Saturday, November 16, 2019

Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh's Visit to UEC-Klimov in St. Petersburg Explained


Shri Rajnath Singh at the Klimov Plant

Introduction

During his recent visit to Russia from November 5 to November 7, 2019, India's Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh, visited Saint-Petersburg based UEC-Klimov (which is incorporated in United Engine Corporation of State Corporation Rostec).

Klimov is the largest developer and manufacturer of engines for Military and Civil aircraft in Russia.

During the visit the Indian Defense Minister was briefed on the product range of the enterprise and key stages of the production process and taken on a tour of the mechanical, assembly and test workshops.

Shri Rajnath Singh was shown the TV7-117ST, TV7-117V, VK-2500, and RD-33MK engines, all of which are of interest to India.

TV7-117ST Turboprop Engine

The TV7-117ST is turboprop engine which powers the Ilyushin IL-114 regional transport aircraft.


The Indian defense minister being briefed on the six-blade Aerosila AV-112 propeller fitted on the TV7-117ST engine.

In terms of efficiency and reliability, the TV7-117ST is among the best turboprop engines in the world in its class. The engine has a takeoff power rating of 3,100 hp and emergency power rating of 3,600 hp. On the IL-114, the TV7-117ST engine is coupled to  the newly developed six-blade Aerosila AV-112 propeller which increases thrust.

The TV7-117ST-01 engine is  variant of the TV7-117ST engine which powers the Ilyushin Il-114-300 regional liner. The TV7-117ST-01 is currently undergoing flight trials on an Ilyushin IL-76LL which was displayed at MAKS 2019

An IL-76LL fitted with a Klimov TV7-117ST-01 for flight trials


The IL-114-300 is a 52-64 seat analog of the ATR-42. India's state owned aircraft manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is reportedly planning to make the IL-114-300 in India as a regional airliner for domestic airlines.

HAL has tied up with Ilyushin, initially to provide maintenance support for the IL-114-300 in India and later to assemble the plane in the country.

In September 2019, HAL chairman R Madhavan was quoted in the report as saying,
“Ilyushin is working on civil certification of this aircraft, that is likely to come by 2021. After that they get European (aviation regulator) certification also for using this aircraft in civilian space. We signed a non-disclosure agreement with Ilyushin for doing maintenance of this aircraft in India for its customers from India and nearby countries.”

Configured as a military transport, the IL-114-300 could also replace the 100 odd Antonov An-32 aircraft of the IAF. There is also a maritime variant, IL-114MP, which too could be of interest to India.

TV7-117V Turboshaft Engine

The TV7-117V turboshaft engine is a helicopter powerplant version of the TV-117SM engine. Two TV7-117V turboshaft engines, each of 1753 kW power rating are fitted on Russia's newest transport helicopter Mi-38. The Mi-38 was unveiled at MAKS-2019 and made its international debut at the Dubai Airshow 2019. It's a transport helicopter designed and built with focus on passenger safety and comfort, environmental friendliness, and low noise on the ground..

Russia is pitching the Mi-38 to Pawan Hans Limited, India's state owned civil helicopter company, as a replacement for existing Mi-172.

The Mi-38 can be operated in a wide range of climatic conditions, including marine, tropical and cold climates. The high altitude performance of the helicopter is an important USP. The Mi-38 set a world record reaching an altitude of 8,600 meters, which is almost as high as Mt. Everest [8,848 meters].

VK-2500 Turboshaft Engine

The VK-2500 (2,700 hp) turboshaft engine is a modern high-hot variant of the Klimov’s TV3-117 (2,100 hp) which powers the Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopter family of helicopters.

Klimov VK-2500PS engine on display at MAKS 2019


The Indian Air Force (IAF) currently has around 151 Mi-17V-5 helicopters powered by the TV3-117 engine, the last of which were delivered in January 2016. Russia is proposing that the IAF upgrade its Mi-17V-5 fleet to the Mi-171A2 standard powered by VK-2500PC engines. Besides more powerful and efficient engines, the Mi-171A2 features upgraded main rotor, gear systems and fuselage and advanced avionics. The total number of improvements exceed 80.

