Tejas Light combat aircraft during the "Aero India 2019"

BANGALORE: The home-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has finally become what it was aimed to be -- a replacement for Soviet-era MiG-21.

After obtaining the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC), the TEJAS -- in the making for more than four decades -- has now been confirmed as a multi-role fighter with beyond visual range air-to-air and air-to-ground attack capabilities, along with a longer endurance with the help of mid-air refuelling.

"Securing FOC is a great recognition of indigenous aviation capability. Secondly, it now truly confirms the multi-role capability of LCA. Induction of TEJAS at faster rate needs to be ensured to enhance the capability of IAF," Air Marshal SBP Sinha (Retd), who was the first IAF officer other than the test pilots to fly TEJAS, told IANS.

A fully operational TEJAS will strengthen the air defence capability of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The aircraft is not meant to go deep inside enemy territory but operate close to the border. It will also be used in assisting the Army in what is known as air interdiction in battlefield roles.

The TEJAS as a multi-role fighter was designed to replace Bison, which is an upgraded version of MiG-21. The TEJAS has been flying for years but with the FOC, the aircraft's ability to deliver air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons has been certified. The FOC version of the "Tejas" has Mk-1 nomenclature.

Officials said that the aircraft still needs considerable improvement to match the current generation of fighters and these enhancements would be seen in the follow-up versions of TEJAS Mk-1(A) and TEJAS Mk-2.

The TEJAS Mk-1(A) will have improved serviceability, faster weapon loading time, enhanced survivability, better electronic warfare suit and the AESA radar significantly enhancing its capability.

The TEJAS Mk-2 will be a bigger aircraft, 1.6-meter longer, with a 0.6 meter wider span and will have more powerful GE-414 engine. On account of the size and power, the aircraft will be able to carry much more load. Its weight will go up from 4 tonne to 6. 5 tonne.

As of now, 40 Mk-1 and 83 Mk-1(A) have been ordered by the IAF. The orders for Mk-2 will be placed as an when the aircraft starts flying. Mk-1(A) will fly in 2022, according to the schedule.

While these are the plans, the situation on the ground is that the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has so far delivered only 11 TEJASs.

According to officials, the production line needs to be enhanced substantially to deliver the aircraft to IAF. The HAL has managed to achieve a rate of eight aircraft per year as against 16 to 17 produced by big manufacturers.