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India held the first public demonstration of one of the world’s lightest combat aircraft on Sunday and said it would explore prospects for its export.
The eight-tonne aircraft, delayed by Washington’s sanctions against India’s nuclear policy, has been designed by the government’s Aeronautical Development Agency and built by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Cheers rent the air at the Bangalore Airport as a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) performing in a public fly-past dipped its wings in salute to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who later named the aircraft “Tejas”, or “Radiance”. “We need to make the necessary investments for the commercial production of the LCA,” Vajpayee said. “We should also explore its export potential.” The aircraft – in development since 1983 – has been a long-cherished dream of India’s air force chiefs who wanted to reduce their country’s dependence on foreign imports.
“”We have to look even further ahead and develop technologies for future generations of aircraft,”” he said. India has spent over Rs.20 billion on the LCA programme.
“”At the same time, we welcome collaboration with international partners in design, development and co- production,”” Vajpayee said, describing the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile developed by India and Russia as a “”shining example”” of such joint ventures.
Vajpayee also witnessed the rollout of the first of five new prototypes of the LCA at a ceremony here that was attended by Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna, Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, top military officials and scientists.
India plans to jointly market the BrahMos with Russia and hawk other indigenous hardware, ranging from the INSAS assault rifle to the Dhruv helicopter, to boost arms exports that have stagnated at about Rs 2 billion a year.
“”I am sure that that other potential international partners will eventually wake up to the tremendous commercial potential of such joint collaborations with India not only for markets in our country, but also in third countries,”” Vajpayee said.
But he assured the world community that India had “”adopted a most responsible policy on missile, nuclear and dual-use technologies, taking the utmost care to avoid their proliferation””.
The IAF plans to induct 220 LCAs to replace its ageing fleet of Russian- designed MiG-21s that have a poor flight safety record after a string of crashes in recent years. The IAF has lost nearly 200 MiG-series jets in the past decade. Conceived in 1983, the delta-winged LCA made its maiden flight only in January 2001. The long gestation period was largely due to the fact that the US withheld critical avionics systems and engines after India’s nuclear tests in May 1998.
Described by Indian scientists as the world’s lightest multi-role combat aircraft, the LCA is currently powered by the US-made GE- 404 engine but India is working on an indigenous engine called the Kaveri, which is being tested in Russia.
The LCA is the second home-grown jet fighter developed by India after the HF-24 Marut that went into service with the IAF in the 1960s.
Vajpayee’s christening of the jet is part of the government’s move to give Indian names to all indigenously developed military hardware, a practice that started with missiles like the nuclear-capable Agni (Fire) and Prithvi (Earth) ballistic missiles.
The new LCA prototype rolled out Sunday will be lighter than the first two prototypes used for initial tests. Its airframe consists of more lightweight composite material than the earlier LCAs. “”The (new prototype) will break the sound barrier to go into the supersonic phase very shortly,”” said V.K. Atre, the head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The prototype LCAs will be followed by the limited serial production of eight aircraft by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at a cost of about Rs.5 billion. “”The LCA should be inducted into the IAF in 2008,”” Krishnaswamy told reporters on the sidelines of the ceremony.
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