TEJAS: India's Journey to Self -reliance takes Aero India Flight

By Editor 2017

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Aeronautical Development Agency, Bangalore, under the Department of Defence, Govt. of India,  is the nodal agency for the design & development of LCA. HAL is the principal partner in LCA Programme with participation of DRDO & CSIR Laboratories, Public & Private sector industries and academic institutions.

‘Tejas’, Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is the smallest and lightest multi-role supersonic fighter Aircraft in its class. This single engine compound-delta-wing tailless aircraft is designed and developed by ADA to meet diverse needs of Indian Air Force.

Here CD Balaji, Distinguished Scientist and Programme Director (Combat Aircraft) & Director, ADA  explains the success of his entity, in an interview with Aeromag Asia.

Now that India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas is part of Indian Air Force 45Squadron Flying Daggers, the Aeronautical Development Agency has many reasons to celebrate. Looking back, what was the biggest challenge that you faced in the development of the project?

Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)was conceived when there was no infrastructure base and almost zero technological knowledge base in the country for undertaking the enormous task of developing  a modern combat aircraft. HF-24 (Marut) aircraft development was the last major combat aircraft development programme and after a gap of two decades, LCA Programme was launched. LCA was developed virtually from scratch and I feel that it was a herculean task to put together critical mass required to execute a programme of this magnitude by networking Public/Private research centres, industries and academia all over the country and more importantly instilling confidence in LCA development team. There are more than 400 work centres including HAL, DRDO, CSIR, CEMILAC, DGAQA, PSUs, IAF, IN, academic institutions, public & private industries etc., in addition to ADA. It was a challenge to assimilate the technological development by these work centres for the final integration of the aircraft. LCA team has done a tremendous job to meet the challenge and come out with flying colours.

Challenges in development of LCA Tejas were numerous. An unstable aircraft configuration and the challenges it poses in terms of handling and controllability and at the same time to provide utmost reliability with extremely high agility was one of the fundamental challenges that has been surpassed. State-of-the art composite structure to the extent of about 90% surface area and about 40% by weight is probably one of the highest in the world. The LCA team embraced this technology challenge and came out successfully. Complex accessories viz., Aircraft Mounted Accessories Gear Box (AMAGB) and compact heat exchangers have been successfully developed and integrated on the LCA. The Programme has faced technology challenges, complexity of systems design with very high safety standards, stress on higher degree of  indigenised components, changes in weapons configuration, changes for avionics system architecture, changes in Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite, quantum change in build standard and aircraft fabrication etc., to just name a few.

Tejas is acclaimed as the smallest and lightest multi-role supersonic fighter aircraft of its class. How would you compare it with its nearest competitors abroad? What are its unique features?

Tejas is intended to replace ageing fleet of MIG-21 aircraft of IAF. It may be mentioned that the aircraft is far superior to MiG-21 in all aspects. Further, it is far ahead in terms of technologies and performance when compared to JF-17 and at par with Gripen. Some of the unique features of Tejas are Agility, Lightweight, use of composite materials, Advanced Avionics Suite, Advanced Flight Control System, Advanced Electro-Mechanical System and Safety Features.

Tejas has been evaluated in extreme tropical conditions like sandy, sea level, hot and cold conditions. And Tejas EW suite has been evaluated in realistic conditions at the Electronic warfare range. With FOC features of Air to Air refuelling, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and Close Combat Missile (CCM) integrated, Gun, Carefree manoeuvring, etc., Tejas is expected to be a true Air superiority and Air defence weapon of war, light, agile and manoeuvrable.     

 The IAF asking for 83 Tejas aircraft, Mark 1A version –what would be the schedule of delivery? Is HAL equipped to handle it all?

HAL has drawn the following likely delivery schedules for 20 aircraft in LCA AF Mk1 (IOC) configuration, 20 aircraft in LCA AF Mk1 (FOC) configuration and 83 aircraft in LCA AF Mk-1A configuration.

Production Schedule is like this: 20 aircraft IOC Standard &4 aircraft FOC Standard are targeted to be  delivered by 2018-2019 at the production rate of eight aircraft in an year  in 2017-18 and 12 aircraft in an year in 2018-19. Remaining 16 FOC Standard aircraft are targeted to be delivered by 2019-2020. 83 LCA AF Mk1A standard Production will commence from 2020-21 with a Production Rate of 16 aircraft in a year.

The Naval version of LCA is perhaps the next milestone in the development of the LCA project. Have you progressed beyond the carrier compatibility flight-testing process of the LCA Naval prototypes, NP-1 and NP-2?

