By Ajai Shukla
Aeronautical Development Agency, Bangalore
Business Standard, 10th Dec 12
The indigenous Tejas Mark II Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) will enter Indian Air Force (IAF) service by 2018 as a state-of-the-art fighter that is significantly more advanced than the current Tejas Mark I, says the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which runs the Rs 14,047 crore LCA programme.
ADA’s director, PS Subramanyam, divulged to Business Standard the improvements being made to the existing Tejas Mark I, which the IAF will begin flying next year. The Mark I is a capable fighter, says Subramanyam, but it incorporates many technologies of the preceding decade, some of which --- especially avionics --- would be outdated by 2018 when the IAF gets the Mark II.
The pipeline of improvements includes indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar; interfaces for mounting the world’s most advanced air-to-air missiles; a revolutionary onboard oxygen-generating system; an advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) suite to confuse enemy radars and sensors; greater fuel capacity to increase its range; a retractable mid-air refuelling system; and revolutionary actuators that only the most advanced US fighters currently have.
“Avionics technologies have a generation span of just 5-7 years. The Tejas currently incorporates technologies from 2005 and later. For the Tejas Mark II in 2018, we will have a generational leap to more futuristic electronics,” says Subramanyam.
The ADA chief says these systems will be developed and tested over the next five years, while ADA re-engineers the Tejas to accommodate the bulkier and heavier General Electric F-414 engine that will power the Tejas Mark II. Subramanyam reveals that ADA is choosing a foreign partner to advise in fitting the new engine.
“We will work with a foreign consultant in order to avoid the mistakes that other aerospace designers have earlier made. We are talking to Saab (of Sweden), to Cassidian (the European consortium) and to other vendors. We should have a decision by mid-2013,” says Subramanyam.
ADA is evaluating the new avionics on the first Tejas prototype, designated PV-1, which is now too old for the flight-trial programme and will be used hereafter to test new systems. First up is a new Electronic Warfare system, designed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratory, Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), which senses enemy radar signals and jams them effectively, making the Tejas hard to detect.
Next up for testing is a sophisticated on-board oxygen generating system, developed by the DRDO’s Defence Bioengineering and Electro-medical Laboratory (DEBEL), which continuously collects atmospheric oxygen and supplies it to the pilot. Today, the capacity of the oxygen bottles that contemporary fighters carry limit mission times; when oxygen runs low, the pilot heads back to base. Now, the on-board oxygen generating system, along with mid-air refuelling and the Tejas Mark II’s increased fuel load, will allow 3-4 hours of continuous flying, more than most fighters in the world.
During these lengthy combat missions, the Tejas Mark II pilot will benefit from a friendlier cockpit display. While the Mark I already has an all-glass cockpit (i.e. with digital TV-screen-type displays instead of the old analogue dials), the Mark II will have larger, user-friendly screens that reduce pilot fatigue.
Improved avionics will also include a sophisticated Inertial Navigation System (INS), developed by the DRDO’s Research Centre, Imarat (RCI). So far the Tejas has used an imported INS.
“This INS would be used in the navigation-attack system that is being tailor-made for the LCA,” says Subramanyam. A navigation-attack system navigates the fighter precisely to an enemy target, even in pitch darkness. The DRDO has earlier built a series of such systems for the IAF’s fleet of Jaguar strike aircraft.
The biggest game-changer, one that would make the Tejas a truly formidable multi-role fighter, could be the ongoing project to develop an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. This advanced radar, which only US companies have truly mastered, is being developed for the Tejas by the DRDO laboratory, Electronics Research & Development Establishment (LRDE).
“Whether or not AESA radar is developed in time for the first Tejas Mark II, this radar will be retrofitted onto these fighters as soon as it is certified,” says the ADA chief.
The Tejas Mark II is also being configured to fire any advanced weaponry that the IAF acquires, e.g. any long-range air-to-air missiles (LRAAMs) that may be acquired along with the ongoing purchase of 126 Dassault Rafale fighters. The DRDO is developing an indigenous air-to-air missile, the Astra, but that is some way off from completion.
The production of 20 Tejas Mark I fighters ordered by the IAF is under way in HAL. This will be followed by another order for 20 more Tejas Mark I, once the fighter obtains final operational clearance, expected in 2015. While HAL is running well behind its objective of building 8 Tejas per year, the target for completion of these 40 fighters remains 2017. After that, the production of Tejas Mark II will begin, subject to successful flight-testing.