India gets serious about Tejas light combat aircraft, inducts second squadron

Photo: The newly inducted Tejas aircraft at the Sulur air base.

New Delhi: India today inducted its second ‘TejasLight Combat Aircraft (LCA) squadron at Sulur air base in Tamil Nadu, marking the seriousness with which its air force takes the indigenous fighter jet and what’s in store for the ‘Make in India‘ programme.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) revived its No. 18 Squadron or the ‘Flying Bullets‘, which was number-plated four years ago in April 2016, at Sulur to induct the Tejas Mk1 aircraft in its Final Operational Clearance (FOC) configuration.

The No. 18 Squadron falls under the operational control of Southern Air Command, which is responsible for integrating the squadron into the IAF Concept of Operations. Tejas Mk1 is a fourth-generation single-engine, light-weight, highly agile, all-weather multi-role fighter aircraft capable of air-to-air refueling, thus making it a truly versatile platform.

India had first inducted a Tejas Mk1 aircraft in its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration in July 2016 in to the No. 45 Squadron or ‘Flying Daggers‘ at Bengaluru and shifted the squadron to operate from Sulur to defend the nation’s peninsular region.

The latest induction today also marks “yet another important step towards enhancing the operational capability” of the air force, a statement from the Air Headquarters here said.

“This is also an important milestone in the country’s indigenous fighter aircraft programme and a significant boost to the ‘Make In India’ initiative,” Wing Commander Indranil Nandi, IAF spokesperson, said in the statement.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R. K. S. Bhadauria gave a thumbs-up to Tejas by flying a solo sortie — a feat never heard of for a newly inducted aircraft — just before handing over the aircraft to the squadron. He did the honours in the presence of Southern Air Command Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Air Marshal Amit Tiwari and No. 18 Squadron Commodore Commandant Air Marshal T. D. Joseph.

Video: IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R. K. S. Bhadauria flying a single-cockpit Tejas jet.

From the producer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited‘s (HAL’s) side, its Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan and from the developer, Defence Research and Development Organisation‘s Aeronautical Development Agency Director Dr Girish S. Deodhare were there to celebrate the moment.

Madhavan presented the aircraft documents of the Tejas’ FOC variant to Bhadauria, who further handed them over to the No. 18 Squadron Commanding Officer Group Captain Manish Tolani. The Tejas Mk1 jets did a fly past alongwith a formation of Mi-17V5 helicopter and ‘Dhruv‘ Advanced Light Helicopter, and Antonov An-32 transport aircraft.

The No. 18 Squadron has a rich military aviation history, having been raised at Ambala in April 1965 with the Folland Gnat aircraft. The squadron has won India’s highest war-time gallantry medal, Param Vir Chakra, during the 1971 India-Pakistan war through Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon.

The squadron also has the unique recognition of having flow two HAL-made aircraft, including the Ajeet, which it operated from same air station. Over the years, the squadron has also operated the Soviet-origin MiG-27 ML aircraft from various air bases across India.

Bhadauria, in his recent media interactions, has said that the IAF will soon be placing an order with HAL for 83 Tejas Mk1A configuration aircraft. This deal is expected to cost Rs 39,000 crore (Rs 390 billion/$5.25 billion). He had also pointed out that the IAF will ultimately induct around 200 Tejas aircraft of different variants.

The IAF has decided to invest more in the future on a twin-engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) that is expected to be a fifth-generation fighter. IAF, at this point, plans to induct 100 AMCA to form five squadrons.

India is also pursuing a foreign combat aircraft procurement programme under which 114 jets are to be bought at a cost of at least $15 billion. American Lockheed Martin Corporation‘s F-21, Boeing Company‘s F/A-18, French Dassault Aviation‘s Rafale, Swedish SAAB AB‘s Gripen, Airbus Defence and Space‘s Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG‘s MiG-35 and JSC Aviation Holding Company Sukhoi‘s Su-35 are competing for this deal.

The IAF’s current combat squadron strength is 32 against a sanctioned 42 squadrons required for India to meet the twin challenge from Pakistan and China. The current combat fleet of the IAF comprises of the Russian-origin Su-30MKI being license-built in India’s HAL, MiG-29, French Mirage-2000 and British Jaguar. India has recently phased out the Russian MiG-27 swing-wingers and all variants of MiG-21, the first Soviet-era supersonic jet that India acquired in the 1960s.

In 2016, India signed an over $8-billion deal with France for 36 of the Rafale jets, after scrapping a $20-billion tender in 2015, following a eight-year procurement process in which Rafale was the winner to supply 126 jets. The 114-jet future tender would be for making up the gap in the procurement of a 4+ generation combat aircraft through the now cancelled tender.

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