India inducts FOC-standard Tejas Mk1, stands up second squadron

India has formally inducted the first final operational clearance (FOC)-standard Tejas Mk1 Light Combat Aircraft into service and has stood up No 18 Squadron ‘Flying Bullets’ as the second unit to operate the type.

The latest version of the aircraft – which has been developed domestically by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) – was inducted into Indian Air Force (IAF) service during a function at Sulur Air Force Station (AFS), near Coimbatore. 

HAL Tejas Mk1 FOC-standard [HAL]
The first FOC-standard Tejas Mk1 – serial LA-5018 – was handed over to the IAF on May 27. HAL

During the function, the air arm also operationalised the ‘Flying Bullets’ – a former Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27ML Bahadur squadron – as its second Tejas unit. It operated the Soviet-era variable-geometry ground-attack aircraft until April 2016 when it was disbanded. No 18 Squadron was re-formed at Sulur AFS on April 1 and accepted its first FOC-standard Tejas Mk1 on May 27. 

In a statement, Shri R Madhavan, chairman of HAL, said: “We are proud to deliver a much [more] lethal aircraft than the initial operational clearance (IOC) block. Apart from all the capabilities of IOC aircraft, the FOC variant additionally comes with air-to-air refuelling capability, close combat gun, additional drop tanks, beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile capability, updated avionics and flight control software suite.”

The IAF currently has 40 Tejas Mk1s on order – 20 of which will be IOC-standard aircraft while the remaining half will be FOC-standard. This delivery marks the first of the latter to be delivered to the service. The FOC version of the platform flew for the first time in March.

HAL Tejas Mk1 FOC-standard [HAL] #2
The FOC-standard Tejas Mk1 at the handover function at Sulur AFS on May 27. HAL

HAL is expecting the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to clear the air force’s acquisition of 83 Tejas Mk1A fighters by the third quarter of this year. Final approval for the purchase was expected by August, but it has been delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis. The company is also seeking to export the type and other nations have reportedly expressed interest.

The company is also developing a larger variant of the Tejas – designated the Mk2, also known as the ‘Medium Weight Fighter’ – which will feature a bigger engine and improved avionics. It will reportedly be integrated with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and a built-in electronic warfare capability. Testing of the Tejas Mk2 is expected to begin by 2022.