by G Hari Kumar

In a major development, the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft Tejas on Monday successfully carried out air-to-air refuelling. The ability to carry out mid-air refuelling is one of the critical requirements of the LCA to achieve “final operational clearance”, making the aircraft battle-worthy.

LCA Tejas, an over three decade old project, is a single seat, single engine multi-role light fighter aircraft. The aircraft is yet to be combat ready and HAL, the manufacturer of Tejas, is expected to get final operational clearance by the end of this year.

According to HAL, the LCA Tejas successfully completed the Wet (Actual) engagement today by transferring 1,900 kilos fuel from IAF IL-78 mid-air refuelling tanker. “The refuelling was carried out at an altitude of 20,000 ft. The aircraft speed was 270 knots and all the internal tanks and drop tanks were refuelled,” HAL said in a statement.

"With this, India joins the elite group of countries who have developed the air-to-air (AAR) system for military class of aircraft." reacted HAL chief R. Madhavan. Last week, the successful dry docking of aerial refuelling probe with mother tanker was carried out. Officials also said that air-to-air refuelling gives tactical advantage as the aircraft can operate from any base and need not be at a border location. Moreover, the aircraft can be topped up with extra fuel mid-air, which allows a takeoff with greater payload of weapons and the advance superiority fighter can be used in air defence and strike with enhanced endurance.

Ever since its first flight, India’s indigenously designed and developed Tejas has been proving its mettle to be a combat-proven asset to the armed forces. In July 2016, it has been inducted into the Air Force by forming a separate Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’ with an aim of eventually replacing the ageing fleet of MiG-21 aircraft. Tejas will play a prime role in the ongoing modernisation drive of the armed forces which aims at gearing them up with the most modern systems and equipment. Though there have been some initial issues, the IAF has validated the performance of Tejas. During the recent Gagan Shakti 2018 exercise, Tejas has once again reaffirmed its air superiority and the IAF has called for the fast production of aircraft to meet its requirements. In this scenario, achieving the Final Operational Clearance (FOC), is one of the prime tasks for the Tejas and according to the latest reports, Tejas is inching closer to FOC by turning major hurdles into achievements, wrote distinguished defence journalist Anantha Narayanan K in Aeromag magazine.

Major milestone crossed for the advanced light fighter TEJAS:

Integration of Derby, a BVR class missile is one of the major objectives of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) of Tejas. Based on the successful integration and demonstration, Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness (RCMA), a unit of DRDO has cleared the series production aircraft of Squadron 45, to be equipped with Derby operational capability.  Tejas has successfully completed a series of captive flight trials to clear Derby for the full operational capability in the entire FOC envelope. In the past, Tejas has qualified for the armaments and missile release related trials.

The fighter has demonstrated safe operation of the aircraft during missile plume ingestion into the aircraft engine under worst case scenarios. The missile has been launched from Tejas on 27 April 2018 from the firing range off the Goa coast after exhaustive study of the missile separation characteristics and plume envelope.

During the Gagan Shakti 2018, the largest ever exercise by the IAF, Tejas has proven its battle-readiness. The 14-day exercise has witnessed the extensive testing of the newly-inducted Tejas supersonic fighter jets of the IAF.

IAF has done trials and validation of operational efficiency of Tejas and has been able to generate six sorties per platform per day. For Tejas, this is a good development as the IAF usually sticks to around three sorties per day on every Tejas. With the satisfactory performance of Tejas, the IAF now pushes for fast production of the aircraft.


Balance activities towards FOC, which will further enhance the operational capability of the aircraft are in progress currently. These include refining the ‘g’ load capability, additional weapon integration and gun integration.

However, everything is not hunky-dory with the diminutive fighter, IAF is believed to have informed MoD that Tejas is not enough to protect Indian skies with its limited capabilities, they contend that the "endurance" of Tejas in combat is just about 59 minutes and can carry a pay-load of about three tons, which is much below the capability of other single-engine jets available in the global market, which was reported in the media.

Besides, IAF also made some reservations over the maintenance cost of Tejas. It is learnt that the maintenance cost of Tejas is high as the fighter needs 20 hours of servicing for every hour of flying.

LCA Tejas, is claimed to be nearly 60 per cent indigenous. It has the fly-by-wire, state of the art open architecture computer for avionics, better weapon and combat capability.

Hari is a historian, author, military enthusiast, cyber geek and an incurable patriot. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same