After a three-decade-long wait, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Saturday handed over the first Light Combat Aircraft — Tejas — built by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), to the IAF. This will lead to its induction and formation of the first LCA squadron in the IAF.
Though Tejas has been in production for over 30 years, HAL took up the series production of 20 aircraft after it got the second initial operational clearance in 2013. The aircraft handed over to the IAF is the first in this series. The government-run factory is set to deliver the second plane by the end of March. “Four aircraft will be delivered in the next financial year, and eight every year from then,” said HAL chairman R K Tyagi.
Since the IAF is looking at the Tejas as a replacement for its ageing fleet of MiG-21s, HAL has proposed a `12,000-crore project to scale up its capacity to roll out 16 aircraft per year. According to the proposal, HAL will invest 50 per cent, while the IAF and the Navy will share the rest of the cost equally.
In the three decades since the project was conceived, the government has spent `8,000 crore on it. HAL is pricing each aircraft at `120 crore, while the actual cost of production is about `180 crore, a source said.
The plane will work out cheaper than foreign aircraft in the long run if the life-cycle cost is taken into account, said a HAL insider.
Speaking on the occasion, Parrikar urged defence agencies to think “out of the box” to meet rising challenges. “Though one can’t achieve anything overnight, thrust must be given to R&D by leveraging current knowledge database — something organisations like HAL possess. By modifying our work culture and adopting better technological tools, we can achieve better results,” he said.
“We have achieved 60 per cent indigenisation in the LCA project so far. We will produce six aircraft next year (2015-16) and subsequently scale it up to eight and 16 aircraft a year,” Tyagi said.