The Indian Air Force has decided to induct Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) despite its inability to carry the weapons payload essential to meet the country’s wartime requirements.
LCA squadrons will fly with American GE-404 engines that do not generate enough thrust power for the aircraft to be fully weaponised. Confirming this, sources in the Ministry of Defence said: “The engine generates a thrust power of around 80-85 kilo Newton in comparison to the air force’s requirement of 95-100 kilo Newton. This will compromise the LCA’s weaponisation.”
The IAF has already placed an order for 20 LCAs, christened Tejas, to be followed by another squadron of 20.
More powerful engines such as General Electric’s 414 or Eurojet EJ 200 meet the IAF’s needs. But defence sources said, “There is no way heavier engines can be fitted on the LCA without drastic design changes, which could take up to four years. We may have to co-develop a new engine with a foreign manufacturer.”
The indigenous Kaveri engine, which was to power the LCA, has been under development for more than two decades at the Bangalore-based Gas Turbine and Research Establishment. The project is unlikely to be completed before 2012. Sanctioned in 1989 at a cost of Rs 382.81 crore, Kaveri’s development cost has spiralled to a whopping Rs 2,839 crore.
The LCA project was sanctioned a quarter of a century ago as a replacement for the IAF’s ageing MiG fighters. Initial operational clearance (IOC) for the LCA has been delayed by two years and is now expected only in 2010, the year scheduled tentatively for the aircraft’s induction.
Air force pilots will be restrained from maximising mission performance of the LCA due to angle of attack (AOA) limitations. The sources added, “The LCA has achieved an AOA of 17 degrees though the IAF would have preferred 21 degrees.”
The original LCA project cost was estimated to be Rs 560 crore. However, the government has already sanctioned Rs 5,490 crore for the development of technology demonstrators, prototype vehicles and eight pre-production aircraft. By the time the aircraft reaches the IOC stage, the cost would have doubled.