MUMBAI, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- India's long-awaited light combat aircraft Tejas cleared a critical test point Saturday, accurately test-firing an infrared missile.
The firing off the coast of Goa takes the aircraft a step closer to its initial operational clearance scheduled for Dec. 20, the New Indian Express reported,
The air-to-air R-73 E missile, made by Vympel NPO of Russia, destroyed a target towed by a subsonic reusable UAV Lakshya launched from an Indian navy ship.
New Indian Express reported the test was the first time the Tejas had fired a missile at a target using an on-board fire-control radar. Earlier tests were conducted with the help of a helmet-mounted display system.
K. Tamilmani, director general of aeronautical systems at the government's Defense Research and Development Organization, said the missile firing was the last major test for the Tejas ahead of initial operational clearance.
"The pilot took the aircraft to around [three miles] above sea level, locked on to the target and 'killed' it with pinpoint precision. We are on track for the historic event on Dec. 20," he said.
The braking systems of the Tejas also were tested in Goa.
New Indian Express quoted an unnamed official saying the missile firing was delayed by a couple of weeks because of logistical reasons. It was planned off the coast of the major northwestern port city of Jamnagar in Gujarat, but was shifted further south to Goa.
"There has been tremendous pressure on the Tejas team with the Ministry of Defense monitoring the progress on a daily basis," the official said.
The declaration ceremony at the Old HAL airport in Bangalore will be a milestone for the controversial aircraft after three decades of development including technical delays, cost overruns and political anguish.
Twice this year Defense Minister A.K. Antony has scolded the DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. to make sure induction of the aircraft suffers no further delays so the air force can start retiring its aging MiG-21 fighters.
The DRDO is aiming for induction by the end of next year.
A report by the government's Comptroller General of Defense Audit in September 2012 slammed the DRDO for general overspending and delayed projects, highlighting the Tejas project as an example.
The single-engine, single-pilot Tejas was given the green light by the government in 1983, but it wasn't until 1988 that more concrete designs were on the drawing board.
Cost of the project cost was estimated in 1983 at about $92 million.
But delays and technical issues have driven up the overall cost of the project to more than $4.1 billion -- if a naval variant, trainer and the failed Kaveri engine are considered, the Times of India reported this week.
A Tejas prototype flew for the first time in January 2001 -- but with a U.S.-made General Electric F-404 engine instead of the planned Kaveri engine, a DRDO partnership deal with Snecma of France. .