The latest variant of the engine, VK-2500PS, offers extended service life and full authority digital engine control system for improved performance.

RD-33MK Turbofan Engine

The RD-33MK engine, is a fourth generation engine derived from the RD-33 Series. If differs from the baseline model in having a new low-pressure compressor, an improved high-pressure compressor, an improved cooling turbine, an advanced smokeless combustor and up-to-date AVARK-42 FADEC system.

The RD-33MK engine has higher thrust, higher reliability and a longer service life of up to 4,000 hours.

The RD-33MK was developed to power the MiG-29K/KUB and MiG-35.

The RD-33MK variant which powers MiG-29K/KUB additionally features emergency takeoff rating and corrosion resistant coating on the gas air flow duct. The emergency takeoff rating makes it possible for the aircraft to takeoff from the aircraft carrier deck without use of catapult launcher.

The Indian Navy procured 45 MiG-29K/KUB for carrier borne operations from INS Vikramaditya, its lone aircraft carrier. Russia has now pitched the RD-33MK powered MiG-35 against the IAF's requirement for 110 medium class fighters.

During the meeting with the top management of the enterprise Shri Rajnath Singh put a high value on the scientific-design capacities of JSC “UEC-Klimov”, the quality and the scale of the up-to-date production complex.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Rafale - Nature of the India Specific Enhancements (ISEs)

Rafale at Aero India 2017

The Rafale contract envisages 13 India Specific enhancements (ISEs) valued at Euro 1.3 b. There is no official list of the ISEs in the public domain, however, based on media reports the ISEs include:

  1. More powerful engine
  2. Radar enhancements
  3. Helmet mounted display
  4. Towed decoy system
  5. Radar warning receiver
  6. Low band jammer
  7. SATCOM
  8. Radio altimeter (CFIT avoidance?)
  9. Ability to start and operate from High Altitude Airfields
  10. 10-hr flight data recorder
  11. Infrared Search and Tracking (IRST)
  12. Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS)
The ToI reported on January 20, 2019 that the 13 India-specific enhancements or upgrades on the 36 jets would become fully operational only by September-October 2022 as they will require another six months to undergo "software certification" after all the fighters have arrived in India. In the past, there were reports that the ISEs would be carried out in India for all but the first Rafale to be delivered. The ToI in its above report states 

The first Rafale jet with the 13 ISEs is currently undergoing flight-testing in France, which is expected to achieve certification by April 2022. By this time, the other 35 fighters with the requisite hardware upgrades will be delivered to India in batches of 4-6 each. "Thereafter, it will take another six months to finish the certification for the software to drive the ISEs for all the 36 jets," said another source.

The above quoted and other past reports suggest that the ISEs are largely software related. 

The nature of the ISEs also reinforces the likelihood of they being primarily software related. If indeed that is the case, it would suggest that Dassault would be supplying India the source code of the sensors and display systems as part of the ISEs. Using the source code and ISE implementation documentation supplied by Dassault, IAF personnel would be able to customize the existing algorithms used and hone them to address the specific threats that the IAF faces. 

The IAF would also be able to customize and if required tweak the display layout and symbology associated with multi-function and head up displays. That would explain why the IAF cannot detail the ISE specifics despite questions being raised about the high price being paid for them. 

The following is an illustrative example. One of the ISE is LBJ (Low Band Jammer). However, LBJ is part of the Spectra EW suite that equips the F3R variant that India is purchasing from Dassault, so why is it listed as an ISE? Well.., because through customization the algorithms used to jam low band RF can be tweaked to handle the specific threats faced by India. The nature (frequency band, pulse characteristics, etc.) of RF emissions of Indian adversaries would be well known to India but not France. So software customization would be best handled by IAF personnel. 

