IAF gets second Tejas squadron; Air Chief shows the way with solo sortie

Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria climbed alone into the cockpit of a Tejas fighter on Wednesday, revved up its powerful turbofan engine and took off for a solo flight around Coimbatore. Photo: PTI
In a statement of confidence in the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), the Indian Air Force (IAF) boss, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, climbed alone into the cockpit of a Tejas fighter on Wednesday, revved up its powerful turbofan engine and took off for a solo flight around Coimbatore.

Air force chiefs, including Pakistan’s recently, often go up for a spin to boost the morale of their fighter pilots. But they usually do so in twin-seat aircraft, with the squadron’s top fighter jock controlling things from the front seat. Bhadauria — a veteran test pilot who has flown multiple fighters during his 40-year career — had the confidence to fly alone.

Bhadauria’s solo flight from Sulur Air Base in Tamil Nadu marked the birth of the IAF’s second Tejas squadron — Number 18 Squadron, called the “Flying Bullets”. After the flight, the air force chief inducted into service the squadron’s first Tejas fighter, handed over by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).

While the first Tejas squadron — 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers) — operates 16 Tejas Mark 1 fighters built to initial operational certification (IOC) standards, 18 Squadron will fly a more capable version that conforms to final operational certification (FOC) standards.

 “Apart from all the capabilities of IOC aircraft, the FOC variant additionally comes with air-to-air refueling capability, close combat gun, additional drop tanks, beyond-visual-range missile capability, updated avionics and flight control software suite,” said R Madhavan, HAL’s chairman. “The FOC variant will reduce the (Tejas fighter’s) maintenance man-hours and turn-around-time, resulting in enhanced support for IAF missions,” said a HAL release.

HAL says 18 Squadron will receive its next two Tejas fighters in July. Two more after that are in the advanced stages of production and testing. HAL has also commenced training for maintenance crew for the FOC standard aircraft and positioned trained personnel with 18 Squadron.

Alongside building 16 single-seat Tejas Mark 1 fighters for 18 Squadron, HAL will also build 8 twin-seat, trainer version Tejas Mark 1 fighter — four of which will go to each of the two squadrons.

After building a total of 40 Tejas Mark 1 fighters by 2023 to equip the first two squadrons, HAL will then start building 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters for the IAF’s next four Tejas squadrons. Equipped with airborne electronically scanned array radar and sophisticated jammers, the Mark 1A will be more capable than the Mark 1. The next capability jump will involve the production of the Tejas Mark 2. Several enhancements the IAF has demanded will make it a 17.5-tonnes medium fighter — bulkier and more powerful than the 14.5 tonnes Mark 1.

A major boost to the Tejas Mark 2 will come from its General Electric F-414 engine, which will be more powerful than the Mark 1 fighters’ GE F-404IN engines. This will allow Mark 2 to carry a beefy 6.5 tonnes of payload, consisting of weapons and external fuel.


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