Following its roll-out last year, the first flight of the naval variant of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) will take place in July this year. The LCA Naval Prototype-1 (LCA NP1) will be a trainer aircraft and is currently being put to ground tests to avail the flight certification, according to state-run Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The naval variant of the LCA was rolled out a year ago from the Aircraft Research and Design Centre of the Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL).
Compared to the Air Force version of the LCA, the naval version will have different features such as a stronger and longer landing gear, an arrester hook for ship deck landing and front fuselage droop for better over-the-nose vision to facilitate landing on aircraft carriers. There will be an added control surface for speed reduction during landing and other changes in systems. The LCA NP1 will fly with a GE-F404-IN20 engine which facilitates ski jump take off and arrested landing aboard an aircraft carrier. It can also facilitate high landing loads.
The indigenous LCA was designed for the Indian Navy to give them multidimensional force capability. The naval version of the LCA is poised to become the only carrier borne aircraft in the light category, and can be deployed with operational equipment like the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile, Anti Shipping missiles, conventional bombs as well as Air Defence guns. Hence, it will complete the much anticipated ‘air’ element of the Indian Navy.
The naval variant of the LCA was rolled out in July last year from HAL’s Aircraft Research and Development Centre (ARDC) design hangar where the aircraft was assembled. Ever since the rollout, it has been undergoing a phase of systems integration tests leading to ground runs, taxi trials and flight. The Shore Based Test Facility at the naval air base in Goa was being used to simulate take-offs and arrested landings aboard carriers.
The formal go-ahead for the development of the naval version of the LCA was given in 2003. The first stage of development included design and fabrication of one Trainer (LCA-NP1) and one Fighter (LCA-NP2) respectively, along with a shore based test facility at Goa to simulate carrier take off and arrested landing. The naval LCA is being designed to operate from the future indigenous aircraft carriers the Indian Navy plans to possess. The main aim of the LCA NP1 and its fighter counterpart (NP2) is to prove itself, with its technologies, as a worthy replacement of the ageing fleet of Sea Harriers at a later date in a derivative MK2 configuration with a higher thrust engine and optimised mass.
The various agencies involved in the naval LCA programme besides DRDO include Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and HAL and the certifying agencies include Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification (CEMILAC) and Director General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA).