India to test fly naval combat fighter by year-end

Bangalore, July 6 (Calcutta Tube) The indigenous trainer version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Navy will be test flown by the year-end to demonstrate India’s prowess in designing and developing the most advanced fighters, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Tuesday.

‘I am sure the maiden test flight of the carrier-borne naval trainer aircraft will take place by this year-end to give the country a New Year gift for 2011,’ Antony said after witnessing the rollout of its prototype from the hangar of the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Aircraft Research and Development Centre (ARDC) here.

In the run-up to the test flight, the tandem twin-seater trainer will be integrated with avionics and flight controls for ground runs and taxi trials over the next five months.

‘I am confident the Indian aerospace industry will succeed in delivering such an advanced fighter to our navy in the next five years,’ Antony said.

Unlike its air force counterpart (Tejas), the naval version boasts of a stronger and longer landing gear, arrester hook for ship deck landing, front fuselage drooped for better over the nose vision to facilitate ship landing and an additional control surface to reduce the speed in quick time.

Defining the rollout a memorable occasion, Antony said the development of a naval aircraft was a challenging task and testing it is even a more complex operation.

A shore based test facility (SBTF) is being built at the naval air station in Goa, with facilities for a ski-jump for take-off and arresting gear, as in a ship.

‘Specialised equipment for SBTF is being imported from Russia. The take-off area and landing will be ready soon. The facility will also be used as a training centre for pilots and maintenance crew,’ Antony said.

‘The first naval prototype (NP-1) will be flown with the GE-F404-IN20 engine and is specifically designed for ski jump take off and arrested landing. It is the only carrier borne aircraft in the light category and there are no similar aircraft worldwide,’ project director Commodore C.D Balaji said.

The central government sanctioned the naval programme of the over 20-year-old LCA project in 2003, with the first stage of development comprising a trainer prototype and fighter prototype (NP-2).

‘Though the project was budgeted at Rs.950 crore when it was sanctioned, cost escalation and other developments led us to seek additional funds to the tune Rs.1,700 crore for both the prototypes,’ Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) director P.S. Subramanyam told IANS on the margins of the event.

The defence ministry has also approved building two more prototypes under mark-1 for initial operational clearance and two more aircraft under mark-2 for final operational clearance by 2014.

‘We will be requiring another Rs.1,500 crore for the advanced prototypes under mark-1 and mark-2,’ Subramanyam said.

The Indian Navy has hinted to ADA that it would require around 53 carrier-borne aircraft for forming two squadrons.

‘The LCA Navy will be operating with a wide variety of operational equipment, such as beyond visual range (BVR) missile, anti-shipping missiles, conventional bombs, air defence guns and drop tanks,’ Balaji said at a demo of the aircraft.

The defence behemoth HAL is the principal partner of ADA in developing the LCA Navy.

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