The homegrown Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) is now fully airworthy but it will take at least another 18 months for the fighter to become capable of firing long-range missiles and integral guns as well as undergo mid-air refuelling to double its strike range.
The lightweight multi-role Tejas finally got its initial operational clearance (IOC) on Friday, after being in the making for the last 30 years. But it will be ready to go war only after attaining the final operational clearance (FOC) with full integration of all its weapons and refuelling probe by mid-2015 or so.
The supersonic fighter can currently fire only short-range R-73 missiles and drop some laser-guided 500-kg bombs. IAF will now begin inducting 20 of these fighters, with the first two coming next year, in their IOC configuration. Another 20 will follow in the FOC one. But the Tejas IAF really wants is the Mark-II version, with a more powerful engine for greater thrust and improved maintainability.
In effect, the first Tejas squadron (IOC) of 20 jets will be up and running at the Sulur airbase in Tamil Nadu by 2016-17.