Tejas SP-22 & SP-23 about to take its first flight

 Two fighters from the Tejas Final Operational Clearance (FOC) block—SP-22 and SP-23—are likely to be in the skies within the coming days, signalling the resumption of flight activities that were halted for a short time a politician from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) told Onmanorama that the flight trials of those two fighters are going to be completed by the top of this month.

Tejas Fighter Jet

The low- and high-speed taxi trials of both fighters are completed. The LCA-Tejas Division of HAL is currently finishing the activities before their first flights. SP-23 is manufactured by HAL’s Aircraft Division.

“The FOC variants preparing for delivery/flight are loaded with updated software to satisfy the operational requirements of Indian Air Force (IAF). the assembly rate has been enhanced at LCA and Aircraft Divisions. Structural works are in advanced stages,” the official told Onmanorama.

HAL hopes that by the top of this production year, the fuselages of the remaining FOC fighters are going to be loaded on to their respective jigs. An IAF official overseeing the Tejas production activities told Onmanorama that to avoid further delays, HAL has been told to make sure similar build standards for all FOC variants, especially SP-21, SP-22 and SP-23, to start out with.

“This would meet our operational and maintenance requirements,” the highest official said.

A team consisting of representatives from IAF, HAL, Aeronautical Development Agency, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness and

Regional Director, Aeronautical Quality Assurance, is looking into all aspects of the FOC variants, before clearing them for flights.

Production rate

HAL is functioning towards delivering the FOC aircraft to IAF without having any pending concessions. the assembly rate is predicted to be enhanced, once the vendors start delivering major assemblies.

“With the teachings from the assembly of 16 IOC (initial operational clearance) fighters, many improvements are made during the initial build of the FOC structures,” the official said.

SP-21, the primary Tejas FOC fighter that flew in March this year, was produced by HAL during a record time of 12 months, post release of the documents.

The aircraft was subsequently delivered to the IAF in May and is currently undergoing software upgrade and post-delivery checks. it's expected to be with its Indian Air Force squadron by the top of this month.

HAL has put in reinforced efforts to satisfy the stress of IAF with the manufacturing of detailed parts of all FOC fighters almost completed.

“Now, the main target is on the completion of structural build of aircraft, which are planned to be produced during this fiscal year the primary three aircraft are in advanced stage of delivery and another three (SP-24, SP-25, SP-26) are in various stages of equipping,” the official added.

Pandemic pause

The COVID-19 lockdown and associated delays have dented the assembly plans of HAL.

“The pandemic has affected our plans and even hit a number of the availability chain logistics. But we never took shelter under these excuses and have provided uninterrupted support to IAF, even during complete lockdown period. We deputed multiple teams to support Tejas fleet and are further improving the serviceability through reducing the turnaround and ensuring spare stocks in surplus,” the official added.

COVD-19 has impacted the availability chain, slowing down a number of the assembly activities considerably. HAL is now gearing up to satisfy the fiscal year targets through innovations like flexible time approach and dynamically balancing the assembly lines.

“We are getting to maximise the deliveries despite the lockdown-induced slowdown in supply chain. The target is to supply eight aircraft by end of this FY and this might be enhanced if the supplies from our business partners improve,” the official added.

On the measures being put in situ to enhance the availability chain management, the official said efforts are on to bring back normalcy. “The foreign supply chain is that the worst hit. Since LCA-Tejas Division follows the integrator model, any supply chain disruption will usher in risk for timelines. We are working closely with our partners to bridge over the present situation. We are supporting them financially and technically to return out of the present situation. we've given relief to our business partners for the delay caused thanks to COVID-19-related lockdown,” the official added.

Meanwhile, detailed part manufacturing work is currently under way for manufacturing of eight Tejas FOC trainer aircraft. The jigs are being calibrated for structural assembly and if HAL sticks to the present plan, the primary trainer will fly out by end of next year.

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