NEW DELHI --- The Naval version of India's first indigenous fighter — the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA-Navy) — has not been able to obtain the certification needed to make its debut flight because of structural issues.
The Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) refused the certification saying the structure of the aircraft needed rectifications. The debut flight was initially slated to take place by the end of 2010, but was delayed. The US Navy and the European consortium, EADS, are being consulted to rectify the problems.
The two most important features that require rectifications are the landing gear and special controls. The weight of the landing gear needs to be reduced. The movement of the Levcon (leading edge vortex control) too has to be reduced. A Levcon is a small wing ahead of the main wing of the aircraft, at the edge, and is required to have a controlled movement. These features distinguish the naval version from the Indian Air Force's LCA. The LCA-Navy is heavier than the IAF version as it has a landing gear that makes its under-carriage weightier than its IAF counterpart. The Levcon is also missing in the IAF version.
Being built by the Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under the guidance of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the LCA-Navy has the primary role of air defence and anti-shipping strike and interception. Fuel dump, an additional feature that the LCA-Navy will have, will help the aircraft land safely by reducing its weight. The first LCA-Navy was rolled out in July 2010 and was supposed to take off by the end of 2010. It may be noted that the carrier-borne fighter's first prototype had its Engine Ground Run (EGR) only on 26 September 2011.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony stated in Parliament last year, "Deficiencies have been detected in the airframe and other associated equipment of the LCA Navy. Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working out modalities with various organisations for rectifying these deficiencies by suitable modifications to the engine/airframe design."
All naval LCAs will be tested at the Goa-based shore-based test facility (SBTF), which will have a simulated arresting gear and landing aids as in an aircraft carrier, as the aircraft will form a part of the fleet onboard the indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC). The Navy has ordered 46 of these aircraft for the IAC, which is expected to be ready for sea-trials towards the end of 2013. The 40,000 tonne warship is being built by Cochin Shipyard Ltd.
The LCA (Navy) project team comprises members of the Indian Navy, IAF, HAL, DRDO, CEMILAC, DGAQA, CSIR laboratories, educational institutions and other public and private sector partners. The programme is being headed by a retired naval officer, Commodore Balaji, who has been under tremendous pressure to show results.
The IAF LCA Tejas has been delayed already. Its final operational clearance (FOC), which was slated for 2013 will now come in 2014. With the first flight of the naval version too getting delayed, the entire programme has come under criticism.
Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma was quoted saying in Port Blair in February this year that the parent agency, ADA, concentrated mainly on the IAF version of the aircraft, more than the naval version, which caused the delay. The Navy chief largely blamed the ADA for not delivering.
Former IAF chief S. Krishnaswamy has said that the naval aircraft will probably need a new engine apart from a lot of testing and modifications. He has said that with the primary IAF version too hitting technological roadblocks, it's bad news for the LCA programme all-round.