The primary objective of the LCA Naval variant is to operate from an Aircraft Carrier with STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrester Recovery) concept with 140 parabolic Ski-Jump and Arrestor Hook Recovery System. LCA Navy MK1 aircraft has been developed incorporating naval specific requirements such as a telescopic Landing Gear for High Sink Rate landing, Arrester Hook System, LEVCON to reduce the approach speed and Improved fuselage design to cater to high loads expected for deck operations. Two LCA Navy Mk1 prototypes, NP1 (Trainer) and NP2 (Fighter) are available for flight-testing.

As a part of stipulated certification process, there was a need to test the LCA Navy aircraft ashore for Carrier Compatibility prior to its test on the carrier. In order to cater to this requirement, the Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) was established at INS Hansa, Goa with a take-off area having 14° ski-jump and landing area with Arresting Gear System (AGS), along with other associated equipment. Presently the facility is fully operational and also being used to train Indian Navy Pilots on MiG29K aircraft, in addition to LCA Navy flight testing.

LCA Navy Mk1 demonstrated following Naval Specific and other Technologies:

  1. Supersonic Flight achieved on both LCA Navy Mk1 aircraft
  2. Maiden Ski-Jump was successfully demonstrated by LCA Navy Trainer (NP1) followed  by 12 Ski-Jumps with R73 missiles and Night Ski Jump
  3. Hot refuelling is demonstrated and a record flying of 3 hour duration had been achieved in one sortie
  4. In-Flight Jettisoning has been demonstrated
  5. Preparations towards Arrester Recovery are in process.
  6. Weapon & Sensor testing has been initiated

A Naval standard Structural Test Specimen (STS) has been built and integrated with the Main Airframe Structural Test (MAST) rig. Testing towards clearance for Carrier Compatibility Tests (CCT) on aircraft has been completed.

Speaking of the indigenous components of Tejas, there was criticism that most of the vital parts are still foreign. How would you respond to that?

The level of indigenisation is at least to an extent of 65% currently. The entire structure along with majority of the aircraft systems like Fuel, Hydraulics, Environmental Control, Electrical, etc., of the aircraft is built in the country. Critical ‘’intelligent’ systems like the computers in Avionics, Weapons and Flight Control Systems (FCS), including hardware and software is indigenous. This is very critical and completely under our control and is considered a key enabler towards self-reliance. ADA has played a significant role for indigenous development of Line Replaceable Units (LRU’s) and advanced technologies along with development of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Programme. So far, 190 LRU’s out of 350 LRU’s in LCA have been indigenised and another 30-35 LRU’s are in various stages of development process. We will continue to play a major role for replacement of imported LRU’s by ab-initio design.

There was speculation on whether we would revisit the Kaveri aero engine project. Do you see any scope for a collaborative venture for making it in India?

There is a discussion to integrate and flight test an improved version of the Kaveri engine in one of the LCA prototypes. Towards this, a study has been initiated to check the various interfaces like structural, systems, software, etc., When the engine is made available, integration will be carried out for testing.

Following the success of the LCA project, the focus now shifts to the Advanced Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. How far have you gone on this line?

Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is a 5th Generation twin engine fighter aircraft in the medium weight category. The feasibility study has been completed and submitted to the Government. Several Configuration Design iterations are performed and configuration is frozen. Next Generation technologies development are initiated. LCA– Tejas Programme has given a significant lead in building the aircraft & its technology development within our country. ADA is confident in taking AMCA Design & Development activities to the next stage.

As for the Make in India initiative, a whole aerospace industry ecosystem would have evolved around the ADA project – could you speak about the scope of such spin-off benefits of growth and development?

LCA as a National Programme, has not only developed Tejas aircraft, but has also enabled technologies in the field of aeronautics. It has nurtured the aerospace technologies and has contributed to the development of skilled scientific& technical work force and also the establishment of various infrastructures in the field of aeronautics in the country. I feel that world is expected to look towards India as a major place of excellence in the field of Aeronautics in near future.

With its induction in 45 Squadron, Indian Air Force, Tejas facilitate a move towards self-reliance in ‘Air Power’ requirement of the Nation. I believe that this is a historic step towards self-reliance in the country and thus Tejas ushers in a sense of pride. Its development and production within the country gives a big boost to the “Make in India” resolve of the nation.

On the eve of Aero India 2017, what major initiatives would ADA be showcasing?

ADA would showcase the flying prowess of the aircraft in the currently cleared envelope of 8’g’ and higher angles of attack during the display flying. ADA would display the LCA cockpit powered up in the static display. ADA would showcase the various variants, both present and future, through models in the exhibition area. ADA would also highlight the various simulators and systems in the ADA Pavilion for the public to get a feel for the intricacies involved in a combat aircraft development.