The Indian Air Force (IAF) operationalize the second squadron of the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) at Sulur airbase near Coimbatore in the state of Tamil Nadu.
According to local media reports, the Number 18 Squadron, codenamed Flying Bullets, will feature Tejas aircraft in the Final Operational Configuration. Initially, it will include one aircraft, while additional units will be added gradually.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria, received the first FOC standard LCA from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in a function held at Air Force Station, Sulur near Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu.
“We are proud to deliver a much lethal aircraft than the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) block. Apart from all the capabilities of IOC aircraft, the FOC variant additionally comes with air to air refuelling capability, close combat gun, additional drop tanks, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile capability, updated avionics and flight control software suite,” HAL Chairman R. Madhavan said in a statement.
The handover and induction of the LCA FOC aircraft got delayed due to COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions. Four more FOC aircraft in advanced stages of production and testing and are expected to join the squadron soon, HAL said. The FOC certificate for the LCA was handed over during the ‘Aero India’ air show at Bengaluru in February last year.
Praising the latest LCA as ‘best-in-class’, ACM Bhadauria said that combat capabilities of the aircraft and the two squadrons will become core of the strength of Air Force.
The first LCA squadron with IOC standard aircraft was operationalised in July 2016. IAF has so far placed orders for 20 IOC standard aircraft and 20 FOC standard aircraft including eight twin seater trainers. The trainer variant of LCA have not been handed over to the IAF yet.
The No. 18 Squadron was originally formed on April 15, 1965 and got number plated on April 15, 2016 after the Mig-27 aircraft it was flying then were retired. The Squadron was resurrected on April 1 this year, at Sulur. The No. 18 squadron saw active combat during the 1971 war and Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was posthumously awarded the highest gallantry award ‘Param Vir Chakra’.
There is also an order for 83 LCA in MK-1A configuration with four major and several minor upgrades which ACM Bhadauria termed a ‘high priority’ in a recent conversation with The Hindu. The deal, estimated to be worth around ₹38,000 crore, is expected to be signed in the next three months.
HAL is setting up a second assembly line in collaboration with the private industry to increase the production rate of the LCA from current eight to 16 meet the delivery timelines.