Seizing Aeronautic Independence

Narendra_Modi_in_cockpit_of_MiG-29K_abroad_INS_VikramadityaIndia’s first indigenous fighter plane is ready to take to the skies.

By Siddharth Raval.

After more than 30 years of research and rigorous tests, Tejas – India’s indigenous fighter plane—is ready to take off. The aircraft were handed over to the Air Chief Marshal by the defense minister in a discreet January ceremony. Despite delays, this is a major achievement for the Indian aerospace industry, bringing India closer to defense independence by developing its own aircraft with stealth capabilities. This supersonic fighter can reach speeds of Mach 1.4 and has completed more than 2800 extensive flight tests to date.

The planes could not have come at a better time to help revitalize India’s aging fleet. The latest in a series of mishaps for its old military vehicles was the crash of a German-made surveillance aircraft at the end of March.

The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program dates back to 1983, when it was inaugurated with two purposes: primarily to replace India’s ageing fleet of Russian MiG-21s, and secondly to boost India’s domestic aviation capability. The Aeronautical Development Agency was established in 1984 to manage and lead the program, with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) acting as primary contractor.

The ambitious project started with a budget of only $91 million, which has since increased to about $4 billion—over 40 times its preliminary budget. Despite the increase in costs, the LCA will be produced for less than the price of fighters from developed countries like the U.S., U.K., and France. With the new LCA and the Mars Orbiter Mission, which launched in November 2013, India has demonstrated its capability to achieve high quality results on smaller budgets than other nations.

Retired Air Commodore K.A. Muthanna flew the aircraft for the first time on October 1, 2014 in its Initial Operational Capability configuration. The final configuration is anticipated…

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