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'Who will buy this aircraft that took 30 years to make?'

June 29, 2014 16:49 IST

'LCA Tejas has to be first inducted into IAF...'

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Defence Research and Development Organisation’s claim about being in a position to export Light Combat Aircraft Tejas has been dismissed as premature and unrealistic by former top Indian Air Force officers who want it to focus on getting the indigenous fighter plane inducted into own air force first.

"It is good to have ambitions but there are several miles to go before we can talk or think about exporting LCA. It is too early to talk about this as it has to be first inducted into IAF before we take a decision on selling these planes," former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy said.

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He was reacting to DRDO's claim that it can sell light-weight multirole LCA to friendly foreign countries in future.

Krishnaswamy said DRDO and the country will have to be "realistic" as for exporting the aircraft. The country will have to make huge investments to create a new and big production line for mass production of these aircraft, he said.

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'DRDO has no exposure to such fleet management practices'

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The development of the home-grown fighter aircraft, which recently got 'Initial Operational Clearance' by IAF, has already taken 30 years at an estimated cost of over Rs 17,000 crore.

However, the induction is still awaited as IAF has not yet given the 'Final Operation Clearance'.

Production of the aircraft is estimated to push up the cost further.

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Krishnaswamy said when it comes to exporting combat aircraft or helicopters, the seller has to provide long-term fleet support to the customer countries and "DRDO has no exposure to such fleet management practices".

"We had exported some choppers to a country and one of them crashed during the national day parade of that particular nation.

"So, we should first focus on developing the aircraft for our own requirements and then think of other things," he said.

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'Who will buy this aircraft that took 30 years to make?'

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Krishnaswamy said the first indigenously built bomber HF-24 Marut aircraft had to go through several modifications due to problems experienced in it even several years after it was inducted in IAF.

Former Western Air Command chief Air Marshal (retd) A K Singh said the development of the aircraft is far behind schedule and DRDO should first make it ready for the country's own air force.

"Moreover, you may talk about exports but the point is that who will buy such an aircraft which has taken so long for being developed and there are so many choices available for countries to buy such planes," he said.

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Former Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal (retd) N V Tyagi said as a concept, the idea of exporting LCA is good as it will create revenue but one must realise that any foreign customer will buy it only after seeing its performance in the Indian Air Force, where it is yet to be inducted.

"To show its performance, it has to serve in the force for quite some time and only then, one should start thinking about exporting it," he said.

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Target: Six squadrons of LCA

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The LCA programme was initiated in the early 1980s but it has seen several delays and time and cost over-runs which have led to the postponement of phasing out of the vintage Russia-origin MiG 21 combat aircraft from the air force.

As per government plans, six squadrons of LCA would be manufactured of which two would be LCA MK-I while the remaining would be the MK-II version. A squadron comprises around 20 aircraft.

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DRDO has also contracted for American GE-414 engines which would provide a stronger thrust to LCA-MK II whereas the initial two squadrons will be powered by the GE-404 power plants.

The first squadron of the fighter plane would be deployed at the Sulur air base in Tamil Nadu and the later ones are expected to replace MiG 21 squadrons at their respective bases. 




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