Staff Writer (Updated: 11/10/2016):
In 1969, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was selected by Indian authorities to develop a new multirole fighter airframe. Design studies ensued until the project was ultimately shelved due to a lack of a suitable powerplant. After the collapse of the initial attempt, the LCA program was begun in 1983 with the primary goal of replacing the MiG-21 with a secondary internal goal of advancing India's aviation industry. The MiG-21 had served as the backbone of the IAF for decades and was available in large numbers but her days had become obviously marked and her long-term usefulness was suspect considering the advances in military technology in other parts of the world. Up to this point, India had long relied on outside help to stock her aircraft inventories - particularly from the Soviet/Russian firms of Mikoyan and Sukhoi - but the country had advanced to a point that it was appropriate to look for indigenous solutions to her military needs.
In 1984, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was founded to oversee the LCA program. The ADA consisted of a broad mix of over 100 manufacturing, academic and defense institutions and represented the solid capabilities of a growing Indian infrastructure. HAL was still retained as the primary defense contractor and would charged with handling development and production of the new fighter. ADA was critical to the development of new avionics, flight controls and various integrated onboard management systems. GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) of Bangalore was tabbed to produce the engine to power the new aircraft. They began work on what would become the GTX-35VS "Kaveri" afterburning turbofan. First flight was scheduled for April of 1990 with operational service to begin sometime in 1995.
However, it was not until October of 1985 that the IAF officially delivered their formal requirements to the design establishment, thusly cancelling any of the preplanned milestone dates. The delay did serve the ADA rightly for the institutions were, in essence, given extra years to evolve, mature and formulate in-house concepts and become a more potent developmental force as a whole. The LCA program was refined by September of 1998 and the French aviation firm of Dassault was called in to review the completed plan. The plan was officially finalized in 1990 and a new multirole fighter of Indian origin was more or less born.
The development would cover two distinct phases that included the proof of concept and first basic prototypes in the first phase as well as additional refined prototypes with a production-quality example and technology demonstrators in the second phase. Technology demonstrators were delivered in 2001 and 2002 with a first flight completed on January 4th, 2001. Prototypes followed in 2003 through 2009 and early production forms were received for review beginning in 2007. The name of "Tejas" was supplied to the new design by then-acting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. To date, only six prototypes and at least eight limited series production aircraft have been completed but the program remains ongoing and is progressing. Over the span of 10 years, some 1,508 flights (some involving munitions deliveries) have been recorded.
Externally, the Tejas will field a most conventional shape. Her design is dominated by the use of a compound delta wing planform negating the need for horizontal tail planes (i.e. she is a "tail-less delta"). The large wing area adds additional internal volume for fuel and avionics and promotes increased underwing and underfuselage hardpoints for munitions and fuel as well as improved high maneuverability and an increased angle of attack. The major disadvantage of the delta planform is the increased drag brought about by the larger wing surface area and loss of energy in high speed turns. The fuselage is cylindrical in nature, capped at the forward end by the nose cone housing the available radar array. The cockpit sits just aft of the nose cone installation and is covered over in a two-piece canopy with light framing. While making for excellent forward, upward and side views, the canopy joins the fuselage spine and obstructs the rear view to an extent. The pilot will initially have access to a Martin-Baker "Zero-Zero" ejection seat until this system is replaced by an Indian design. Wings are mid-mounted along the fuselage sides and the roots contour elegantly into the fuselage proper. The single engine is aspirated by two half-circle air intakes located under each leading wing root. The empennage is dominated by a single vertical tail fin which sits atop the internal tailpipe works. The engine exhausts at the rear through a conventional circular nozzle. The undercarriage is also conventional, featuring a pair of main landing gear legs and a nose landing gear leg.