FOC tag signals that the indigenous fighter is fully equipped and fit for battle; delivery of first aircraft expected in Oct.-Nov. 2019

On December 31, Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’ quietly progressed towards manufacture in an enhanced, battle standard format.

A new ‘limited’ clearance from military airworthiness certifier CEMILAC for the Indian fighter green-lights its production in a superior lethal version, multiple sources associated with the LCA programme confirmed.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which is mandated to produce the LCAs for the Indian Air Force (IAF), aims to get the first aircraft out in late 2019 in the just-cleared standard, its Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan said.

“We have received drawings and documents related to this standard. We can now start activities such as planning, procurement of parts from vendors. We aim to deliver the first aircraft [in the cleared standard] in October or November 2019,” he said.

‘Tight lead time’

“The lead time has become tight for us. As for the remaining aircraft, we must see how many of the 16 we can deliver by the middle of 2020,” Mr. Madhavan said.

Improved Light Combat Aircraft gets green light for production
The LCA is being designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bangalore. The IAF has asked HAL to make 40 LCA aircraft. Of this, 20 will be in the advanced ‘FOC’ (final operational clearance) format. Another 20 are in the earlier IOC (initial operational clearance) version.

The FOC tag signals that the novice LCA is fully equipped and fit for battle. It adds many features over the IOC version, which Tejas achieved in December 2013. The IOC enabled the IAF to start flying it and in getting acquainted with its competences. Until then, only test pilots and ADA handled Tejas.

“The latest clearance is a good development for HAL. My jigs were getting empty and we didn’t have anything to do after making the IOC-standard LCAs. We start now,” Mr. Madhavan said.

Tejas was expected to be FOC-compliant much earlier, the last two deadlines being June-end and December-end of 2018.

More than one source said what was given on December 31 is an interim or limited FOC; Tejas is still some distance away from being FOC standard. And that this was done to speed up production and keep HAL’s idling facilities engaged. Further improvements would follow in the ‘FOC-2’ phase.

A higher-up in the defence set-up also confirmed the move: “It is ‘almost-full’ FOC. Very few additions [are there that] can be added later,” the person said.

To get the final of FOC certification, the plane must have battle-time requirements — such as mid-air refuelling, AESA radar, electronic warfare suites, a variety of bombs and weapons, among others. It has passed mid-air refuelling and armament testing, while the full picture was not immediately available.

The IAF has modified and upgraded its trainer requirement in its old package order of 40 LCA aircraft. It has opted to have all eight trainers in the FOC mode, instead of four each in IOC and FOC standards.

Of the 16 fighters in the IOC version, 11 have been delivered, one is being flight tested and four are being assembled, he said.