by Ajai Shukla
7th Feb 2015
Even as the Indian Air Force (IAF) wrangles over details in the manufacture and induction of its first squadron of Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), the Indian Navy is powering ahead with its programme to develop a naval version of the Tejas.
In Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bangalore (HAL) on Saturday, the Naval LCA project got a major fillip when the second prototype made its first flight.
The “navalised” Tejas will be based on two indigenous aircraft carriers. The first of these, INS Vikrant, is currently being built by Cochin Shipyard and will enter service in 2018.
The navy’s newest aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Gorshkov), fields only a complement of Russian MiG-29K fighters. However, the 40,000-tonne Vikrant and its successor, a larger (possibly 65,000-tonne) aircraft carrier that could be named INS Vishal, are likely to field the so-called Naval LCA as well as the MiG-29K.
Termed Naval Prototype-2 (NP-2) the new single-seat prototype differs significantly from its twin-seat predecessor, NP-1, which first flew in April 2012. Like all naval fighters, NP-2 has a reinforced undercarriage to absorb the impact of landing on aircraft carriers. Since the pilot must descend steeply to touch down precisely at a spot on the carrier deck where his aircraft’s tail-hook catches on a set of “arrestor wires”, this landing is often likened to a “controlled crash”.
According to the defence ministry, the new prototype corrects several deficiencies observed whilst flight-testing NP-1. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas programme, says NP-2 incorporates most avionic hardware components that the navy has demanded.
These include “plug and play” modules that will accept software modifications for aircraft carrier landing aids (like a Levcon Air Data Computer), auto-throttle, and special lights. NP-2 will also incorporate the arrestor hook, a digital data link for tactical information, and the Israeli Derby long-range air-to-air missile.
NP-2 was piloted by Captain Shivnath Dahiya, a naval test pilot with the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC). Another Tejas, piloted by Group Captain Suneet Krishna, “chased” NP-2 all through its flight, observing it externally.
Meanwhile, the Naval LCA programme is transitioning from regular runways to a so-called Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) --- a full-sized, land-based model of an aircraft carrier deck that has been built in Goa. In December, NP-1 had taken off from the SBTF.
The next major step in the Naval LCA project will be an arrestor-wire landing, carried out at the SBTF.