In a first, the government has decided to field indigenously developed combat aircraft Tejas for the fourth edition of Bahrain International Air Show (BIAS). To be held from January 21-23, BIAS will also see participation of Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter produced with Chinese help. India will also send IAF Sarang helicopter display team that flies indigenous Dhruv helicopters and DRDO’s airborne early warning and control platform.
Defence ministry sources said the decision to send two Tejas aircraft to BIAS was “taken at the political level”. “We were told to work on sending the Tejas,” an official said. The team is to leave Bangalore on January 5 and halt at Jamnagar, followed by a stopover at Muscat for refuelling before arriving at Bahrain’s Sakhir Airbase.
The decision to field Tejas is being seen as a bold move as its performance would be analysed by aerospace professionals from across the world. Pakistan’s move to send JF-17 is likely to lead to a comparison between the two.
“We don’t want a scenario where Tejas is pitched against the JF-17. They are two different aircraft at different stages of development and cannot be compared,” a Tejas test pilot said.
JF-17 Thunder was co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation. It has been flown by Pakistan Air Force since 2010. Tejas has not been inducted into IAF so far. It has been developed by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) with HAL and DRDO.
After receiving Initial Operational Clearance in December 2013, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar handed over the aircraft to IAF last year. ADA is hoping for a Final Operational Clearance (FOC) this year, which will lead to Tejas being operationalised in IAF.
ADA sources said LSP-3 and LSP-4 of Tejas have been prepared for BIAS, one for flying duties and the other for static display. But test pilots flying Tejas are apprehensive. “We have problems with the undercarriage. A short-term solution has been found for this trip but it’s not a permanent answer,” a test pilot said.
ADA officials are worried about further delay in Tejas programme due to the decision to participate in BIAS. They fear it will delay plans to get FOC by mid-2016. “2015 was a bad year for us. Flight schedule wasn’t followed in May, June, July and August due to technical issues. In November, we had bad weather and since then we have been focused on the Bahrain trip,” an official said.