Light Combat Aircraft

Light combat aircraft refers to light multirole military aircraft designed for engaging and light combat missions such as attack missions, interdiction roles, reconnaissance etc. Light combat aircraft are usually slower than they are bigger counterparts usually employ single engine.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas

  • HAL Tejas is a single-engine multirole light combat aircraft designed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited HAL and Aeronautical Development Agency ADA for the Indian Air Force. The Other partners in this project  DRDO, CSIR, BEL, DGQA, Indian air force and Indian Navy.
  • The light combat aircraft program began in 1984 replacing the ageing Mig 21 fighter aircraft. The light combat aircraft program was named Tejas in 2003 by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
  • Tejas is the second Supersonic fighter jet developed by HAL after HAL HF-24 Marut. Light combat aircraft Tejas is the smallest and lightest multirole Supersonic fighter aircraft of its class.
  • HAL Tejas employs single engine, compound Delta wing and tailless design. The light combat aircraft programme was initiated to expand and advance India's indigenous aerospace capabilities.

Need for the development of indigenous light combat aircraft

  • The geopolitical nature of South Asian region and its surrounding has seen several major conflicts in the past. Since independence, India has faced several military threats from China, Pakistan and the non-state actors.
  • Therefore there was a compulsion for achieving self reliance in design development and production of critical weapon systems for maintaining and guarding the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
  • The light combat aircraft programme was launched with to measure purposes, the first goal was to develop a replacement fighter aircraft for the ageing Mig 21 fighter jets which had been the mainstay of the IAF since 1970.
  • The other objective was to give an impetus for across the board development and advancement of the indigenous domestic aviation capability.

Development of Tejas light combat aircraft

  • In the 1980s, India realised that no organisation in India had the capability to develop an indigenous aircraft as the assembly line of HF 24 had been shut down. The last HF 24 fighter aircraft flew in 1961, so there was a need for developing a fighter jet from scratch.
  • In 1984, the Aeronautical Development Agency was established by the government of India for managing the LCA program. HAL, DRDO and other public and private sector industries were partners in this program.
  • The design of Tejas was finalized in 1990 as a small tail-less delta wing aircraft with relaxed static stability for enhancing manoeuvrability performance and had other advanced features.
  • A review committee was formed in 1989 which reported that in the facilities technology and infrastructure had advanced sufficiently to undertake the project.
  • The development of this aircraft took place in two phases. The first phase was the technology demonstrator stage which focused on the ‘proof of concept’. It involved in the development of 2 technology demonstrator aircraft which was to be followed by the production of additional prototype aircrafts.
  • The technology demonstrator 1 (TD-1) took the first flight on 4 January 2001. It was the first indigenous aircraft that had got airborne in the last 40 years.
  • The second stage was the additional testing phase. It involved additional testing and development of systems using prototype aircraft for the final variant that was to join the Indian Airforce and Indian Navy.
  • The first prototype vehicle flew on 25th November 2003. In 2005, after the completion of the testing phase the first order for 20 series production aircraft was placed. In 2010 an order for additional 20 Tejas light combat aircraft was placed.
  • On 17th January 2015, Indian Air Force got its first indigenously built light combat aircraft Tejas under LCA Tejas series production 1.
  • LCA Tejas participated in the International Airshow in Bahrain between 21st to 23rd January 2016.
  • On 1st July 2016, the first Squadron of Tejas was inducted into Indian Air Force. HAL handed over first two Tejas aircraft that will make up the ‘Flying Daggers’, 45 Squadron of LCA Tejas.
  • On November 8, 2016, the ministry of defence gave the clearance for 83 LCA Tejas Mark 1A.

Planned variants of Tejas

  • Tejas Trainer: Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will develop Two-seater operational conversion trainer for the training of pilots of the Indian Air Force.
  • LCA Navy: HAL is developing twin- and single-seat carrier-capable variants of Tejas for the Indian Navy. The naval variant of Tejas is to be ready for the carrier. However, the Indian Navy has declared Tejas aircraft to be too heavy to be operated from aircraft carriers like INS Vikramaditya, and INS Vikrant.
  • LCA Tejas AF MK2: The MK2 variant of the aircraft is an improvement over LCA Tejas Mk1 with higher thrust engine. It will have improved survivability, maintainability and obsolescence mitigation. The technology is expected to be integrated into this variant include active electronically scanned array radar on board oxygen generation system unified Electronic Warfare Suite etc.
  • LCA Tejas Navy MK2: Phase 2 of LCA Navy programme aims to develop two single seat aircraft with higher thrust engine (GE-F414-INS6). It also aims to reduce drag, reduce weight through redesigning of the landing gear and increasing the internal fuel of the aircraft. This version of aircraft will have enhanced mission performance and better maintainability.

Design and specifications of LCA Tejas

  • Tejas was intended to serve as an air superiority fighter jet with a secondary ground attack role. The flexibility of the design permits to integrate a variety of guided air to surface and anti shipping weapons for multirole machine capabilities.
  • The tailless compound delta design makes it small and lightweight and reduces the control services needed. It allows to carry a wide range of external stores, provides better close combat capability, provides high speed and high-alpha performance.
  • It has the maximum payload capability of 4000 kg. It has seven hardpoints that can be used for carrying different varieties of weapons. It has an eight offset station below the port-side intake trunk to carry a variety of pods like laser rangefinder, FLR, IRST etc.
  • Rafael’s Derby fire and forget missile will be the initial medium range air to air armament of Tejas. The Brahmos NG the supersonic cruise missile when developed can be integrated with Tejas.
  • The HAL Tejas is a single pilot single engine aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 13,300 Kg. It can attend the maximum speed of Mach 1.8.
  • The general range of this aircraft is 850 km whereas the combat range is 500 km with drop tanks.

