Naval LCA 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 defense manufacturing sector, officials familiar with the matter said.
“The development demonstrates India’s capability to design, develop, construct and operate indigenous aircraft carriers with locally made fighter aircraft,” said one of the officials cited above, asking not to named. The LCA (navy) has operated from Vikrant’s deck at a time when the aircraft carrier is in the midst of critical flight trials to become fully operational this year, said a second official.
A Historical milestone achieved towards Aatma Nirbhar Bharat by #IndianNavy as Naval Pilots carry out landing of LCA(Navy) onboard #INSVikrant .
Demonstrates India’s capability to construct & operate Indigenous Aircraft Carrier.
New Magnificent Machine ✈️#IndianAirForce #Namo pic.twitter.com/FEU44LP1lP
— ShalabhGarg Namo Narayan Namah 🇮🇳 (@ShalabhGarg19) February 7, 2023
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 aircraft carriers and are recovered by arrestor wires or what is known as STOBAR (short take off but arrested recovery) in navy parlance.
Twelve MiG-29Ks are likely to deployed on 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 manufactured by Dassault Aviation while the Super Hornet is a Boeing product.
Dassault and Boeing demonstrated the capabilities of their aircraft to the 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 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, 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 Vikrant has built at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of ₹20,000 crores. Only the US, the UK, Russia, France, and China can build aircraft carriers this size. It has 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.
The other aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, 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 operated by the Indian Navy first Vikrant (British origin) from 1961 to 1997. INS Viraat (British origin) from 1987 to 2016, and INS Vikramaditya from 2013 onwards.
Vikrant is 262 meters long, has a height of 61 meters (keel to mast), and its flight deck measures 12,500 square meters (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.