Bengaluru: The first Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas fighter from the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) block, SP-21, is set for independent and integrated system checks at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL)’s LCA-Tejas Division.
“In aeronautical parlance, the first fighter in the FOC category is in the equipping stage of the production life cycle. We are confident of its first flight in two months,” an official said.
The proactive steps taken by HAL towards fabrication of common parts and assemblies to meet timeline requirements of Indian Air Force (IAF) have shown better results now.
The final DAL (Drawing Applicability List) for Tejas FOC variants was received during February 2019 by HAL. DAL is the standard of preparation for production that forms the basis for the final product to be delivered to the customer.
Interactions with various teams involved in the Tejas project during the recent visit of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to HAL, Onmanorama has learned that HAL is currently awaiting a crucial software upgrade from its partner Aeronautics Development Agency (ADA) for the upgraded fighters.
In the FOC block, HAL needs to manufacture 16 fighters, a task that is now expected to be completed by March 2021.
The FOC configuration of the aircraft has been evolved based on various technological improvements on the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) block of 16 fighters, now operated by IAF.
Among the key features that have been added to improve the performance are: air-to-air refueling probe, Gsh-23 mm gun, pressure refueling with three drop tank configuration, integration of 725 and 450 liters of drop tank, improved wing navigation lamp, in-flight wind mill relight, tandem pylon and zoom climb to name a few.
Team HAL is hopeful that the SP-21 will go for the EGR (engine ground run) during end of October, followed by the first flight.
“Our work force is currently in a home stretch, equipping SP-21 for its maiden flight,” an official said.
The decision to launch common parts between IOC and FOC fighters well in advance has now showing rich dividends. The LCA-Tejas Division has now cut down the lead time for production of aircraft from 12-18 months to eight months.
“We have gained good experience during manufacturing of aircraft with IOC configuration, which is coming handy during the ongoing production of SP-21 onwards,” the official added.
HAL has incorporated many key improvements in the production line to reduce the cycle time and better quality product. They include: use of robotic drilling, reduction in PI (pre-installation checks) of LRUs (line replace units), maximizing the outsourcing for detail components, outsourcing of complete major assemblies like wing and fuselage, maintainability improvement through enhanced looming cut-outs and ICY (inter-changeability) of pipes and panels and use of copper mesh on wing assembly.
HAL has developed a good vendor base across India for supplying detail parts, sub-assemblies and major assemblies like complete wing and fuselage for the LCA production. Presently 45 per cent of the LCA components are being sub-contracted.
Moves are afoot to indigenize imported LRUs to further improve the private partnership in the programmme.
“This would enable us to increase the production rate of LCA. Out of 16 FOC strike aircraft, four are planned to be delivered by this FY (March 2020) and remaining 12 fighters will be delivered within next FY (March 2021),” says the official.
The structural build of SP-22 and SP-23 is under progress in the division, while the assembly of front, center and rear fuselages has been completed well in time of their production.
The wing sets for both these fighters are getting fabricated in the dedicated facility and the same are expected by October and November.
Team charged up
The LCA-Tejas Division is a comparatively new wing of HAL and is propelled by 800 plus engineers and workmen. The visit of Rajnath Singh and his subsequent flight on Tejas trainer has lifted the morale of the team.
The appointment of Air Marshal R K S Bhadauria as the next Chief of Air Staff too has come at the right time for the LCA-Tejas Division. Air Marshal Bhadauria has seen Tejas taking baby steps and he was instrumental in the No 45 Squadron Flying Daggers moving to AFS Sulur from Bengaluru, ahead of schedule.
“The inputs from No 45 Squadron (operating Tejas at AFS Sulur) have been encouraging. We have a self-motivated and dedicated team who gained expertise and technical acumen by being part of the IOC aircraft production process. This has increased the confidence of our team and we now eyeing on 83 Mk1A orders from Ministry of Defence,” says the official.
Both Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chairman Dr G Satheesh Reddy and HAL Chairman and manging Director M Madhavan confirmed to Onmanorma that the 83 MK1A orders are in the final stages of completion.
They say all major issues have been sorted out barring those linked to ground equipment and other support systems.
HAL hopes that all pending issues will be sorted in the next two months and the contract will be inked during this FY itself.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)