LCA Tejas Gears up for Aerial Refuelling

By Thomas Abraham 14-Jun-2018


The Light Combat Aircraft Tejas is all set to commence its Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) flight trials. Aeronautical Development Agency has been carrying out various tests regarding the AAR for the past few months which have been successful. But, the process is a challenging one, and hence, it is very much important to make it flawless. All the simulated ground tests have been successfully completed as Tejas was refuelled by placing it at various attitudes. The technical integration for AAR has been completed and the trials were commenced on the ground. We expect to make Tejas ready for air-to-air refuelling by May. Once Tejas achieves the operational aerial refuelling capability, it will help the fighter to extend its flight duration considerably, says Dr. Girish S Deodhare, Programme Director (Combat Aircraft) and Director, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). Dr. Deodhare speaks with Aeromag about the latest updates on the LCA programme.

Dr. Girish S. Deodhare is the Programme Director (Combat Aircraft) and Director, Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the nodal agency for the design & development of LCA. He did his B. Tech in Electrical Engineering (1984), M. Tech in Controls and Instrumentation (1986) both from IIT Bombay and Ph.D. (1990) in Control Theory from University of Waterloo, Canada. He has started his career in DRDO as Scientist in Centre for AI and Robotics (CAIR), Bangalore from 1990 till 2007. In March 2007, he has joined the Aeronautical Development Agency as Scientist 'G'.  He has been elevated to Outstanding Scientist/Sc ‘H’ in July 2012.

He is a Lead Member of the National Control Law (CLAW) team for LCA and is Project Director (CLAW) since 2016.   In 2013, he has taken over as the Technology Director (Integrated Flight Control Systems), ADA and held additional charge of Associate Programme Director (New Programmes and Systems Engineering) from 2015.    He is involved in the design and development of flight control systems for the Indian Light Combat Aircraft using both classical and modern control synthesis techniques. On April 28, 2017 he has taken over as the Programme Director (Combat Aircraft) and Director, ADA to lead the Tejas (LCA) programme.

1. Could you share the latest developments on the LCA Tejas programme?

The LCA Tejas programme is having a very fast progression. Currently, we are focusing on increasing the flying rate of the Mk1 aircraft to 60 flights every month. We expect to get the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) for the Mk 1 by June-July 2018. Most of the tasks for the FOC are in the final stage and the rest will be completed soon. Some of the tasks under focus are the completion of integration of all FOC weapons including flight envelope expansion with the Derby BVR missiles. The software fine tuning for complete carefree manoeuvring is also in progress. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and ADA are working together to speed up the FOC activities. The experienced IAF/IN pilots of National Flight Test Centre (NFTC), who have been involved in flight testing the aircraft from day one, are continuously improving the flight capabilities with their inputs and suggestions.

Another important task we are working on now is the Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) of Tejas. We have been carrying out various tests regarding the AAR for the past few months and have been successful. But, the process is a challenging one, and hence, it is important to make it flawless. The technical integration for AAR has been completed and the trials have been commenced on the ground after initial carriage flight trials.

All the simulated ground tests have been successfully completed as Tejas was refuelled by placing it at various attitudes on the ground. This was to monitor the pressure at which the fuel is pumped into the aircraft. The aerial refuelling must be done without taking much time. We are very much careful about even minute things that should be considered during the process. We expect to make Tejas ready for air-to-air refuelling by May. Once Tejas achieves the operational aerial refuelling capability, it will help the fighter to extend its flight duration and endurance considerably.

Last year in December, HAL has confirmed the order of 83 aircrafts of Mk 1A configuration in addition to the earlier 40 aircrafts. From the 124th aircraft onwards, LCA Mk II will enter service. It will be a bigger aircraft with a higher capacity engine, higher range and payload capacity, improved aerodynamics etc. The Mk II project is in the detail design stage.

We have received the approval to prove unmanned technologies like auto take-off and landing on LCA for future uses. The unmanned version will sport Flush Air Data Systems technology for stealth feature. The design of the front also will be modified. The project will begin immediately after receiving the FOC for Mark 1.

2. Could you elaborate on the plans to upgrade the weapons capability and advanced technologies of LCA Tejas? What is the future roadmap for LCA Tejas?

We are planning to enhance the combat capabilities of the Mk 1A by integrating new weapons. Tejas has already completed precision bombing with laser-guided 1,000lb bombs and unguided bombs. The integration of Rafael’s Derby fire-and-forget missile will be completed soon, and it will serve as the Tejas’ initial medium range air-to-air armament. The integration of Active Electronically Scanning Array (AESA) radar is underway, and it is expected to be done soon. The AESA radar will improve air-to-air superiority and strike missions and to achieve long detection ranges and multi-target tracking capabilities.

