Light Combat Aircraft Programme

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    In Context 

    • Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) stated that LCA-MK1A is expected to take flight in June 2022.
      • It also expects to deliver all Final Operational Clearance (FOC) variant aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 2022 pending some systems from Israel.
      • There is another 20 to 24 months of testing after which deliveries would begin with manufacturing activities going parallel to the testing.

    About Light Combat Aircraft programme

    • It was conceptualised in the 1980s and the first flight of the LCA technology demonstrator was held in January 2001.
      • The indigenous single-engine 4.5 generation multi-role fighter jet christened as ‘Tejas’ has come a long way both in terms of the maturity of the platform as well as the overall aircraft development programme despite repeated delays and cost overruns. 
      • In all, 123 LCA aircraft of various configurations are on order so far.
    • It was designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency under the Department of Defence Research and Development.
      • It replaced the ageing Mig 21 fighter planes.
    • Features:
      • The lightest, smallest and tailless multi-role supersonic fighter aircraft in its class.
      • Owing to their smaller size, LCAs have better manoeuvrability
        • Better manoeuvrability helps in getting into better positions faster to fire and score the kill.
      • Designed to carry a range of air-to-air, air-to-surface, precision-guided, weapons.
      • Air to air refuelling capability.
    • Objectives:
      • To develop LCA for the IAF and simultaneously reduce the gap in the field of aeronautical technology available in India and the advanced nations of the West. 

    Present Status of the LCA programme

    • In February 2021, the Defence Ministry signed a ?48,000 crore deal with HAL to supply 83 LCA-Mk1A to the IAF. 
      • This includes 73 LCA Tejas Mk-1A fighter aircraft and 10 LCA Mk-1 trainer aircraft at the cost of ?45,696 crores along with the design and development of infrastructure sanctions worth ?1,202 crores.
    • LCA achieved Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) in December 2013 and FOC in February 2019. 
      • The IAF had earlier signed two contracts with HAL, for 20 IOC configuration aircraft including four IOC trainers on March 31, 2006, and for 20 FOC configuration aircraft including four FOC trainers on December 23, 2010. 
      • Both the deliveries have been delayed due to delays in the certification process.
        • The first IOC fighter aircraft was delivered in 2016 and the first LCA squadron No. 45 “Flying Daggers” in the IAF was formed in July 2016 with two aircraft.
          • The first squadron is now complete and the second LCA squadron No. 18 ‘Flying Bullets’ was operationalised in May 2020.

    Future Prospects 

    • As per the contract, HAL has to deliver the first three MK1A aircraft to IAF in 2024 followed by 16 aircraft per year for the next five years.
      • To ramp up production, HAL has already set up two additional assembly lines which are operational. Some back end activities are also being finished at the moment.
    • The indigenous content in LCA is currently about 52% and HAL said it is looking at ways to increase it to 65%.
    • The LCA-MK2 is expected to roll out by year-end or early 2023 following which it would take a year for its first flight.
    • An ambitious fifth-generation fighter aircraft Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), and a new Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) to operate from the Navy’s aircraft carriers are being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA).
      • The AMCA is envisaged as a 25-tonne aircraft with an internal carriage of 1,500kg of payload and a 5,500kg external payload with 6,500kg of internal fuel with the rollout planned in 2024 and the first flight planned in 2025.
      • The TEDBF is being designed based on lessons learnt from the Naval LCA programme and the first flight is planned for 2026. 
      • In addition to supplying to the IAF, HAL is aggressively pitching its helicopters and Tejas to countries in South East Asia and West Asia and LCA is in the contest in Malaysia. 
        • the price is competitive and each LCA MK1A jet would cost ?309 crores.

    Light Combat Aircrafts (LCA) ‘Tejas’ Mk-1A Variant

    • LCA Tejas Mk 1A is an advanced version of LCA Mk1.
    • It is a supersonic fighter at all altitudes for air combat which can carry a payload of 3,500 kg and it is best suited for offensive air support.
    • The MK-1A will have over 40 modifications over the MK1 variant including some major ones like a new Electronic Warfare system, Advanced Electronically Scanning Array (AESA) radar, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and network warfare system including Software Defined Radio (SDR).

    Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-Mk2

    • It is a larger aircraft with a more capable engine.
    • It brings significant capability enhancement to the LCA programme featuring new technologies, ability to carry heavy standoff weapons like Scalp, Crystal Maze and Spice-2000. 
    • The LCA MK-2 features enhanced range and endurance including Onboard Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), which is being integrated for the first time. 
      • Heavy standoff weapons of the class of Scalp, Crystal Maze and Spice-2000 will also be integrated on the MK-2. 
      • The MK-2 will be a heavier and much more capable aircraft than the current LCA variants with the aircraft 1350mm longer, featuring canards and can carry a payload of 6,500 kg compared to 3,500 kg by the LCA.

    Image Courtesy: HT

    Source: TH