In the coming months from now, one of India's most ambitious fighter aircraft development programmes will land on an actual Aircraft Carrier.
The government, which has already spent Rs. 3,500 crore to develop the Naval LCA fighter jet wants to complete the program and begin full-scale production. India is currently constructing its own Aircraft Carrier, the INS Vikrant which is scheduled to be inducted into the Navy within the next 2 years. Once ready it will be complemented with the latest Mig-29K Fighter Jets from Russia and hopefully the Naval LCA Jet.
Left with no choice but to speed up their development programme, a small core team of pilots, engineers and design-team members from the Indian Navy, the Aeronautical Design Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is fighting against time to clear key development goals - the biggest one, at the moment, is to ensure that the 10.5-tonne fighter, flying at a speed of just under 260 kmph (140 knots), can approach a moving Aircraft Carrier, descend rapidly, land, snare an arresting wire on the runway with a hook mounted in its fuselage and come to a violent halt in just 130 metres.
If India achieves 'arrested landing' of the LCA on the deck of an aircraft carrier, it will join a handful of nations like the US, Russia, the UK, France and more recently, China that are capable of this feat.
Achieving arrested landing and take-off over and over again at the Shore Based Test Facility in Goa, will validate one of the most important design features on the LCA-N - its ability to handle the incredible stresses of making an 'arrested landing' on the deck of an aircraft carrier. It is only after the shore based tests are proved repititively successful, will the test pilots move on to the next phase of landing LCA-Navy onto the deck of INS Vikramaditya.
Apart from the Naval LCA, the Air Force is also seriously looking to acquire 57 Foreign Naval Fighter Jets either from the US or France and is looking closely at the Boeing F/A-18 E/F 'Hornet' and the Dassault Rafale-M, both of which are tried and tested fighters used extensively in combat.
The key question is, will the Govt have enough funds for both a Tejas-N acquisition and the acquisition of a Western ship-borne fighter?
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Article written exclusively for www.DefenceNews.in