Indigenous LCA programme puts up a bright face even as IAF and Navy scout for foreign fighters

Even as the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy (IN) scout for foreign fighters, the indigenous LCA Programme is putting up a bright face. Mathrubhumi, a leading daily, has reported that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the lead manufacturer, has recently test flown a Tejas aircraft with an air-to-air refuelling probe.

The refuelling probe designed and manufactured by Cobham systems of Britain has been integrated on board the LSP-8 aircraft. The integration of the mid-air refuelling probe is a major step forward in the delayed LCA programme.

Integration and eventual completion of aerial refuelling through the bolt on probe will mean that a major hurdle in the program would have been mastered.

In September 2015, HAL, ADA and the IAF had agreed up on the terms of ‘Standard of Preparation – 2018 (SoP – 18)’ under which the developmental agencies are designing a more capable variant of Tejas aircraft.

The Mk-1A aircraft will have more than 100 developments over the Mk-1 version. The air force has demanded that the developers equip it with several cutting edge technologies, predominantly AESA radar, EW and self protection jammer systems and mid-air refuelling probes.

The first flight with the refuelling probe has gained importance as this has occurred within days of MoD confirming that it was scouting the global market for acquiring a second single-engine fighter, which it says will fly independent of Tejas. The air force which should have been operating at least 42 squadrons has only 32 squadrons of fighter aircraft. As the air force’s need increases, it becomes imperative that the local agencies stick to the timeline.

Tejas aircraft with the newly integrated bolt on refueling probe; Source – Deb Rana.

Progress on Mk-1A program has been steady and the lead developmental agencies such as ADA and HAL have begun multiple independent development projects. Besides, the agencies have also floated several tenders for acquiring prerequisite technologies.

In Dec 2015, HAL floated a multi-billion dollar tender for procurement of AESA radars. The tender floated by the Aviation Research and Design Centre (ARDC) has been forwarded to Elta of Israel, Raytheon & Northrop Grumman of USA, Saab AB of Sweden, Thales of France and Rosoborronexport of Russia.

These AESA radars are highly automated and feature no mechanically moving parts and this enables them to simultaneously track targets at multiple frequencies using electronic modules at a much faster pace than conventional radars.

HAL seeks to acquire at least 100 AESA radars to equip the 83 contracted Mk- 1A aircraft. While 24 of these systems are to be acquired in fully built configuration, the rest are to be acquired in a kit form and then be manufactured here by a local partner. This will not only help address the need for the Mk-1A aircraft but will also help the country’s under-development ‘Uttam AESA radar’ program.

Israeli based Elta leads the fray with its EL/M-2052 AESA radar which is being mounted on IAF’s Jaguar aircraft under the DARIN-III upgrade program. Another contender is Saab with its Gallium Nitrate AESA radar for which the company has offered a non restrictive Transfer of Technology (ToT). This offer the company says will help India tide through the hurdles it faces in its own developmental programs.

France’s Thales may emerge as a forerunner as its AESA radars will be powering the under-procurement Rafale fighter aircraft. USA, a major defence partner of India, is yet to comment about its offer in this regard and has traditionally withheld sharing of cutting edge technology. The addition of an AESA radar equipped aircraft will give the air force a definitive edge in the region.

A view of Tejas production line in HAL’s Bangalore facility.

Besides these measures, HAL in an effort to meet the surging demand of the air force has recently begun a second Tejas production line in its Bengaluru campus. Mathrubhumi has reported that plans are afloat to set-up a fully fledged manufacturing line in Nekkundi after the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) nod. These measures promise to drastically boost the production rate of the indigenous aircraft.


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