• The government is poised to hand over control of the aircraft manufacturing division of the State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to the Indian Air Force. This is to prevent more time and cost overruns on the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft project.
• This comes at a particularly crucial time as the next phase of the LCA project, development of the MK2 variant, as well as the country’s next fighter aircraft programme, the Advanced Medium Aircraft (AMCA), begin to take shape.
• HAL manufactures and assembles a range of aircraft and helicopters. However, it has faced criticism for its time and cost overruns and lack of professionalism in project execution. HAL has opposed this move for a long time, fearing erosion of its autonomy.
• The LCA programme was sanctioned in 1983 and the aircraft made its first flight in 2001. The IAF had signed two contracts with HAL, one for 20 aircraft in the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration signed on March 31, 2006, to be completed by December 2011, and another for 20 aircraft in the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) standard signed on December 23, 2010, which was to be completed by 2016. It is in the process of ordering 83 jets in the MK 1A configuration.
• The IAF constituted the first LCA squadron with just two aircraft in 2016 and, as of July 2018, has inducted only nine aircraft. Tejas has once again missed the FOC in June and the development of the Tejas-MK 1A with specific enhancements has been delayed. With this development, HAL’s aircraft division will be headed by a serving three-star officer or an Air Marshal of the IAF, and effectively give the IAF control over the country’s indigenous LCA project.
• In addition, three institutions – Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) and Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) – which are under the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) are likely to be brought under the direct control of the Chief of the Air Staff. Thus, the entire development cycle of the LCA will have the IAF’s oversight and will ensure timely execution and prevent blame games over delays, the source observed.