The Lockheed Martin JSF-35 Lightening, which will also operate off aircraft carriers. The US company was to help India with the Naval Tejas, but Washington has not given clearance.
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Sept 09
The US government is, for the second time, squeezing American aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, out of an important contract relating to India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
Business Standard has learned that Lockheed Martin, which was selected in June as a consultant for developing the Naval version of the Tejas, was given 90 days to obtain the clearances it needs from the US government. But now, with time running out, Washington has sent Lockheed Martin a list of questions about what assistance the company will provide.
Senior officials from the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which manages the Tejas programme, say they will not delay the Naval Tejas any longer. The ADA has recommended to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that another consultant be chosen. It has put forward the names of France’s Dassault Aviation, and European consortium, EADS.
For Lockheed Martin, this is déjà vu. In 1993, it was selected to partner ADA in developing the Tejas’ high-tech flight control system (FCS). But after India’s nuclear tests in 1998, Washington ordered Lockheed Martin to terminate the partnership. India eventually went it alone, developing the world class FCS that is on the Tejas today.
Lockheed Martin is still fighting to salvage the situation. The company told Business Standard, “We are continuing our dialogue with the Aeronautical Development Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense and are hopeful we will be able provide the consultancy desired by ADA on the Naval LCA.”
But the decision now lies in the hands of Dr VK Saraswat, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister.
Lockheed Martin’s current situation replicates that of Boeing, which was front-runner for the air force Tejas consultancy. But earlier this year, after the US government failed to grant Boeing a clearance (called a Technical Assistance Agreement) in time, the MoD awarded EADS the contract. The European consortium obtained the sanctions in time and is now working with ADA.
Foreign consultancy has been sought by ADA to introduce the Tejas into service without further delay. The air force Tejas, a single-seat, single-engine fighter, is at an advanced stage of testing. The naval Tejas, being developed around the twin-seater air force trainer, will only take to the skies by mid-2010. But it will only fly off an aircraft around 2014, after getting a new, more powerful, engine. That is about when the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, being built in Kochi, will join the Indian Navy.
The immediate challenges before the Naval Tejas --- which the consultant will help to resolve --- include strengthening the undercarriage to absorb the high impact of landing on aircraft carrier decks; fitting an arrestor hook at the tail of the aircraft to bring it to a quick halt after landing; and adding a flap on the front edge of the wings to slow down the landing speed by almost 150 kmph.
In addition, the Naval Tejas needs a “fuel dump system” in case of an emergency just after take-off. The take off weight of a Tejas, with full weapons load and fuel is around 12.5 tonnes but, for landing back on an aircraft carrier it must be less than 9.5 tonnes. In an emergency, 2 tonnes of weapons and external fuel tanks will be instantly shed; but a system must be built in for jettisoning another tonne of fuel from the fighter’s wing tanks.
None of the US Navy’s most successful carrier-borne aircraft --- the F-4 Phantom; the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet --- were built by Lockheed Martin. Despite that, ADA believes Lockheed Martin’s experience in designing the futuristic F-35 Lightening Joint Strike Fighter qualifies it as a consultant.
“All the earlier US navy aircraft had two engines, giving them the weight and strength to support a tail hook”, explained Dr PS Subramaniam, the Director of ADA, “But Lockheed Martin has designed the F-35 Lightening, which is a single-engine fighter with a tail hook.”
Dassault’s Rafale fighter and EADS’s Eurofighter Typhoon are both twin-engine aircraft.