10 things you didn’t know about the LCA
In the first part of the LCA Tejas series we penned down some of the capabilities of the Tejas that places it among the best light combat aircrafts worldwide. But as we’re researching more about this little but ferocious bird, we were amazed to learn some extremely surprising facts about the Tejas. Here are 10 facts about the Tejas you didn’t know about:
The cumulative program cost of LCA Tejas that included the design, prototyping & developmental trials was just Rs 11,000 Crore or $1.6 billion. In comparison, for the Saab Gripen, which is a similar fighter in the same class, the program cost was $13.5 billion. For Dassault Rafale, this was $62.7 billion.
Tejas is the only fighter jet in the world to have competed all it’s development trials without any accident or safety incident. By 2013 when its initial development ended, it had completed 2,587 sorties covering over 1,750 hours. By 2020, more than 5,000 sorties have been flown with an impeccable safety record.
The use of composites in Tejas is maximum by percentage among any contemporary fighters. Composite materials make up 45% of the airframe by weight and 95% by surface area. Due to this the fatigue life of the airframe is exceptional. By a conservative estimate the life in terms of in-service flying hours is 9,000 hours, which might be revised to 12,000 hours.
The program is an ever evolving one. Tejas fighters are constantly evolving since 2013 when they were decided to be inducted. In 2015 they were improved for the IOC-II. 16 number of IOC standard aircraft were built. The IAF granted Final operational clearance in 2019 to improved variants with BVR missile capability & in-flight refuelling probe. The next variant is the Mk1A with significant improvements. HAL has also planned a Mk2 variant dubbed as Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) which will eventually replace the Mirage 2000, MiG-29UPG & Jaguars. There is a Naval version too.
The Mk1 version of the LCA Tejas is not fully indigenous. The costliest parts such as the Radar & the engine are still imported from Israel & U.S respectively. As a result, the indigenous content of the Tejas was 59.7% by monetary value and 75.5% by number of line replaceable units (LRUs) as of 2016. These figures are supposed to cross 80% in the Mk1A variant.
LCA-Tejas Mk1 has around 344 Line Replaceable Units (LRU) out of which 210 are locally produced while around 134 LRUs are imported from foreign companies. HAL plans to start local production of further 42 LRUs out of these 134 LRUs which are still imported. This will further improve the indigenization objective and reduce import content in the aircraft further.
The assembly of Tejas jet is done at HAL complex in Bangalore but these assemblies are manufactured by several private manufacturers. The wings are manufactured by L&T defence, front fuselage is from Dynamics technologies, Centre fuselage by VEM Technologies & Rear fuselage is manufactured by Alpha Design & Dynamics.
The engine of LCA Tejas, GE F404-IN20 is the same engines used in the F/A-18 Hornet used by the US Navy. These are extremely fuel-efficient engines with good throttle response. The fuel efficiency from F404 at 8,000 feet altitude is the same at 30,000 feet altitude when flying a MiG-21. Also, the F404 has high resistance to compressor stalls, even at high angle of attack.
The LCA Tejas has an endurance of 90 minutes with reserve fuel when flying with two 800 litre drop tanks, 4 air to air missiles (2 short range & 2 medium range) & one targeting pod. It routinely flies between Bengaluru and Jaisalmer for tests & exercises with two 1200 litre drop tanks. The aircraft lands with 800 kg of fuel still onboard even after flying for 2.5 hours at 28,000 feet.
Due to high lift wings, the Tejas has a take-off roll of just 600 meters with typical mission loadout. It can operate from forward air bases. At its maximum take-off weight (MTOW) the Tejas requires 1,700 meters of runway to take-off & 1,300 meters to land at maximum landing weight.
These facts even left us awestruck as we learnt a little bit more about our Indigenous fighter. But it is very crucial to understand how these capabilities will be used in a real-world scenario. In the next part of the series we’ll see exactly that. How the features & capabilities of the LCA Tejas is being exploited by the IAF, what role is Tejas playing & how it is augmenting the fleet, are some answers we’ll look in the article.