Work is underway at full pace in the LCA hangers at Bangalore for making the aircraft fully combat capable as demanded by the end user – the Indian Air Force (IAF). LCA Tejas, an indigenously designed and developed fighter aircraft, has been in the making for the past three decades. The aircraft, since its maiden flight in 2001, has matured to be one of the most versatile light combat aircraft to have ever entered service.
Capabilities of Tejas in its current IOC standard have been lauded by the end user after the aircraft proved its prowess through the course of the Gagan Shakti exercise. The aircraft, according to several sources associated with the exercise, is believed to have performed satisfactorily even in multi-role configurations, where the aircraft was tasked to perform against ground and aerial targets. The sources also revealed that the aircraft maintained satisfactory availability rates during the exercise.
As the decades-old LCA program surges forward following success at Gagan Shakti, the developmental agencies are working overtime to realise the much awaited FOC (Final Operational Clearance) certification. Sources at both ADA and HAL maintained that the all crucial certification would likely be realised by this mid-year.
Talking to Life of Soldiers on the side-lines of DefExpo – 2018, senior staff of ADA, an exclusive aeronautical establishment that was setup to realise fighter aircraft technology, revealed that a major portion of the requirements deemed necessary for FOC has already been completed. While the aircraft has successfully attained an extremely competitive Angle of Attack (AoA), air warriors of the 45th Squadron are making due efforts to exploit the aircraft’s capabilities and to further evolve the platform’s flight envelope.
Further, developmental teams remain optimistic of placing the LSP-7 (Limited Serial Production – 7) platform that has been outfitted with a revolving canon to tests by May, 2018. The Air Force has, for years, mandated the requirement for a primary gun aboard the aircraft. The platform recently test fired the Derby BVRAAM (Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile), thereby concluding the test phase of the requirement.
Another requirement at the cusp of realisation is the need for mid-air refuelling capabilities, which promises to boost the combat radius of the platform. LSP – 8 aircraft, which has been equipped with a nose-mounted air-to-air refuelling probe, is expected to being its aerial test campaign somewhere in May. Initially, the tests would be aimed at establishing the stress up on the platform when operating at its defined flight envelope with the fuelling probe.
The later part would witness dry contacts with mid-air refuelling platform, only after which actual wet aerial refuelling runs are expected to commence. Even though the test series is extremely competitive, the developmental agencies remain optimistic given the success they have attained during the ground runs.
Tejas following the issuance of FOC is expected to receive a major capability fillip and thereby becoming a fully combat ready, enabling the Air Force to actively deploy the platform for combat missions.
Tejas to soon fly with indigenously developed AESA Radar
Bengaluru-based LRDE, an accomplished laboratory of DRDO involved in the development of radar technology, is believed to have attained a major milestone in its quest to master AESA radar technology, following the fusion of the indigenously developed Uttam AESA radar system with a LCA platform. The aircraft is expected to soon begin fly trials with the highly advanced radar system.
AESA technology based radars are highly automated systems, featuring no mechanically moving parts, thus enabling them to track multiple targets simultaneously in entirely different direction. These radars, which are now an integral part of newer generation fighter aircraft, are much faster and capable than conventional radars. Currently, no fighter aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet is fitted with this crucial capability. Rafale will perhaps be the first aircraft to feature these systems. Even China is expected to realise this technology only after 2021.
LRDE has constructed six prototypes of these radars of which at least two are expected to undergo concurrent upscaling. The laboratory has substantial data from the already completed trials of the radar on several aerial-borne platforms. The Uttam AESA radar is expected to have an operational range of up to 150 kilometres. Uttam is entering its test phase at a crucial phase when HAL is closing in on concluding a global tender for acquiring hundreds of AESA radars from global manufacturers for the Mk-1A program.
Design Realisation of Mk-II Underway
Following the issuance of initial staff requirement by the Air HQ for Tejas Mk-II, ADA is now believed to be in deliberation with senior Air Staff officer for the realisation of the initial airframe and technical requirements. After final modalities are worked out between ADA, HAL and Air HQ, the aircraft is expected to hit the design tables later this year.
The Mk-II variant of the aircraft is expected to be an altogether newer platform as the airframe itself will be redesigned around the newer GE F-414 GE engine. The introduction of a more powerful aero engine will mean that aircraft can carry heavier payloads.
The airframe will also be stretched out to enable the platform to carry greater amount of fuel. This will mean that the aircraft will receive a quantum leap in its combat radius. This is also expected to drastically boost the limited combat range of the aircraft.