and tell the IAF brass in clear terms — no more imports after the Super Sukhois and FGFA! — and to get flying with the Tejas.