Thirty-two years after the light combat aircraft project was sanctioned, IAF will finally get its first homegrown Tejas fighter in March 2015. But before you pop the bubbly , consider this: the multirole jet is ready to fly in all weather conditions but cannot yet fire long-range missiles or undergo mid-air refuelling to double its strike range.
The first Tejas will be delivered to IAF at Bangalore in its initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration, which means it's fully airworthy now.But the fighter's final operational clearance (FOC) to make it combat-ready-with integration of all weapons like guns, laser-guided bombs and BVR (beyond visual range) missiles as well capable of air-to-air refuelling -has once again been delayed.
The Tejas Mark-II, the fighter IAF really wants with more powerful engines for greater thrust and drag reduction, will start to come only by 2021-2022.With the first preliminary design review for the Mark-II version now over, the plan is to fly its first prototype by 2017 or so.
“The first of IOC standard aircraft has been built and successfully completed its maiden flight on September 30 this year.This aircraft will be handed over to IAF by March 2015 after some upgrades,“ defence minister Manohar Parrikar told Lok Sabha on Friday .
“The second aircraft will also be ready by March 2015 for its maiden flight. The first 20 aircrafts will be built by 2017-2018...FOC is likely to be achieved by end of 2015,“ he added. The delivery of the first Tejas will certainly be a red-letter day in the project's meandering saga, with IAF now confident of the lightweight fighter.