Some 33 years after being green-lit, India's indigenous combat jet enters service. New Delhi has pushed the military to accept the first version of the "Tejas" fighter to make up for a shortfall of foreign jets.
Two of India's first home-grown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the Tejas, were inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Friday, the Indian military announced.
India's fighter aircraft fleet, made up of a mix of Russian, British and French aircraft, is down to 33 squadrons as against the air force's requirement of 45 to face rival neighbors Pakistan and China.
Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar took to Twitter to celebrate the country's achievement.
"Moment of national pride. Indigenously developed Tejas fighter jet inducted into Air Force. Tejas will take our air strength to new heights," he wrote.
The single-seat Tejas fighter is considered superior to counterparts like the JF-17 aircraft jointly built by China and Pakistan. It has had no accidents in 3,000 hours of flying and its use of composites helps lower its radar signature, making it harder to detect early, air force officials said.
"The LCA is as good as any in the world in its class," said retired Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur now a fellow at the Center for Air Power Studies in New Delhi.
But the challenge for state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which is building the aircraft, will be to meet output demands as the air force seeks to arrest the decline in the number of planes in its hangars.
The concept for India to develop an indigenous fighter aircraft began in the 1970s, but actual work started on the aircraft project only in the 1980s.
The Tejas' maiden flight was in January, 2001 after the project endured years of criticism for delays and cost overruns. They are estimated to cost as much as 40 million euros apiece.
India is separately negotiating for the purchase of 36 state-of-the-art Rafale fighter planes from France's Dassault Aviation in a comprehensive deal in the works since 2012.
jar/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)