As the government continues the slow, arduous task of attempting to foster an indigenous defence manufacturing industry, the country will get a chance in the coming week to show off what it hopes will be a genuine success. The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, which was designed and developed in India, is set to display its capabilities at the Bahrain International Airshow, from January 21-23.
Two aircraft from the Tejas line have already made their way to Bahrain, marking the first time that the indigenous fighters were flown in foreign airspace. To add intrigue, the airshow organisers have parked the Tejas right next to the JF-17 Thunder, a multi-role fighter jet that was jointly designed and developed by Pakistan and China.
Officials insist that the Tejas can go toe-to-toe with its neighbourhood rival, and in fact can fly further distances, carry more fuel and even refuel mid-air unlike the JF-17. But the journey till here hasn't been easy.
For years the Tejas proved to be more of a headache for the government. It was greenlit in 1983 and was supposed to be the key fighter in the Indian Air Force's fleet, but delays and developmental issues came in the way.
Attempts to build a light engine from scratch ended with the government choosing to go with General Electric Aviation's machines instead. An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General concluded that much of the fighter jet was not actually home grown, since many of its components have been imported.
The CAG also identified 53 shortfalls with the first version of the plane, and the delays in producing a competent one have forced the Indian Air Force to use older Russian jets that have led to a significant number of crashes and deaths. The new version of the Tejas is said to correct most of those issues, and the government will have to hope that the jet manages to get at least a passing grade in its showcase at Bahrain to somewhat makeup for the years of trouble.