Dateline: HAL, Bangalore
27th Feb 2008
(Photo: Ajai Shukla: The first Tejas painted in IAF grey)
The Bangalore sunlight streams into the hangar at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), lighting up the first Tejas fighter aircraft to be painted in air force grey. But even more striking than the new look of India’s experimental Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is the upbeat mood amongst the LCA’s designers who spoke to Business Standard during two days of unfettered access to HAL’s flagship project.
After more than two decades of technology denial regimes that slowed the LCA project, HAL has now tapped international assistance. Key technological hurdles --- including the fighter’s engine, flying performance and radar --- will now be overcome by design consultancies with global aerospace majors. Top HAL executives list these out: French engine-maker Snecma, and Russian major NPO Saturn will assist with the LCA’s troubled Kaveri engine; BaE Systems and Eurofighter GmbH have been approached for the LCA’s flight systems. And on Monday, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) announced in Delhi that it has submitted a proposal to HAL to cooperate in equipping the LCA with a state-of-the-art AESA radar.
An LCA equipped with the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar will have a greatly enhanced ability to detect and engage enemy targets. The AESA radar is simpler, more rugged, more versatile, and has a longer range than conventional aircraft radars.
Olivier Travert, Vice President, EADS Defence and Security says, “EADS has checked and confirmed that the AESA radar can be fitted on India’s LCA. It will be a customised version of the AESA radar that is fitted on the Eurofighter. We will submit our bids to HAL soon.”
HAL’s decision to go in for international design consultancies stems from two major changes. Firstly, technology sanctions on Indian defence manufacturers are now restricted to a handful of crucial technologies; the cutthroat competition for the Indian market means that even those sanctions are difficult to sustain. The second major shift is in HAL’s earlier go-it-alone outlook, to a more confident participation in a globally interconnected aerospace industry.
HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja told Business Standard, “There are aspects of the LCA in which there are certain knowledge gaps. We are developing an aircraft of this type and profile and complexity for the first time. Earlier we only built (less sophisticated) aircraft like Kirans and HF-24. So if there is a gap in knowledge, we can take a consultancy, what is wrong with that?”
To allow itself more development time, HAL has revised its target date for getting “Initial Operational Clearance” for the LCA from 2008 to December 2010. Mr Baweja is confident the LCA can make 25-30 flights each month, which is needed to successfully meet this deadline.
Back near the runway, Vishwanath Rao, Assistant General Manager, Flight Hangar explains this painstaking process. Over 3200 individual parameters must be checked, while flying the LCA. Each test flight specifically checks one or more of these parameters. For example, while checking the instruments of an LCA, it flies alongside another calibrated aircraft and matches its instrument readings with that aircraft. When each of the 3200 parameters has been checked, one by one, over thousands of flights, Initial Operational Clearance is accorded.
Mr Rao says, “to cover so many points, we need more aircraft; HAL is producing eight more LCAs, which will be called the Limited Series Production (LSP) aircraft. And the Indian Air Force has also ordered 20 “series production” aircraft, which will actually be introduced into service. Metal cutting has already begun on those.”
The Tejas LCA has a tough schedule in 2008. Last year’s sea level trials, at Arakonam in Kerala, will be followed by cold weather trials at Leh and hot weather trials at Jaisalmer in summer. The LCA’s bombing capability will also be checked out this year.