The Mk II is being designed to sport an array of upgraded weapons system along with all sensors and will be capable of carrying all futuristic indigenous weapons. The major thrust of the aircraft will be its ability to carry missiles like Astra and BrahMos. It will have Software Defined Radios (SDR) and all equipment to wage electronic warfare. The Mark II will be much superior in terms of its combat capabilities and will belong to the Medium weight class.

3. Kindly share your thoughts on increasing the annual production of LCA Tejas to meet the requirements of IAF.

ADA is helping HAL in every possible way to increase the production of LCA Tejas. In fact, we conduct coordination meetings every day to discuss on accelerating the project and secure the FOC at the earliest. Meetings are also held with members of LCA Squadron to get suggestions from them regarding what should be improved in terms of design. HAL has opened its new assembly line and it will increase the rate of production.

In the case of MK II, it will be easier for HAL to manufacture it as ADA is making a production-friendly design for the aircraft. We are leveraging the experience got from the Mk 1 and Mk 1A. Now, the designers are familiar with the production processes and they know its challenges. Hence, we are focusing on a design for manufacture for the Mk II. Also, it will make the maintenance process easy.

4. Are there any further plans to promote the Make in India programme of the Central Government through the absolute indigenisation of more vital components of Tejas?

The indigenisation of the components of LCA Tejas is one the major thrusts at present. The production of Tejas is closely on the line of promoting the government’s Make in India programme. Initially, the idea was to develop a new light combat aircraft indigenously to prove the technology. Hence, in the beginning we had to rely mostly on proven imported components. But now, more than 60% of the LRUs of Tejas are indigenously made. We are also aggressively encouraging the vendors/developers who are ready to take up the development of the components. For the Mk II, we will provide completely upgraded Flight Control Systems, avionics, sensors etc. of which the indigenous development has already started.

5. Tejas is acclaimed as the lightest and smallest multi-role supersonic fighter aircraft. How does Tejas outweigh its rivals in this segment?

LCA Tejas is the smallest and lightest Multi-Role Supersonic Fighter Aircraft of its class. This highly manoeuvrable combat aircraft is designed for specific roles. Tejas is often compared to JAS 39 Gripen of Sweden, Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder etc. Every aircraft is built for a specific purpose. Hence, it is not easy to compare them with each other and reach on a conclusion on the better one. But, taking into consideration Tejas’s far superiority in terms of avionics, digital flight control systems, advanced digital cockpit and manoeuvrability, it is competitive enough to lock horns with any of the multirole aircrafts in its class.

6. The Naval Version of LCA for operation from Aircraft Carriers has successfully completed its test flight. What are the latest updates on this project?

The naval version of Tejas has completely mastered the ski jump, take-off from aircraft carriers, even at night time also. But, the arrested landing of the aircraft is still a challenge to be overcome. The hook for the arrested landing has been integrated and we are now progressing towards demonstration of arrested landing. We expect to prove Carrier Compatibility of Tejas by the end of the year.

7. Kindly shed more light onto the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project of ADA

The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is a 5th generation fighter concept. The feasibility study of the AMCA has been completed and a feasible configuration has been evolved. The design of AMCA will meet the requirements specified by the IAF. The AMCA will feature a twin-engine and single-seat layout. It will have inherent stealth mode and will be able to carry advanced weapons. Initially it is planned to build two Next Generation Technology Demonstrators (NGTD). These will leverage the existing technology of the LCA to achieve the target of first flight within five years.

8. What are the vision, goals and priorities you have set for the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) during your term as the Director? What are the new initiatives?

These are exciting times for aerospace industry. ADA is fully confident about developing the optimal design for aircrafts that will bolster the Indian defence sector. When we started the LCA programme the most often heard question was “Can you make an aircraft?”. But, we have proved the capabilities by presenting a fully operational LCA Tejas. Now the question is “How long will it take to make an aircraft?”. We are backing the HAL in the production of Tejas by providing design-friendly design and essential upgradations.

Our focus is currently on the LCA Mark II, along with giving equal importance to the production of Mark 1A. The development of AMCA is another priority. A lot of youngsters have joined ADA’s design team. We are focusing on transferring the rich experience of our senior designers to the younger generation to make them capable to take up the projects efficiently in future. ADA is also promoting the involvement of women scientists and more than 40% of the designers are women. The government policies are giving a huge impetus to aerospace industry in India. With the support of the government, we are confident to take the industry to further heights.