India’s indigenously developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) needs additional modification to fly in high-altitude areas and will not be ready for operational service until 2015, India’s air force (IAF) chief says.

“The engine of LCA did not work during recent trials at high-altitude areas in the Leh region [in northern India],” IAF head Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne says. Consequently, the LCA’s Final Operational Clearance (FOC) has been delayed and the aircraft “needs to be modified. It has to do the retrials ... Even the Su-30 had to be modified when it was taken to Leh,” he says.

Designed by the Defense and Research Development Organization’s Aeronautical Development Agency and manufactured at Bengaluru-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the single-seat, single-engine supersonic fighter was previously delayed until the middle of this year. Overall, the LCA has been delayed by more than 20 years.

Browne defends this by saying “delays do take place” in a development project such as the LCA. “By my estimate, the Initial Operational Clearance II [IOC-II] will happen by the end of this year and the FOC will take another two years,” he says.

Tejas will be on display at the 9th Aero India show beginning Feb. 6 in Bengaluru.

“I am impatient for the FOC” of the Tejas, Defense Minister A.K. Antony says. He asked DRDO to expedite the program.

The LCA has already undergone nearly 2,000 test flights up to speeds of Mach 1.4, according to DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat. IOC-1 was achieved in January 2011. The Tejas has undertaken weapon trials, including flights with a laser-guided bomb, according to the Indian defense ministry. Various sensor trials also were conducted last year.

In early January, India finalized a 30 billion rupee ($560 million) deal with the U.S. to supply 99 jet engines for the LCA. India chose General Electric to provide the GE F-414 engine for the LCA Mark II program. GE F-414 engines are stronger than the GE F-404 engines that powered the first batch of LCAs.

Meanwhile, Browne says the Tejas will participate in an exercise in Pokhran in the western Indian state of Rajasthan on Feb. 22. “It will fire the R-73 missile along with laser-guided bombs. But a lot more work is still required,” he says.

The Tejas is designed to carry air-to-air, air-to-surface, precision-guided and standoff weaponry. The Tejas’s procurement cost is about 90 billion rupees.

Tejas photo: Indian Ministry of Defense