Thursday, August 11, 2022

LCA Tejas: A Success Story For Indigenous Airpower & Make For World Ambitions

By Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria (r)

ACM RKS Bhadauria (r), Former IAF Chief

LCA Tejas is a success story of indigenous design, development, production and induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF) of a ‘4+ Generation Military Fighter Aircraft’ – which is swing-role, lightweight, with advanced avionics, glass cockpit, fly-by-wire digital quadruplex flight control system, composite structure, state-of-the-art weapons and sensors, Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, air refuelling and data link. In a nutshell, everything that a pilot needs in highly contested airspace. 

To have a lightweight aircraft that incorporates the latest in military technologies and meet the IAF’s requirement of weapons carriage, manoeuvrability and multi-role capability, the aircraft was designed with:

  • Lightweight composite structures to keep it in the sub 10 ton class of aircraft with 07 stations for carriage of stores (weapons/drop tanks). 
  • Unstable aerodynamics (CG behind the Mean Aerodynamic Centre) gives it excellent manoeuvrability. 
  • All glass cockpit, highly optimised to reduce the cockpit workload.
  • Advanced Avionics systems that are dual redundant and capable of quick role change (from air-to-ground attack to air-to-air attack in a single pass). 
  • Use of mission display computers and advanced sensors.
  • Digital 4 plus generation flight control system that is quadruple redundant with an extremely low probability of loss of control and high MTBF.
  • High-performance engine with a ‘Full Authority Digital Engine Control’
  •  Computerised management of various aircraft systems like brakes, hydraulics, fuel, electrical, etc. 

“In my opinion, LCA Tejas delivers an unmatched Combat Power for its class and is the most cost-effective option available today in this category of fighters.”

ACM RKS Bhadauria (r)

The LCA has flown over 5,000 sorties of development flying, and over 5,000 sorties of operational squadron flying that have been accident-free. There is hardly any development flying programme of this calibre that has been mishap-free. There is no better proof of the reliability of an excellent airframe and engine combination and the robustness of the flight control system.

The multi-role LCA is the lightest in its class, yet packs an elaborate combination of precision punch with seven hard points for weapon carriage and delivery. A separate station carries the LDP. All-up weight of 13.5 tons ensures 3.5 tons of weapons payload. When combined with the capabilities of an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, integrated EW and data link, it is far superior to any other aircraft in its class. It is unique in its swing role, adequately demonstrated by the IAF in fire power demonstration by firing a precision bomb followed by an air-to-air missile in the same attack, both weapons hitting targets. 

The Final Operational Cleared version of LCA Tejas has air-to-air refuelling capability that has already been demonstrated in development flying. This, along with Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile capability and inherently low Radar Cross Section (RCS), makes the aircraft a very potent force in any air superiority engagements. The aircraft can loiter for extended durations as combat air patrol, conduct sweep and shoot well beyond visual ranges, and engage in close combat as well if the need arises. The agility coupled with carefree handling makes it a very pilot-friendly aircraft. I am yet to come across a pilot who has flown this aircraft and not praised her handling characteristics. The ease of flying and a very pilot-oriented cockpit enabled the IAF to get pilots to fly the fighter straight after the simulator sorties. This combination of performance and weapons capabilities makes this aircraft a very effective air defence platform. 

Most air forces have a heavy workload of air defence and point defence duties in peacetime, a role that this aircraft can perform most cost-effectively. Air-to-air role on the LCA caters for integrating both Russian origin (R 73 E) as well as western origin (i.e. Derby, Python) missiles. In addition, an indigenous ASTRA BVR missile is also available. This provides for a host of options for any air force.

The aircraft’s avionics package is contemporary with a fully integrated HOTAS stick/throttle/at-hand control panel. A display and sighting helmet makes for ease of targeting. The all-glass cockpit is NVG compatible. 

Sensors include:

  • The AESA Radar.
  • Litening pod.
  • IFF in all modes (1, 2, 3, C, S)
  • VORILS
  • TACAN
  • INGPS

All sensors are fully integrated through the 1553 bus and Ethernet. Radio communication is capable of encrypted transmission. Integrated EW suite and operational data link enhance the combat potential multifold.

“Tejas has demonstrated its operational capability from Leh, the highest Indian airfield, during cold and hot weather. The aircraft has also been successfully tested at sea levels in a corrosive saline environment.”

ACM RKS Bhadauria (r)

The aircraft is well adapted for accurate navigation and identifying and engaging targets in the ground attack role. All weapons combinations have been cleared after live drops. Stringent weapon accuracies have been met over many weapon trials and demonstrations with live and practice bombs in all modes and types of attack. Precision attack capability comprises a laser-guided bomb (LGB), Hammer class and advanced long-range weapon options. The LCA as an effective delivery platform, with the flexibility of weapon systems, small footprint, a quick turnaround, excellent onboard computers in control of systems, speedy processing of data stored after a mission, and yet a small sub-10-ton class aircraft makes it one of the lowest acquisition and operating cost option with high-performance output, something that most air forces with stressed budgets should examine closely.

Another unique feature of the aircraft is that it has been proven in all the harsh weather conditions in India. LCA has been operated in temperature ranges varying from +48°C to -16.5°C. It has demonstrated its operational capability from Leh, the highest Indian airfield, during cold and hot weather. The aircraft has also been successfully tested at sea levels in a corrosive saline environment.

The IAF formed the first squadron of Tejas on 1st July 2016; the first two squadrons are now fully operational and mission ready. IAF has placed an order for 83 more aircraft in the LCA AF Mk1A version, which will have next-generation AESA radar, EW, next-gen weapon systems and data links. Today, the nation is self-reliant in most of the military fighter aircraft contemporary technologies, which has been mainly possible due to the Tejas programme. This has given confidence to the IAF, the government and the country’s aeronautical engineering/scientific community to go ahead with other big-ticket Indigenous Fighter Aircraft Programmes such as Tejas MK2, Fifth Generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF)  and other advanced platforms. 

IAFs confidence in this aircraft and planned orders for further developments is the best assurance to interested air forces’ of this aircraft’s potential and industry capability to support it. In my opinion, LCA delivers an unmatched Combat Power for its class and is the most cost-effective option available today in this category of fighters.

ACM RKS Bhadauria (r) is a former Indian Air Force Chief 

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