WATCH | Naval Light Combat Aircraft operates from INS Vikrant for 1st time
LCA (Navy) is only a technology demonstrator but the development is significant as it showcases that India has developed niche technologies specific to deck-based fighter operations, and this will pave the way to develop and manufacture the twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF)
A prototype of the naval version of the locally made light combat aircraft (LCA) on Monday for the first time landed and took off from indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which was commissioned into the navy last September, marking a pivotal point in the country’s quest for self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector, officials familiar with the matter said.
“The development demonstrates India’s capability to design, develop, construct and operate indigenous aircraft carrier with locally made fighter aircraft,” said one of the officials cited above, on the condition of anonymity.
The LCA (Navy) has operated from INS Vikrant deck at a time when the aircraft carrier is in the midst of critical flight trials to become fully operational this year, said another official.
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To be sure, LCA (Navy) is only a technology demonstrator but the development is significant as it showcases that India has developed niche technologies specific to deck-based fighter operations, and this will pave the way to develop and manufacture the twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF).
The flight trials on board INS Vikrant involve the Russian-origin MiG-29K fighter jets that use the ski-jump to take off from the aircraft carrier and are recovered by arrestor wires or what is known as STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) in navy parlance.
Twelve MiG-29Ks are likely to be deployed on INS Vikrant and it will operate a new deck-based fighter that the navy is looking to buy as an interim measure to meet its requirements before the indigenous TEDBF is ready in a few years, the officials said. The navy’s other aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, operates MiG-29K fighters. LCA (Navy) landed and took off from Vikramaditya for the first time in August 2020.
The French Rafale M fighter has edged out the American F/A-18 Super Hornet in a direct competition to equip the Indian Navy with 26 new deck-based fighters for INS Vikrant, as reported by HT last December. The Rafale is manufactured by Dassault Aviation while the Super Hornet is a Boeing product.
Dassault and Boeing demonstrated the capabilities of their aircraft to the Indian Navy at a shore-based test facility in Goa in January 2022 and June 2022, respectively. The 26 fighters that the Navy plans to buy are only a stopgap until the country develops its own TEDBF. The Navy is preparing a draft cabinet note for the design and development of TEDBF that India plans to operate from its aircraft carriers, Indian Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said in December 2022.
The prototype of TEDBF is likely to be ready around 2026, and its production could begin by 2032. The Navy is working with the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency on the TEDBF project. Since TEDBF is still a decade away, the Navy is looking at importing deck-based fighters as an interim measure.
Vikrant, which has an indigenous content of 76%, will operate an air wing consisting of 30 aircraft including the new fighters, MiG-29Ks, Kamov-31 choppers, MH-60R multi-role helicopters and advanced light helicopters.
The 45,000-tonne INS Vikrant has been built at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of ₹20,000 crore. Only the US, the UK, Russia, France and China have the capability to build aircraft carriers this size. It has been named after the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant operated by the Navy from 1961 to 1997.
A second indigenous aircraft carrier to project India’s maritime power in the far seas is also on the Navy’s radar, the officials said.
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The other aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, was bought second-hand from Russia for $2.33 billion. The Navy has been arguing it needs three such floating airfields given its vast area of interest.
Vikrant is the fourth aircraft carrier to be operated by the Indian Navy– the first Vikrant (British origin) from 1961 to 1997, INS Viraat (British origin) from 1987 to 2016 and INS Vikramaditya from 2013 onwards.
INS Vikrant is 262 metres long, has a height of 61 metres (keel to mast) and its flight deck measures 12,500 square metres (equivalent to 10 Olympic-size swimming pools. It has an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles, a maximum speed of 28 knots, 2,300 compartments and can carry a crew of 1,600.