SOURCE: Satyajeet Kumar/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
It was at the end of 2013 when Initial Operational Clearance-II of Tejas was finally granted and since then proposed deadline for Final Operation Clearance (FOC) has been postponed and delayed several times but does Final Operation Clearance is really that important? and does FOC of a new fighter jet really is counted as a significant milestone in other international projects?
Well a simple study will reveal that official declaration of Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) is always considered as an important milestone in any fighter jet project because once IOC is achieved it only means that aircraft in question doesn’t require any structural modifications and can be used on basis upon which it can enter into series or small scale production, while it keeps on getting internal changes and up gradation over the period of time .
Prospective International buyers usually refer to IOC Certification of the aircraft to make a decision if the aircraft can be purchased and also refer to combat capabilities of the aircraft at the time of sale. Fighter jet fresh off the new production line usually comes with limited combat capabilities since additional combat capabilities are only added after new technologies are developed over the course of time and as per growth potential of the aircraft and its avionics.
From Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) to Final Operation Clearance (FOC) process is not a time bound progress nor there is any set timeline for everyone to follow but if an average turnaround period is calculated based on various fighter jet projects from past and present then average usually comes to 5-6 years but in some cases, FOC declaration is never disclosed and the product continues to get incremental combat capabilities over the course of period which might span out to a decade or more .
In LCA-Tejas case, end of 2015 was when it was first supposed to attain its FOC, which was too short of time-frame set since the addition of combat capabilities along with avionics and software update usually takes 5-6 years on average even in cases where manufacturers have several decades of experience in development of fighter jet.
Work required to move from IOC-II to FOC in two years for LCA-Tejas required addition of a new Python-5 Close Combat Missile and addition of new Derby Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, new supersonic drop tanks, mid-air refuelling system, integration of the gun, flight envelope being extended to -3.5G to +8G from the -2G to 6G, Angle of Attack (AoA) also increased to 24 degrees.
As of now LCA-Tejas already has cleared all Air-to-Ground operation capabilities and can operate rockets, guided, unguided bombs and also has achieved extended flight envelope but as expected integration of CCM and BVR missiles along with Gun integration turned time-consuming but that was predicated even way in 2013 it self by many Defence Analysts as of for In-flight refuelling probe trials too will be time-consuming affair and even with dedicated full-time refueller aircraft stationed for mid-air refuelling trials will take more than two years due to lot of safety issues related measures required to be adopted which slow down trials considerably and such trials also require careful planning and safety checks .
FOC certification for LCA-Tejas MK-1 now has been scheduled for mid-2018 but it is also fact that Qualification and addition of features and capabilities or replacement of obsolete technology will continue in parallel and it now seems IAF has also understood this and is now open to working with developers and other various agencies to keep adding additional capabilities to keep the aircraft technically relevant rather than chasing FOC certification .