The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft has successfully test-fired the Derby air-to-air beyond visual range 

by Franz-Stefan Gady

The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has successfully test fired the I-Derby beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile at test range off the coast of Goa on April 27, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a statement.

The missile was fired “to expand the firing envelope as well as to demonstrate safe operation of the aircraft during missile plume ingestion into the aircraft engine under worst case scenarios,” the statement reads. According to the MoD, the successful test the missile is “one of the major objectives of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) of LCA Tejas.”

The I-Derby BVR missile has been test fired previously and constitutes the Tejas LCA’s main air-to-air weapon system. It is fired from missile rail launchers fitted underneath the LCA’s wings. The missile, manufactured by Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, is fitted with a fire-and-forget guidance system and has an estimated range of over 50 km. It can reach an estimated top speed of Mach 4. The IAF has also expressed interest in equipping the LCA with an extended-range variant of the I-Derby capable of hitting targets at up to a 100 km distance.

During the recently concluded Gagan Shakti-2018 air combat exercise — with 1,100 aircraft and 15,000 military personnel the IAFs largest aerial combat drill ever –Tejas LCA participating in the drill also flew armed with the Derby BVR missile, although no test firing occurred. The Tejas LCA is a supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multi-role  light fighter aircraft that has been under development since 1983 by the Aeronautical Development Agency in cooperation with India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

In February, the Tejas LCA for the first time conducted a hot refuelling trial another step toward FOC. HAL is also working on an improved variant, the Mark-IA featuring numerous upgrades including an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system, a new electronic warfare sensor suite, and an externally refuelling capability. The Tejas LCA currently in service with the IAF are all initial operational configuration aircraft or in other words, they meet the service’s minimum operational requirements.

The IAF has listed several technical deficiencies found on the Tejas LCA Mark-I variant in 2017, which purportedly will be addressed in later versions of the aircraft. “The Indian Air Force (IAF) issued a tender to HAL in December 2017 for the procurement of 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft including 73 single-engine Tejas LCA Mark-IA and 10 tandem two-seat LCA trainer aircraft,” I wrote in February. “The IAF plans to induct a total of 123 Tejas Mark-IA, next to 40 Mark-I Tejas LCAs.”

FOC clearance for the Tejas LCA by the Indian Aeronautical Development Agency is expected in the coming months.