The LCA (Navy) programme involves development of the NP-1 tandem-seat operational conversion trainer and NP-2 single-seat multi-role combat aircraft (to be rolled-out before the year’s end), one structural test specimen for fatigue-testing, creation of Navy-specific flight-test facilities in Bengaluru and Goa, construction of a shore-based flight-test facility or SBFT at INS Hansa in Goa (for enabling arrested landing recovery, plus takeoff from a half-metal half-concrete 14-degree ski ramp and a flight deck ranging from 195 metres to 204 metres in length, and validating the simulation model for flight performance within ship-motion limits, validating the flight controls’ strategy with all-up weight and asymmetric loading, validating the load analysis methodology), and flight-tests/flight certification for aircraft carrier-based flight operations. The SBTF will also have its integral flight-test centre equipped with line-of-sight telemetry/high-speed three-axis photogrammetric systems, systems for validating thrust measurement algorithms, systems for measuring wind-flow patterns, INS/DGPS-based trajectory measurement systems, RGS integration facility, plus a workshop.
The NP-1/2 models will also be subjected to a carrier-based flight-test regime on board INS Vikramaditya, where seaborne wind conditions winds-on-deck envelopes (especially ship motion, cross-winds and high wind-on-deck speeds) are likely to be more favourable than those around the SBTF. Integration with carrier-based support and weaponisation facilities, plus jettisioning of ventral stores, thrust data validation, and attaining hands-free and non-disorienting takeoff with supplied HUD symbology formats and high angles of attack will also be demonstrated in this phase of flight-tests. Incidentally, since the Indian Navy is involved for the very first time in its history with developing a carrier-based MRCA, it is resigned to the possibility of one of the two LCA (Navy) technology demonstrators ‘breaking up’ while in the process of subjecting the aircrafts’ main landing gears to arrested recoveries at sea. It must be noted here that the undercarriages of carrier-based aircraft collapse or break-up not due to compression, but due to suspension.
Compared to the Tejas Mk1, the LCA (Navy) Mk1 is a technology demonstrator that features a drooped nose section, strengthened airframe structure, twin leading edge vortex control surfaces (for attaining lower approach speeds), main landing gear with higher sink rate (which is presently over-designed and too strong, and requires streamlining), increased internal fuel capacity, a Navy-specific avionics suite (including the autopilot and auto-throttle) and weapons package, and an arrester hook. The definitive aircraft carrier-based MRCA, which the Navy will operationally induct into service by 2020 (and use it for the following 20 years), will be the LCA (Navy) Mk2, 46 of which will be powered by the F414-IN56 turbofan. Although the NP-1/2 will both be armed with RAFAEL-built Derby and Python-5 air combat missiles, it is envisaged that the LCA (Navy) Mk2s will be armed with the Astra/Python-5 air combat missiles combination.--Prasun K. Sengupta