New Delhi: India’s indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS will make its international debut in combat exercise next month in the United Kingdom.

The exercise – Cobra Warrior 22 – will be held from 6 to 27 March in Waddington. TEJAS will participate with fighters from the US, Belgium, UK, Sweden and Saudi Arabia, sources in the defence establishment said.

Cobra Warrior is a “tactical training event” and the 2019 edition featured German, Israeli and Italian aircraft alongside those of the host nation.

This time, five TEJAS aircraft will fly to Waddington to participate in the exercise, with the IAF C-17 aircraft slated to “provide the necessary transport support for induction and de-induction”, the IAF said in a statement.

“The exercise is aimed at providing operational exposure and sharing best practices amongst the participating Air Forces, thereby enhancing combat capability and forging bonds of friendship. This will be a platform for TEJAS to demonstrate its manoeuvrability and operational capability,” the IAF added.

The multi-nation air exercise will be a historic opportunity for the TEJAS to perform its capabilities and interoperability alongside fellow participants, the sources said.

TEJAS has taken part in international air shows but never in a combat air exercise abroad. Most recently, the TEJAS participated in the Singapore Air Show from 15 to 18 February, where it carried out low-level aerobatics to showcase its handling characteristics and manoeuvrability.

This inaugural participation in an international exercise marks the next historic step for the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)-manufactured aircraft, which has seen developmental delays for nearly forty years.

Under the Indira Gandhi government in 1983, India first sought to find a replacement for the Soviet-era MiG-21s by building its own Light Combat Aircraft.

The original target for the indigenously built TEJAS’s inaugural flight was 1994, but the DRDO and HAL didn’t achieve this goal until 2001. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government named this fighter TEJAS.

However, it still wasn’t until December 2013 that the TEJAS MK-1 received its Initial Operational Clearance from then-defence minister A.K. Antony of the UPA-2 government.

The Final Operational Clearance came in February 2019, and the Narendra Modi government allotted Rs 48,000 crore for 83 TEJAS aircraft in January 2021.

While developmental delays have been the subject of criticism and the entire project labelled as a money pit, Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd) said in August 2021 that these were misconceptions.

Nearly 40 years after the Indira Gandhi government’s initial plans, the next target for the state-owned HAL and the IAF to achieve is the delivery of the 83 TEJAS aircraft by 2026.