Saturday, November 27, 2010

LCA Tejas Falls Short of Earlier Expectations

As India’s homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Tejas) nears critical initial operational clearance next month, Indian air force officials say the aircraft will fail to meet performance requirements laid down by the service for the limited-profile Mk.1 platform.

According to an Indian air force source associated with the long-delayed indigenous fighter program, when the Tejas passes this milestone in December, it still will not be the fighter the air force had agreed to accept for limited squadron service. Performance specifications that the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has not been able to attain include sustained turn rate, speed at low altitude, angle of attack and certain weapon delivery profiles. Exactly how far off the performance is from the specification remains classified.

The Tejas program has enlisted EADS to help expand the flight envelope to meet service requirements.

These shortfalls come on top of a thrust deficiency that necessitated the selection of a more powerful engine, General Electric’s F414-INS6, this year for a proposed Mk.2 version.

“We are still working to get the platform on track for initial operational clearance,” says an air force officer. “It appears the exercise of resolving certain performance parameters will spill over into the post-induction phase,” he notes. “There was a very committed effort toward envelope expansion, though we have fallen short in certain key specifications, which we will continue to work on.”

Former air force chief Srinivasapuram Krishnaswamy, who first pushed the idea of a limited induction of the homegrown fighter even if it did not fully meet service requirements, argues that the aircraft needs to be delivered without any further delay. “Once it is delivered, all outstanding issues can be ironed out and our pilots can get a chance to see what it is capable of. It is important to get it into service. That is the key.”

Initial deliveries of the aircraft early next year will be to the Indian air force’s Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment in Bangalore, where the platforms will be tested before formal induction into squadron service for a year-long exercise in defining a role for the Tejas. The service has ordered 20 Tejas Mk.1 jets (and is processing an order for 20 more), powered by the GE F414-IN20 for two inaugural squadrons that will be established at peninsular air bases after the Aero India show in February.

The Tejas program has embarked on putting the ostensibly more capable Tejas Mk.2 on track, as well. An ADA team is optimizing the Tejas airframe for the F414 powerplant and has initiated studies on the aircraft’s proposed operational envelope, fluid dynamics studies of new components and analysis of new engine components. The team is also producing fresh numerical master geometry and inboard drawings, a new digital mock-up of the entire Mk.2, and a wind tunnel model in collaboration with the National Aerospace Laboratory.

The Tejas Mk.2 is scheduled to make its first flight in 2014, with full-rate production to follow two years later.

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