India’s indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme has once again come under criticism due to the continual delays in the first flight of its first carrier-borne naval version of Tejas. The naval prototype version (NP-1) has again failed to take to the skies in January this year as planned. While the Tejas LCA for the IAF is also mired in troubles due to a one year delay to get operational, the naval version is also not rising up to the navy’s expectations besides being riddled with delays.
According to recent media reports, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Verma has indicated that the naval airborne version of the Tejas LCA has suffered delays since the programme designers, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), have placed paramount importance on the IAF version of the Tejas. Although the ADA has maintained that since both versions are largely identical and minor differences in systems, the naval version of the LCA has not been developed as per the navy’s desired expectations.
The debut flight of the naval version of the LCA is being constantly delayed since last year and it seems that the LCA will need modifications in its systems, different materials and probably even a new engine. The naval LCA still requires a host of system integration checks and other crucial technology in place to perform at its optimal level. The naval version Tejas LCA’s first flight was planned for mid-2011 and then pushed to December 2011 but it has not yet taken off. The reasons quoted by the state-run agency is that they are ensuring that all critical new technology which will be integrated in Naval Tejas goes through smoothly in ground test phase . The first Engine Ground Run has been successfully conducted last year. The naval version is the Tejas has also relied on technical consultations from Europe’s EADS to optimize systems and speed up flight test and certification.
The naval version of the LCA which is the STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) version and it has been gearing up for its flight since last year. The DRDO Chief V.K. Saraswat has stated that issues over platform safety had been overcome and that the team was finally confident about entering the flight-test phase. Some of the issues that needed to be addressed include the platform’s landing gear, recovery mechanism and approach control laws.
DRDO has also state that the testing of India’s first indigenous naval carrier-borne fighter will be shifted to Goa by the middle of 2012. The state-run agency proposes to test at the Indian Navy’s shore-based test facility for arrested recovery operations. A special runway development is underway in Indian Navy’s air base in INS Hansa which will serve as a mock aircraft carrier runway deck to test the naval Tejas LCA as well as other fighter planes and multi-role aircraft which the Indian Navy will acquire.