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Tejas IAF Induction:2010-END TARGET ON TRACK,by Radhakrishna Rao,9 March 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 9 March 2009

Tejas  IAF Induction 


By Radhakrishna Rao

The flawless flight of India’s home-grown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas with a high degree of maneuverability at the recent Aero India-2009 show has helped put to rest uncertainties about the fighter jet’s induction into the Indian Air Force.

The Rs 6000-million Tejas taken up for development by the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in the 80s to replace the aging fleet of MiG-21 frontline fighters was able to attain a velocity of 850 kph in just 15 seconds. In comparison, the Jaguar and MiG chase aircraft were able to do so in 20 seconds. Recall that the Tejas’ developmental schedule was badly hit by the US sanctions after the Pokharan tests in 98, other than lacking expertise in many critical areas of combat aircraft development.

Against this backdrop, the ADA has stated that the integration of the radars into the aircraft will be initiated soon with a view to get the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) for by 2010-end. Besides, with a view to speed up the qualification trial of Tejas, the Agency is planning to offer a US $20-million contract to European Aeronautic Defence and Space company, EADS under which EADS will chip in its expertise in critical areas such as flight envelope expansion, high angle attack and extended stores carriage. Other areas of problem nagging the Tejas include overweight of under carriage and wear of tyres and wheels. In particular, the overweight of undercarriage could prove troublesome for the naval variant of the aircraft which is required to withstand higher Gs during landing operations.

Incidentally, earlier the ADA had sought Boeing’s assistance in completing the flight qualification of Tejas. However, the failure of Boeing to obtain clearance from the US State department, nudged ADA to approach EADS. ADA is likely to seek the assistance of an Israeli defence outfit for completing the integration of the multi-mode radar (MMR) into the aircraft.

Tejas is a single seat, single engine light weight, highly agile, tailless multi-role supersonic fighter with a delta wing and shield air intake—the result of an intense aerodynamic design exercise involving extensive wind tunnel testing. The maiden flight of LCA Tejas which took place on January 4, 2001, lasted for just 18 minutes.

The Tejas programme, originally initiated to replace the aging MiG series of fighter jets in service with IAF symbolizes an attempt to leapfrog nearly four decades of Indian expertise in the aeronautical design. Starting almost from a scratch, infrastructure for design, development, testing and proto manufacturing was created. A total of seven aircraft versions are currently part of the flight test programme. In January this year, Tejas set a new record by crossing the 1,000- sortie mark, considered a milestone in aircraft’s development and eventual induction into the Air Force.

As things stand now, the first two squadrons of Tejas will be equipped with the US supplied GE F404 power-plant whose thrust, IAF considers, inadequate to meet many of its requirements. However, the Kaveri engine taken up for development by the Bangalore-based GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) as a replacement to GE F404 is yet to witness progress towards its final qualification.

Kaveri, which has run up against many hitches, has become a victim of difference of opinion between the IAF and ADA over the final details of the co-development route opted for qualifying the engine. Of course, it has been decided to involve French engine major Snecma for its co-development.  A final clearance from the Union Government is much awaited.

A committee set up by IAF to examine Snecma, a major French manufacturer of engines for commercial and military aircraft and for space vehicles, offer has come to the conclusion that not only the offer is costly but that the technology transfer process will be an unduly delayed process. Moreover, IAF is not sure whether this option of co-developing the engine would result in Kaveri realizing a thrust of 90 kN. Snecma has proposed to offer the core its already operational M-82 Eco engine for use in Kaveri.

In view of the “delay and uncertainty” dogging Kaveri, ADA is planning to choose between GE F414 and Eurojet EJ 200 to power the Mark II version of Tejas. It is projected that the IAF would need five squadrons of Mark II version of Tejas with a more powerful engine, better aerodynamic features and advanced avionics. The Bangalore-based state owned aeronautical enterprise HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), which is setting up the assembly line for the production of Tejas has said that it will manufacture eight early technology demonstrator version of Tejas, 12 trainer and 20 fighters of Mark I category before taking up the production of Mark II variant. IAF has placed order for 20 LCA Tejas Mark I version.

Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry is said to be of the opinion that the twin-seater LCA trainer is almost ready and would make its debut flight in “a couple of months time.” It will be a supersonic class aircraft with great potential and will compete with the South Korean Jet Trainer 350. Moreover, it would help replace the AJT Hawk as a prime trainer.

Similarly, the first prototype of LCA naval variant will fly before 2009-end. It will feature arrested hooks using which aircraft can land on the dock and come to instant halt. The design of the Tejas naval variant will incorporate a drooped nose for better vision structural strengthening for higher loads and be capable of ski-jump take off and arrested recovery on the deck of the aircraft carrier. The programme will in parallel evolve a shore-based test facility for ski jump take off and arrested recovery certification.

Meanwhile, as a follow up to the LCA, it is planned to develop a 20-tonne class, twin engine Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) with stealth features and deep strike capability. The MCA, which will be equipped with advanced avionics will be designed and developed as per the specifications of IAF, which would be involved in the project right from the word go. This would help obviate the difference of opinion between the user Air Force and the producer ADA, over the “features and capabilities of the fighting machine developed at a huge cost”. And also ensure that the target of getting the first delivery of the Tejas out on schedule is met. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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