The IAF’s wait to induct the Tejas might get bit longer till the four series production (SP) aircraft roll out from the brand new hangars of HAL.
While Friday’s second initial operational clearance (IOC-2) will signal the end of a gruelling wait for the IAF to officially undertake flight evaluation trials, the formation of No 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers) earmarked for Tejas might take another two more years.
The same squadron last flew the MiG 21 Bison aircraft operating from Naliya (Gujarat), an airfield closer to Karachi.
The Tejas squadron will eventually be operating from the Sulur Air Force Base, near Coimbatore. Sources monitoring the Tejas programme said that HAL’s promise of delivering the first production variant of Tejas (SP-1) by March 2014 might be little far-fetched.
“We hope to have the first aircraft by end by mid of 2014. The first two aircraft (SP-1, SP-2) might not meet our standards for squadron formation as the metal cutting and hardware were done before we froze the IOC-2 test points. We will raise the first Tejas squadron with four aircraft starting from SP-3 to SP-6,” a top source said.
The IAF will use SP-1 and SP-2 for evaluation flight to be undertaken by the Test pilots of Aircraft System and Testing Establishment (ASTE). The limited series production variants LSP-7 and LSP-8 too will be used for evaluation flights by IAF. The IAF has already identified the first Commanding Officer for Tejas Squadron, now part of the ASTE team, but he’s yet to fly the Tejas.
More officers are expected to join the squadron soon. “The hardware-related issues need to be fixed first. The critical factor for any aircraft is its maintainability. Truly speaking, before the IOC event, all hardware must be finalized, which might not still be the case with Tejas,” the source said.
A programme management team from IAF sits at the ADA to ensure that the Tejas comes out as a ‘usable aircraft’. HAL will deliver first 20 aircraft in IOC configuration and another 20 more in the FOC format.
The official said that notwithstanding the delays, the safety features of Tejas was world-class, “We are way ahead of F-22, Rafale and Eurofighter. We are very lucky to have a safe Tejas flying on Friday. All other similar programmes had crashes during developmental phase. It is a very creditable achievement,” the official said.
Preparations in Sulur are going on. The IAF is awaiting the release of Rs 580 crore from the Ministry of Defence to undertake infrastructure work.