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TUESDAY, MAY 10, 2011

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has won the approval to buy 20 additional Tejas fighter jets, the home-grown light combat aircraft to be built by military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), defence minister A.K. Antony said on Tuesday.

The defence acquisition council has cleared the plan, he said. So far, IAF has ordered 28 Tejas aircraft, currently under development at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the design agency for the aircraft.

The additional order would give a boost to the indigenous plane project, which has faced an uncertain future due to delays in its development and certification.

“Now, LCA (light combat aircraft) is a reality,” said Antony, who recalled that he had received suggestions when he took over as defence minister that the Tejas, the Arjun battle tank and the Akash missile programmes be scrapped. “Despite all those prophecies of doom, all (three projects) are becoming a reality.”

The Tejas was conceived in the 1980s to replace the ageing fleet of Russian MiG-21 planes.

The project got the government’s nod in 1990, a prototype was rolled out in the middle of that decade, and the first Tejas took to the skies in 2001.

Since then, 12 Tejas planes have flown 1,400 flights on test missions. The aircraft is expected to get initial operational clearance, or the certification for minimum standards set by the IAF, by December.

A two-seat naval version of the plane, which was rolled out on Tuesday by the minister, will take to the skies around October, said P.S. Subramanyam, programme director at ADA.

“The learning has been enormous. We have been able to compress time,” he said.

The two-seat naval trainer has been redesigned to take off and land on an aircraft carrier—needing about one-tenth of the 800-900m on a regular runway.

The navy is setting up a shore-based test facility, which will be similar to the deck of the INS Vikramaditya, the aircraft carrier Russia is building for India.

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