New Delhi: Indian Navy’s search for a carrier based fighter jet is now strictly narrowed down to a twin-engine option after the Naval version of the indigenous Light Combat aircraft, the Tejas, has been rejected due to its low ‘thrust-to-weight’ ratio. The Tejas, already inducted in the Indian Air Force, is a single engine plane.
The Navy is now looking to have new jet that can be inducted by 2021-2022, that’s the time the Indian Navy will be a fully operational two-carrier Navy. As the under-development carrier, the INS Vikrant, being made at the Kochi Shipyard, and the existing INS Vikramaditya will be fully operational.
In December 2016, the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba while addressing a press conference in New Delhi said the Tejas – a single engine plane -- made by public sector giant, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was not meeting the parameters to operate from the carriers – the Russian origin INS Vikramaditya, a 46,000 tonne warship and the under development INS Vikrant, a 40,000 tonne vessel being made at Kochi.
The Admiral cited the aircraft’s weight as one of the reasons and said that the Indian Navy is looking at alternative models. “As far as the carrier-based aircraft is concerned, we need it in a time line of the induction of the aircraft carrier. We have the MiG 29K, which operates from the Vikramaditya and also the IAC (Vikrant)”. A total of 45 of the MiG 29K are on order from Russia.
“Unfortunately, the LCA is not being able to meet the carrier’s required capability. That is why we need an alternative aircraft to operate from these two aircraft carriers,” the Admiral said. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar addressing a press conference on January 3 said “The current naval version of Tejas will be just a technology demonstrator. He said that the navy is seeking a double engine aircraft”.
Notably, besides the MiG 29K, the Rafale of France, the F-18-A of Boeing and Sukhoi-33 of Russia are two-engined carrier based planes. The Navy will encourage India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and HAL to work on the naval version of the LCA. This is largely to meet the needs of the 65,000-tonne, the INS Vishal, the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-2) that will most likely launch combat aircraft using a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system. India and the US have working group on aircraft carrier technology and are discussing the new electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) technology.
The Vikramaditya and Vikrant have the ski-jump assisted Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) for launching fighter jets. The STOBAR necessitate a high thrust-to-weight ratio for successful take-offs due to the short ski-jump. Meaning the LCA Tejas is ruled out but it could still be deployed aboard the INS Vishal. Two naval prototypes of the LCA have successfully conducted a number of test flights from a Shore Based Test Facility — a replica of an aircraft carrier deck — in Goa, however, the prototypes could not replicate the successful flights tests while fully armed and fueled.