In a first, Tejas, the advanced version of India’s indigenously produced Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was successfully refuelled mid-air by a Russian-origin Ilyushin-78 tanker on September 10, 2018.
The mid-air refuelling was a part of a ‘wet contact’ trial for LCA Tejas MK-1. The Russian-origin tanker refuelled the fighter plane, piloted by Wing Commander Siddarth Singh, with 1,900 litres of fuel at an altitude of 20,000 ft. The move demonstrates a key capability sought by the Indian Air Force.
The successful test is being seen as a significant achievement and a major step towards the final operational clearance of the Light Combat Aircraft.
The air-to-air refuelling capability for LCA is a ‘force multiplier’ for the IAF, giving the aircraft the potential to stay airborne for a much longer period of time.
The enhanced range and endurance in air is expected to provide IAF a host of options in exploiting the operational potential of the LCA as well as to participate in international exercises without having to stage through several locations en route.
• The actual engagement followed two dry tests, which were conducted last week when the refuelling systems (probe and drogue) were tested without actually transferring fuel.
• On the day of the actual test, the LCA’s internal and drop tanks were refuelled while the jet was flying at 270 knots.
• The IAF provided all required support to DRDO including the tanker aircraft for the successful test flight.
• The IAF has ordered 123 LCA variants at a cost of Rs 70, 000 crores and plans to order 201 more upgraded models to arrest a sharp decline in its combat capabilities.
• Among the 123 planes on order, 20 each are in the initial operational clearance (IOC) and the more advanced final operational clearance (FOC) configurations, while the remaining 83 are in the Mk-1A configuration that comes with additional improvements.
Key features of LCA Tejas
Besides the mid-air refuelling capability, the most advanced Tejas versions will come with improvements, including a digital radar warning receiver, external self-protection jammer pod, active electronically scanned array radar, advanced beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles and improved maintainability.
The Indian Air Force raised its first Tejas squadron in 2016 and has inducted nine jets so far.
The Indian aerospace and defence company, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), claims that it is ready to produce eight aircraft per year and is ramping up the production rate to 16 by 2019-20 by investing Rs1,331 crore.
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