It was a proud day for India when the country’s indigenously designed and developed light multi-role combat aircraft (LCA), which is named Tejas, was given initial operational clearance. It was a dream for the country to produce an aircraft with its own scientific and industrial resources. The development of an aircraft is considered a better pointer of a country’s engineering skills and industrial maturity than achievements in many other frontline areas. India’s efforts in the aeronautical field lagged much behind its remarkable successes with nuclear and space technologies. It took three decades for the LCA to take shape and move from the drawing board to the skies. The Marut project of the 1960s did not even make initial progress for various reasons. Serious work on the LCA started only in 1983. The long delay in the development of the aircraft has been criticised as a sign of the poor work culture in even important areas of scientific research and development in the government sector. But there were genuine problems and challenges too. The whole effort had to start from scratch as India had no base or experience in the field. Designs had to be changed frequently as aerospace technology kept changing fast. The Indian Air Force (IAF), which was to use the aircraft, needed newer and newer systems to be integrated in the aircraft. The problem of sourcing components from abroad during the time of sanctions was also a constraining factor. This had a good result also. Many features of the aircraft are completely indigenous. Only three of its 35 avionics components have been procured from foreign suppliers. Local components are set to increase further. One major failure has been the inability to develop the indigenous Kaveri engine. An indigenous engine would have made the achievement much greater. Tejas is set to replace the MiG-21 aircraft which were phased from the IAF recently. It will take another 18 months for the final operational clearance, after which the aircraft will join the IAF fleet. Tejas and its improved versions will form the backbone of the IAF in the coming decades. Even after cost escalation due to delays, it is perhaps the cheapest aircraft in the world. This provides commercial possibilities in future.
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