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LCA induction by 2011: Defence Minister

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Defence Minister AK Antony (R) with Air Chief Marshall, Fali Homi Major during the Air and Static display of indigenously manufactured aircraft by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore on Saturday. PTI Photo

BANGALORE (PTI): Dispelling doubts over the viability of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), India today said the project was very much on track and there was no question of abandoning the programme, which would be completed by 2011.

"I can tell you with all confidence by end of 2010, the LCA is expected to get its full operational clearance and by 2011, I am sure IAF will be able to get the first delivery of the aircraft," Defence Minister A K Antony told reporters here, after reviewing the performance of the blue-chip Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

"There is no question of abandoning of the LCA project," Antony said, promising that the IAF would get a total of 70 Tejas for its proposed seven squadrons.

Noting that DRDO's Aeronautical Development agency-designed LCA project was being hotly debated along with the Arjun Main Battle Tank for the delays in design and development, the Defence Minister said despite the delay of over 26 years - the project was launched in 1982 - LCA was at last becoming a reality. "It is a success," he said defending the LCA project.

"I have discussed the LCA's progress with the officials of HAL, IAF and from the Defence Ministry and they are all happy with its functioning," he added.

He said initially, the IAF would get delivery of 20 LCAs for one of its two squadrons to be raised by 2011 and as a follow-on order, the IAF would raise five more squadrons. In all probability, the first two squadrons would be based in Sulur air base near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.

The first lot of Tejas would be fitted with the F404-GE-F2J3 after burning turbofan engine, Antony said adding that the IAF was looking for a more powerful engine and it was working alongside DRDO for design and development of a new engine. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, who was present on the occasion, said once India chooses the new engine, the future lot of Tejas would be fitted with it.

Evading a query on if the search for the new engine would mean the death of the GTRE GTX-35VS 'Kaveri' engine being developed for Tejas, Antony said "The IAF and DRDO would work on the new engine and things were moving very fast in this direction." The search for the new engine would go on simultaneously with the induction of the first lot of Tejas, he said adding the present engine from the US would be used for the first two IAF squadrons of the LCA.

Interestingly, HAL was to display the LCA's flying capabilities for the benefit of Antony during the review, but could only taxi it around its airstrip due to heavy rains lashing the venue.

Antony also refused to comment on the delays in the delivery schedule of the Hawks Advanced Jet Trainers to the IAF by HAL, which has delivered only one of the aircraft till date, though it was scheduled to deliver about a dozen by September.

India had signed for 66 BAE Systems' Hawks in March 2004 after expressing interest over 20 years ago and the first set of Hawks delivered from UK were inducted into the IAF at Bidar airbase for training new recruits into frontline pilots and graduating to supersonic fighter aircraft from the existing subsonic Kiran MkII trainers.

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