India’s long-awaited Light Combat Aircraft Tejas cleared a critical test point on Saturday by accurately firing an infrared missile.
This takes it another step closer to its initial operational clearance, technically referred to as the IOC-2.
The air-to-air R-73 E missile destroyed a target being towed by Lakshya, a pilotless target aircraft launched from an Indian Navy ship.
The test was conducted off the coast of Goa and the flight was piloted by Gp Capt (Retd) Suneet Krishna, a test pilot working with the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA).
This is the first time the Tejas has proved its air defence role by firing a missile at a target using an on-board fire control radar. The earlier tests were conducted with the help of a helmet-mounted display system.
The test also paved the way for the IOC-2 declaration, scheduled for December 20. Defence Minister A K Antony will arrive with a high-profile team for the event, for which preparations have already begun at the Old HAL airport.
K Tamilmani, Director-General (Aeronautical Systems), DRDO, told Express the missile firing signalled the closing of all major test points ahead of IOC-2.
“The pilot took the aircraft to around 4.5 km above sea level, locked on to the target and ‘killed’ it with pin-point precision. We are on track for the historic event on December 20,” he said.
The braking systems of the Tejas (with maximum all-up weight) were also tested in Goa to rule out excessive heating during landing.
It will take some time for the aircraft to be inducted into the Indian Air Force. Post-IOC-2, the onus will shift towards the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which will have to roll out the production version aircraft.
HAL chairman R K Tyagi said with the missile firing, the Tejas had proved some of its capabilities.
“Our aim now is to aid the IAF quickly with the series production aircraft so that the squadron formation takes place as planned. There is definitely excitement in the air following the Goa trials,” Tyagi said.
Sources associated with the programme said every test point demanded by the certification agencies had been met.
“All queries and counter-queries were answered and relevant data brought out. No more outstation trials remain ahead of IOC-2,” an official said.
For the past few months engineers, designers and test pilots from both the ADA and the HAL were on their toes clearing all test parameters for the IOC-2.
“There has been tremendous pressure on the Tejas team with the Ministry of Defence monitoring the progress on a daily basis. The defence minister was personally tracking the progress of the missile firing, which was delayed by a couple of weeks owing to logistical reasons,” the official said.
The missile firing was originally planned at Jamnagar and later shifted to Goa.