LCA: Delayed but still a Milestone Capability

SOURCE: India Strategic

Bangalore. India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas finally got Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) Jan 9, and with it, a milestone towards an advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) in the next decade.

Although the LCA was conceptualized as a successor to Mig 21 in the early 1980s, actual work on it started only in the 1990s, and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) literally had to handcraft several components and tools. Foreign technology was not available to India earlier, but is now, and several countries are willing to partner with India on further development of both manned and unmanned aircraft.

Dr Prahlada, one of India’s top military technology scientists and Chief Controller in DRDO, told India Strategic that preliminary work on the MCA had already started and that this aircraft should be operational in the next decade. But before that, LCA Mark II, with better engines, avionics and weapons load, should be out with a maiden flight by December 2014.

IAF has projected a requirement of 83 LCA Mark II for the time being.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India’s prime aeronautical institution which is now also making the Russian SU 30MKI under licence, is the principal partner in both the LCA and MCA programmes. With Transfer of Technology for various systems, HAL is set to leapfrog in certain hi-tech systems, including possibly the Kaveri engine on which the French Snecma provided valuable assistance and the Russians are now helping further development and tweaking. It should be used in both the LCAs and MCAs. Kaveri has been test flown on an IL 76 test bed.

Meanwhile though, for Mark II, GE’s F414-GE-IN56 engine will be used. GE just won a competition for 99 afterburning engines and kits against Eurojet, and HAL is likely to acquire more than 99 engines that it tendered for. An initial batch will be supplied and the rest “manufactured under ToT arrangement.”

HAL Chairman and Managing Director Ashok Nayak told India Strategic that the IOC reflected “customer confidence” and that the Indian Air Force (IAF) had placed an order for 20 more aircraft in addition to the 20 already ordered.

These first 40 aircraft are to be powered by GE 404 engine, an earlier variant that has been used on F 18 Hornets and Gripen. Boeing’s Super Hornet FA 18 E/F and the Swedish Gripen (for India), which are in the fray for IAF’s Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) competition, are powered by the GE 414.

Mr Nayak said that the LCA was “jampacked with avionics, pipelines and wiring” but the Mark II would be a bigger aircraft by a metre, with room to “reallocate” systems. “It will have a fresh internal design with more wiring, bus and whatever although it would be a replica of its predecessor in looks.”

LCA is designed to carry three missiles on each wing and one under belly. It can be configured to carry fuel pods, rocket pods, practice bombs, and 1000 pound bombs.

Built largely with composite materials, an LCA weighs nearly 10 tonnes and can carry four tonnes of payload. “The MCA would be marginally more in weight but would carry higher payload,” Mr Nayak said, adding that the aircraft would do formation flights and even aerobatics at the Aero India 2011.

DRDO and HAL appropriately held a ceremony for the Initial Operational Clearance and Defence Minister A K Antony handed over the formal “Release to Service Certificate” of Tejas to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik. The minister also announced that the first flight of the LCA Navy should be expected soon.

IAF is planning to induct 200 LCAs for training and attack role and some more are expected to be inducted by the Indian Navy for shipboard assignments.

Air Chief Marshal Naik described the LCA as a Mig 21++, closer to Gripen in its Mark II development.

A Mig 21 is a very old platform, with limited flying time and onboard missiles. LCA, a fourth generation aircraft, is three times as powerful and can carry modern precision missiles for both air to air and air to ground missions. LCA also has ultramodern quadruplex digital fly by wire controls, a glass cockpit, sensors, multi mode radar and relaxed static stability. In addition, it can fly supersonic at all altitudes.

In fact, pilots flying the LCA are happy at its performance. “It is small and tight but more comfortable, powerful and fun than a Mig 21,” said one test pilot.

ACM Naik said that “there was some more work to be done” on the Tejas – he did not say what – but expressed confidence that it should be completed by mid-2011. He described the aircraft as “successful fusion of designing, engineering and production.”

The “Release to Service certificate” is prepared by Regional Center for Military Airworthiness, an organization under CEMILAC (Center for Military Airworthiness and Certification) which has thoroughly scrutinized the entire design, development, equipment testing and the results of flight testing of all the systems of Tejas over the last several months. This is the first time an indigenously designed and developed military fighter aircraft is being certified for Air Force operations. This occasion marks a very important achievement in the design and development of Tejas in particular and military aviation in the country as a whole, an official statement on the occasion stated.

The programme itself is spearheaded by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), a DRDO outfit, and supported by the Central Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), some academic institutions, and public and private sector industrial units.

Mr Ashok Nayak said that open system computing interface standards had been adopted, making the Tejas upgradable with availability of better and faster processors for onboard computations.

Test facilities, integration rigs and simulators have been set up at several places in the country. However, the first few aircraft would operate from Bangalore itself as the LCA is still under development, and later, as the facilities being built at neighbouring Sulur airbase in southern India are complete, the first two squadrons would operate from there.

HAL engineers and scientists from ADA would continue to be involved in the health monitoring and further development of LCA, and that is why it would be operated not far from Bangalore, India’s aeronautical capital, Mr Nayak said.

An official statement issued at the IOC ceremony stated that 1508 flight tests had been completed on 11 Tejas aircraft and witnessed by both the IAF and Navy officials. A formation of five aircraft had also been flown, which Mr Nayak said, would be displayed at the Aero India.

LCA trials included sea level trials, completed at Goa and Arrakonam, hot weather trials at Nagpur, high altitude trials ay Leh and drop tank jettisoning at Chitradurga range. Night flying tests were also conducted.

The aircraft still has to undergo integration of BVR missiles, gun, rockets, unguided bombs, and expansion of flight envelope to -3.5 to 8 g for Final Operational Clearance (FOC).

Mr Nayak congratulated the DRDO and HAL engineers, saying that although the development of the LCA had taken time, it was “effort and money well spent” as it helped build indigenous capability in terms of infrastructure and trained personnel for more ambitious programmes.

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Posted by pilotpaul on Feb 8 2011. Filed under All News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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