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The never ending saga of the Third Generation LCA Tejas
7th Jan 2012

Pop open the Champagne, its time to celebrate? When the world was moving over to 5th Generation, a certain large country was celebrating something else. A fighter designed by the country which even its Airforce is hesitant to induct in decent numbers. The fighter which was supposed to replace the good ol' Mig-21, but strangely still in development. Yup, we are talking about the infamous LCA Tejas.

When the Project first came into existence in 1983, the IAF(Indian Air Force) was full of optimism about LCA which vaguely resembled one of their most favorite fighter, the french origin Mirage-2000. But after almost 30 years, the reality is this fighter had to be forced down the IAF's throat by the Ministry of Defence. After numerous prototypes & cost-overruns, the Light Combat Aircraft(LCA) has now finally progressed to IOC(Initial Operational Clearance). But the IAF feels the specs of this fighter is not something to write home about. And they are not wrong.

LCA's G tolerance is only 6Gs. When compared its rivals, Pakistan's JF-17/FC-1's is 8Gs, and Mig-21's(which it is supposed to replace) is 8.5Gs.

Its empty weight is a staggering 6540kgs. This betrays the very name of this fighter, "Light Combat Aircraft". Also this is a fighter which is said to have composites extensively. Just leaves one wondering what's the point of composites if it got to weigh this heavy in the end. The JF-17(similar in size to the LCA), eventhough it has a metal body, weighs only 6586kgs. The Mig-21 weighs 5460kgs.

It has a Maximum angle of attack of only 22, compared to the Mig-21's Max AoA of 28 Degrees(recoverable).

Its radar is still under perpetual development. The Israelis were supposed to give their radar, but new news reports suggests they have pulled the plug. So LCA currently has no working radar.

Tejas' new IN20 engine has a thrust of 19100lbf or 8660kgf. It is also a superior engine to RD-93 on the JF-17 which has a thrust of only 18300lbf. But the Mig-21's Tumansky engine can throw out a jaw dropping 21829lbf during interception, and 15654lbf during dogfighting, but it is an old Turbojet model. Hence the MTBO(Mean Time Between Overhaul), SFC(Specific Fuel Consumption) and other parameters favor the LCA's engine. So India has atleast one feather in its cap. Or does it? When all the parameters are below average and this one alone stands out, it's pretty obvious the engine is imported. The IN20 engine which the LCA owes its life to came straight out of the General-Electric's factory in the US.

Its max speed is unknown. While JF-17's is Mach 1.6, and Mig-21's Mach 2.2.

Its price is a staggering 1.9 billion Rupees or $41-42 million at the current 2011 exchange rate(fly away cost, not the cost with development taken into account). When compared, JF-17's cost is somewhere between $20-25 million, and Mig-21's < $2 million.

Aeronautical Development Agency(ADA) has promised these poor specs will be improved to 8Gs, 24 Degrees, Mach 1.8, with an indigenous engine in 3-4 years. But it is highly unlikely they will be able to achieve that given their track record. When it took ADA almost 3 decades to get to these below-average specs, its only logical to assume they need a miracle to improve their specs in such a short amount of time.

The Indian Airforce Chief PV.Naik came out with the truth that Tejas isn't a 4th Generation plane but rather only a Third Generation fighter. Perhaps he should have compared the specs first before classifying it as a MiG-21 on steroids("MiG-21++"). But then again the Foreign engine and a forthcoming foreign Radar, is and will be state of the art. Mr.Naik must have kept these 2 components in mind when he said that.

And not just the IAF chief, a good friend of mine suggested after witnessing the highly uninspiring characteristics of LCA first hand in Bangalore, in the Aero India held back in 2003, that the LCA program should be scrapped and India should go for Mirage-2000 ASAP. He even predicted the perpetual development schedule of the project if India doesn't abandon this fighter. Looking back, its frightening how accurate his words were, made way back in 2003. With such extremely poor specs my heart goes out to the brave souls who'll be flying this junk. It really lives up to its critic's name - Least Capable Aircraft!

Indian Airforce grudgingly accepts Tejas

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