‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft May End Up As Indian Aerospace Morale Booster

MYSORE, FEB.9, 2016: It was India’s proud moment, as its aerospace tech-marvel ‘LCA Tejas’ put up a perfectly orchestrated aerobatic ballet at the Bahrain International Air Show (BIAS)-2016 last month. It was the aircraft’s debut appearance at an international air show. Shining vibrantly and gliding across the sky, Tejas put up a stellar performance.

HAL had dispatched LSP-4 and LSP-7 – Serial Production (SP) aircraft for the show. One of the aircraft was on static display, while the other commanded by flamboyant Commodore Jaideep Maolonkar enthralled the audience. The aircraft performed complex ‘Vertical Square’ maneuver, ‘Knife Edge’ and the Opposite U-turns with ease, all choreographed well.

First Prospective Global Buyer For Tejas?

The astral performance of Tejas has drawn the attention of a select few nations. Top echelons at Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have confirmed India’s aerospace showpiece product straining the attention of a few nations. “We have got inquiries for LCA already,” HAL Chairman T. Suvarna Raju was quoted by a news agency as saying. “Believe us, when I say there are inquiries for LCA.”

At a time when geopolitical situation is spinning out of control, the demand for cutting edge weaponry and military systems is on the rise. As terrorism spreads its wings, the demand for reliable, yet lethal, military hardware is ever higher. Tejas will be the lightest aircraft to be in the service of any air force globally the day it is inducted by the Indian Air Force. It is bound to draw the attention of several nations.

A LCA Tejas -- LSP aircraft undergoing flight trials. Source - Net
A LCA Tejas — LSP aircraft undergoing flight trials. Source – Net

Working Towards Final Operational Clearance

After a stellar show at the coveted BIAS-16, Tejas and its team is now gearing up for the all crucial Final Operational Clearance (FOC). The realization of the FOC will pave the way for the active duty of the aircraft. Having attained two of the three planned stages of air worthiness verification program the team is confident of flying the aircraft through the turbulent FOC phase.

In preparation for FOC, test pilots at National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) in collaboration with ADA have been defining the limits of the aircraft. Each flight for the aircraft now is into the unknown. It is pushed beyond its performance envelope. Experienced pilots have been deliberately piloting Tejas either faster or slower than it has ever flown. The aircraft is taking off on simulated missions for firing missiles and rockets.

In FOC standards, the aircraft will feature almost 11 developments over the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) standards. Work for FOC started as early as December 2014. Priority under the FOC phase is being given for integrating the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles with the aircraft. IAF has identified the Israeli Rafael-developed Python and Derby BVR missiles as the preferred weapons for the LCA. The integration of the missiles required the aircraft to be given substantial aerodynamic and structural changes. The addition of these missiles is a shot-in-the-arm when involved in tactical dogfights.

New Weapons To Add A Punch Or Two

The Derby BVR missile can neutralize short- and medium-range aerial targets. It is also equipped with Lock On Before Launch (LOBL) and look-down and shoot-down features. Python is a short-range Air-to-Air missile and can obliterate any aerial targets within 20 kilo meters of the aircraft. The missile features advanced electro-optical sensors and also has lock-on after launch capability. Computational and radar system of the aircraft have also received multiple upgrades to fire the missile systems. The test firing of these missile systems has been successfully carrier out off Goa coast on Feb.5, 2016, reports suggest.

HAL has also successfully integrated and tested a new external fuel tank for the aircraft. The tank is lighter than its predecessor and has boosted the range of the aircraft. Tejas had successfully proven its might during adverse weather testing at Jamanagar and Leh air base. The aircraft performed flawlessly in the demanding weather conditions, the manufacturer has stated.

HAL has also received the air-to-air refueling probe developed by U.K.-based Cobham. The integration of an In-Flight Refueling (IFR) system will drastically boost the combat radius of the aircraft. HAL has due expertise, given its role in the integration of IFR probes with Jaguar and AEWACS aircraft. The aircraft will also feature a quartz-based radome, as against the earlier composite built system.

Teams at NFTC have been pushing the aircraft to its limits. Recently, the aircraft pulled off a sustained +8G turn signaling the readiness of the aircraft to perform combat maneuvers. This is a major boost towards the crucial FOC dream. The Angle of Attack (AoA) has also been increased from 22 degrees to 24 degrees. The Multi-Mode Radar (MMR) on board the aircraft is fully operational and is now capable of detecting targets as far as 80 kilo meters away.

The naval version of the LCA Tejas; Source - Net
The naval version of the LCA Tejas; Source – Net

New Era Begin With Tejas Mk1A

HAL, ADA and IAF begun a new era in the LCA program when the three agencies agreed on the terms of ‘Standard of Preparation – 2018 (SoP-18)’ on Sep. 23, 2015. Accordingly, developmental agencies will now bring forward a more advanced version of the aircraft that will feature state-of-the-art radar and EW systems. Dubbed Tejas Mk1A, the aircraft will receive an additional 100-plus cutting-edge technologies, making it more lethal. IAF will induct 120 Tejas Mk1A aircraft any time after 2018, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had said in October 2015.

Centric to this development will be equipping the aircraft with advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. The addition of these radars is a major operational boost. None of the aircraft serving under IAF (even the Chinese and the Pakistani air forces) has been equipped with these advanced radar systems. AESA radars electronically scan for various targets simultaneously using multiple frequencies. The deletion of mechanically moving parts from the radar enables it to scan the skies at much faster rates and lock-on to targets simultaneously.

HAL has opted for the Elta developed EL/M-2052 AESA radar systems. The Israel-based Elta, in the past, has worked closely with India’s BEL to equip Indian armed forces with the latest electronic systems. India is currently developing the ‘Uttam’ AESA radar under DRDO’s premier radar laboratory LRDE. It has been a problem to miniaturize the system. Elta’s assistance may very well get India to field its own radar system. Elta is already in agreement with HAL to equip India’s Jaguar fleet with DARIN-III upgrade program.

The Tejas Mk-1A aircraft will also feature advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) suite. This equipment is a major boost when involved in multi-role missions. DRDO’s Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) has been charged with the development of jammer systems. These systems have been tested aboard the PV-1 Tejas aircraft.

Over the years, India’s LCA development agencies have gone through some of the most turbulent weathers. The international sanctions against India soon after the 1998 Pokaran-II nuclear tests was a major roadblock for the LCA program. But, Tejas has stood the test of time and the over three-decade project has moved closest to fruition in 2016. Not surprisingly, Tejas is also the only incident-free aircraft program globally. That is hope enough for Tejas to emerge as the deadliest, proven and reliable Light Combat Aircraft in any air force’s in service. That pride will belong to India.

© Karthik Kakoor for Arming India.

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