By Ayaskant Das
New Delhi, Sep 19 (IANS) With Indian Air Force set to place orders for 83 Tejas LCA jets after pricing issue of the aircraft was resolved with its manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited earlier this month, all eyes are now on the Naval version of the fighter jet.
On Thursday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh flew a 30-minute sortie on a Tejas LCA in Bengaluru and also said that the aircraft is ready for exports. As per sources, Singh is scheduled to take stock of the progress in development of the Naval version of the aircraft very soon.
On September 13, the Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) conducted a successful "arrested landing" of the Naval LCA at an onshore facility in Goa. The Indian Navy hailed September 13 as a "golden letter day" in its history saying that it paves the way for the LCA to land on a limited runway space on an aircraft carrier.
However, defence experts say there is still a long way to go before the Naval version of the LCA is inducted into India's aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya to replace the in-service but ageing fleet of 45 MiG-29K aircraft.
"This is the beginning of trials of the Naval LCA on land. Subsequently, trials have to be conducted on a ship, both stationary and moving. With data set of this landing trial, the aircraft has to be further developed to conduct landings by night and day separately.
"Trial landings will also have to be conducted with armaments on the fighter jet. This is a long process and is expected to take time. From the results of these trials, the ultimate aim for the DRDO is to develop an indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft that can then be inducted into the Navy," retired Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash told IANS.
According to experts, the indigenously developed LCA Mark 1 which is being tested for the Navy does not meet the requirements of being a deck-based fighter aircraft. In the year 2017, the Navy had also floated a Request for Information for 57 deck-based fighter aircraft for the aircraft carrier.
"The engine thrust of the LCA Mark 1 is not enough for serving the purpose of a deck-based fighter. It has limited payload and limited radius of action as compared to the MiG 29K," added Admiral Prakash.
The Navy, despite the slow progress in development of the Naval LCA, has however maintained that it is fully committed to the project. Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Vice Chief of Naval Staff, reiterated this stance on September 17 when he told media in New Delhi that the Navy is fully in support of the LCA project.
"The Navy has met every obligation in so far as stage payments for the LCA are concerned. Whenever a milestone has been achieved and a payment has to be done, the Navy has been making it," said Vice Admiral Kumar.
However, Vice Admiral Kumar also said that the aircraft in its present form is only a "technology demonstrator" and the ultimate aim is to go for the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
"The aircraft is only a technology demonstrator for us to demonstrate the carrier compatibility of the LCA ashore. The arrested landing last Friday (September 13) helps the HAL to go into the next step on the AMCA twin engine fighter jet which is what the Navy will end up inducting as and when it is ready," Vice Admiral Kumar said.
(Ayaskant Das can be contacted at email@example.com)