On 20 December the Indian Air Force (IAF) will induct the country's first indigenous fighter jet, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), in Bangalore. The Tejas has been many painful years in the making.
It was first seriously mooted in the 1980s, the first technology demonstrator came in 1995, and it's had over 2400 flight tests since it first flew in 2001. With the accident-prone MiG-21 Bison fleet ageing, India desperately needs to fill the looming gap at the lower, lighter, and cheaper end of its combat fleet.
The IAF plans eventually to build up to seven squadrons (around 140 aircraft) of the Tejas, and although some aren't sure it's good enough — only a couple of years ago, defence analysts like Ashley Tellis were seriously questioning whether it would ever see the light of day — others insist that it's a solid platform that will slot in well under India's growing array of heavier, more expensive, and more capable Russian and French fighters.
Yet the Tejas is hardly the triumph of indigenous engineering India hoped it would be. The engine at the heart of it is imported from the US, and only 53% of the remaining components — including some of the most crucial — are indigenous. Its production by the public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has been horribly lethargic. If the Tejas is representative of India's indigenous military industrial efforts, then the country is a very long way away from emulating China's homegrown arms production.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.