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Tejas soars above control barrier

Bangalore, May 4: The Prime Minister christened the indigenously developed light combat aircraft Tejas (radiance) today and said its production was an example of the ability of Indian scientists to overcome obstacles set by technology-denial regimes.

Cheers rent the air at Bangalore airport as one of the two LCA performing in a flypast dipped its wings in salute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee who said the scientists had overcome moves to impede the country’s infrastructural and weapons development.

The Prime Minister said the LCA’s export potential should be examined and lauded the scientists and technologists for responding “splendidly” to the challenge and developing technologies of indigenous design.

He added that foreign aerospace firms were welcome to participate in the development of aviation weapons programmes.

“We need to make the necessary investments for the commercial production of the LCA,” Vajpayee said. “We should also explore its export potential.”

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes were also present at the function.

Vajpayee and Fernandes defended the LCA project, which took over two decades to get to the inaugural flight stage. The first LCA flight was carried out only two years ago.

The Prime Minister said sceptics had written off the project many times. “The doubters thought it made better sense to import a similar aircraft, even though under existing technology-denial regimes, we would have to settle for less sophisticated models. Today, we can say the delay was worth the wait,” he said.

Scientists had to “re-invent the wheel” in many places to build the aircraft, whose core engine is American-built, he added. India is building an engine called Kaveri, which will eventually replace the imported engine.

Vajpayee urged the technologists not to rest on their laurels. “You have more mountains to climb. Ongoing projects such as Dhruv, the advanced light helicopter, require similar commitment to meet the urgent requirement of the armed forces,” he said. The development of the multi-role combat aircraft was delayed partly because of US sanctions imposed after the Pokhran nuclear tests.

Referring to this indirectly, the Prime Minister said: “India has adopted a most responsible policy on missile, nuclear and dual-use technologies, taking utmost care to avoid their proliferation. It is as much of concern to us as it is to any other country that such technologies should not fall into wrong hands....”

Despite India’s position on nuclear and missiles programmes, “technology-denial regimes have not only tried to impede our weapons development programmes but also affect some of our developmental programmes”, Vajpayee said.

However, the Prime Minister stressed that international partnerships need to be promoted. “We welcome collaboration with international partners in design, development and co-production,” Vajpayee said. India’s cooperation with a Russian company for the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile was a case in point.

“I am sure other potential international partners will eventually wake up to the tremendous commercial potential of such joint collaborations with India, not only for markets in our country but also in other nations,” he added.

V.K. Aatre, scientific adviser to Fernandes, said the LCA has so far flown 76 test flights. He added that it was expected to be inducted into the air force this decade.

Chief of Air Force S. Krishnaswamy, who has said 200 LCA will be needed in a decade, said the aircraft still needed certification. “It is a very tough step ahead. Crossing the sound barrier is chicken feed for the aircraft but it has to meet a lot of manoeuvrability criteria,” he said.

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