Airframe of LCA Tejas

  • The body of LCA Tejas is made up of carbon fibre composites, aluminium Lithium alloys and Titanium alloys. The Carbon fibre composites cover 65% of the surface area and make 45% of the airframe weight. Use of carbon fibre composites and reduce the weight on HAL Tejas by 21%.
  • Composite materials make the aircraft comparatively lighter to an all-metal design. The use of composite materials on this aircraft is one of the highest among the aircraft of its class. Carbon fibre composites also reduce the joints and rivets that increases the aircraft's reliability and reduces its susceptibility to structural fatigue cracks.
  • The use of composites has reduced the total number of parts, including the number of fasteners by 40%. This has also reduced the production cost and the time required to assemble the aircraft.

Avionics of LCA Tejas

  • The aircraft has night vision goggles compatible glass cockpit, dominated by CSIR-CSIO indigenously developed head up display, multi-function displays, Smart standby display units, and a “get you home” panel for providing essential flight information to the pilot during an emergency. This display provides important information about key flight systems and controls as per the need along with the basic tactical and flight data.
  • The first 20 Tejas Mk 1 aircraft are equipped with a hybrid version of EL/M-2032 radar. The Tejas Mk 1A version of the aircraft will have an improved version of EL/M-2032 AESA  Radar.
  • Tejas is equipped with electronic Warfare Suite, known as Mayavi which has radar warning receiver, laser warning receiver system, a missile approach warning, self protection jammer, infrared and ultraviolet missile warning sensors, electronic countermeasures suite etc.
  • The aircraft also to be equipped with an infrared search enter track sensor for detecting thermal energy emissions.

Flight control of LCA Tejas

  • As Tejas has a relaxed stability design, it has been equipped with quadruplex digital fly by wire flight control system for enhancing the handling of this aircraft. The control surfaces after fighter aircraft hydraulically actuated.

Propulsion engine of LCA Tejas

  • Initially, the decision was taken to equip the prototype of LCA Tejas with General Electric F404-GE-F2J3 afterburning turbofan engine. Also, the project for developing an indigenous jet engine by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment was launched.
  • In 2004, the General Electric was awarded a contract for 17 F404-GE-IN20 engines for powering the pre-production LSP aircraft. In 2007, the General Electric was awarded a contract for 24 F404-GE-IN20 engines for the first operational Teja Squadron.
  • Due to the cost overruns and delays in the Kaveri engine development, Kaveri engine development programme was delinked from the LCA Tejas program. Therefore the LCA Tejas Mk1 and LCA Tejas Mk1A are powered with F404-GE-IN20 engines.
  • The LCA Tejas MkII will have General Electric GE-414 engines that will have higher thrust between 90 KN to 98 KN.

Operational history

  • In July 2011, in the formation of first Tejas equipped Squadron started and on 1st July 2016, Tejas Squadron ‘45 Flying Daggers’ entered into the service at Yelahanka air base, Bangalore. The Squadron will have the initial strength of 4 aircraft.
  • The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited expects to deliver 123 Tejas aircraft to the Indian Air Force by 2024-25. This includes 40 aircraft of Tejas mk1 version and 83 aircraft of Tejas mk2 version. The ministry of defence has given Final operational clearance how the procurement of 40 LCA Tejas mk1 version aircraft.

Export of LCA Tejas

  • After the Bahrain International Airshow held in January 2016, the foreign countries expressed their interest for buying LCA Tejas fighter aircraft. It performed 8G gravity pull, vertical loop, slow fly-past and barrel roll at the Bahrain air show.
  • The low cost, simple design and flying ability of Tejas go in its favour. This makes Tejas attractive to cost conscious countries in Asia.
  • Countries like Sri Lanka, Egypt and Singapore have shown interest in this indigenously built fighter aircraft. However, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is focusing on delivering the fighter jets to the Indian Air Force first for meeting the initial requirement of the IAF.
  • Turkmenistan has also shown interest in buying that Tejas combat aircraft. The aircraft was flown by the air chief of Turkmenistan.
  • The United Arab Emirates has also shown interest for this fighter jet. The Minister of State for Defence Affairs of UAE had visited the HAL facilities in Bengaluru.
  • Malaysia has also shown interest in this aircraft. LCA Tejas participated in the in Malaysia Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2019 (LIMA'19).

Significance of LCA Tejas aircraft

  • LCA Tejas is the world's lightest combat aircraft. It becomes important because it is the only fighter aircraft developed in India after HAL HF-24 Marut. Important for the indigenous defence and Aerospace industry.
  • 65% of the components of this aircraft indigenous which is expected to be increased to 80% in the coming years.
  • Tejas aircraft has not suffered from any major accident since the first flight of its prototype took place.
  • The success of this aircraft will boost the Indian military aviation industry for developing the Mk2 variants for navy and Airforce, the fifth generation fighter aircraft etc.
  • The success of the LCA Tejas programme will reduce India's dependence on import of fighter jet and its critical components. The export potential of this aircraft is an added advantage.
  • When the squadrons of LCA Tejas are operationalised it will replace the Mig fleet that is prone to accidents and malfunctioning. It will also increase the number of operational squadrons of the Indian Air Force.
  • The aircraft has proved is reliability and has been operated from the IAF bases at Jaisalmer, Gwalior, Jamnagar Goa etc. On some occasions, the same aircraft has flown thrice on the same day.
  • The aircraft is built of carbon composite airframes, that along with its small size increases its stealth features that translate into a small radar signal making it difficult to be detected.

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