NEW DELHI — Delayed by more than 15 years, India’s homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark-1 is ready for critical test flights necessary for its final operational clearance (FOC) at the end of the year, but analysts and Indian Air Force (IAF) officials say that clearance will slip again, to next year.
Though he did not provide a date for the test flights, a Defence Ministry official said they will include firings of a variety of weapons, including air-to-air missiles and Israeli-made Derby beyond-visual-range missiles. The Russian-made close-combat missile R-73 has already been integrated on the aircraft,
Weapon testing would involve integration checks, carriage safety and missile firing, followed up with user evaluation of radar integration with mission computer and weapon firing trials on the available aircraft and subsequent inductions over the next three to five years, said defense analyst Kapil Kak, a retired Indian Air Force air vice marshal.
“FOC would most probably slip to sometime in 2016,” Kak said. “But given the track record, these kind of slippages have over the years been accepted as par for the course.”
The Air Force ordered 20 of the Mark-1s after the aircraft’s initial operational clearance in December 2013, and is set to order an additional 20 following FOC. State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) will produce all 40 aircraft under limited series production and says it has the capacity to produce eight LCA Mark-1s a year once the full order is placed.
But so far the Air Force has received only one aircraft to use for weapon integration and testing, not the four it wanted to have at this stage.