Similar would be the case for the AESA radar, towed jammer, IRST, MAWS, CIFT avoidance, SATCOM, etc.

The IAF would also want to customize the layout and symbology used on the fusion displays for standardization across platforms. It is unlikely that the IAF would have bought a software intensive platform such as the Rafale without the ToT for deep customization. The ToT would additionally allow the IAF to use Indian developed weapon systems like the Astra BVR missile and in the future weapon systems such as the NGARM.

There is another facet to the need for ISEs, Rafale would be operated by at least two other countries friendly to one of our adversaries leaving a window  ajar for leaks of critical algorithms used in the Rafale. (The other adversary is an IPR thief of repute and would steal from any country - friendly or not!)

This post is based on this twitter thread posted on January 19, 2019.

Is Russia Adding Formidable 6th Gen Capability to its Su-57 fighter?

via Twitter
Recently, the T-50-3 was observed in new pixelated camouflage pattern with an insignia on the tail depicting a Okhotnik UCAV radio linked to a T-50. (See above)

The T-50-3 featured three new protrusions on the fuselage - A under fuselage sensor slightly ahead of the cockpit, an over the fuselage antenna just behind the cockpit, and an antenna on the underside of the tail boom in between the exhaust nozzles.

The insignia and the protrusions have fueled social media speculation that the aircraft has been upgraded to control and guide LO drones capable of penetrating contested airspace to attack targets or relay targeting data

The ability to control stealthy drones for penetrating heavily contested airspace, or legacy aircraft operating as loyal wing-man weapon trucks is a sixth generation fighter features. For example, the Franco - German - Spanish FCAS, which is planned to enter operational service in 2040, will feature this ability.

Okhotnik (Hunter) UCAV

A see through model of the Sukhoi Okhotnik (Hunter) UCAV was first unveiled by KRET at MAKS-2015. The UAV model closely resembled Northrop’s carrier-based X-47B demonstrator, but added two lift fans on each wing and vertical stabilizers.

See through Okhotnik model at MAKS 2015 [via Twitter]


The heavy (20t)  UAV, reportedly capable of flying at 1000 kph, performed its first T/O run trial at the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Plant in November 2018 reaching a speed of 200 kph.

Compensating for the Su-57's Lack of All Aspect Stealth

The Su-57 features good front aspect stealth, but not so good side and rear aspect stealth making it a capable head on interceptor, but not such a capable offensive platform. Ground based radars and AWACS would pick up a Su-57 much more easily than they would a F-22 Raptor which features good all aspect stealth.

Good front aspect stealth in combination with L-band leading edge AESA radar and good front sector optronics make the Su-57 a formidable interceptor of LO observable attack aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightening 2, and the J-20. In order to keep the aircraft affordable, an economically stretched Russia initially concentrated on the defensive capabilities of the Su-57.

Sukkhoi Okhotnik UCAV (via Twitter)

The ability to guide a LO sensor / attack platform into contested adversary airspace to obtain targeting data would now give the Su-57 formidable attack capability. It would also explain why Russia has invested heavily in developing long range stealthy cruise missiles such as the Kh-59MK2  for internal carriage on the T-50.

The limited weapon load of the very stealthy F-22 Raptor is its greatest shortcoming. By opting for differently-abled stealth platforms specialized for different roles with the ability to work as a single system, Russia may be poised to once again score with its asymmetric approach to countering American economic and technical prowess. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Building a Case for the F-35 by Trashing the Su-57?


Twitter image posted by @BuddyPixy

A recent report in the ToI titled 'Fifth Generation Fighter deal. Can India cancel it?' suggests that the IAF has serious reservations about going ahead with the FGFA deal.

The report quotes unnamed serving IAF officers as saying that the RCS of the Su-57, on which the FGFA would be based, does not have an RCS comparable with the F-35, the Su-57 engine is not modular, and the cost of operating Russian aircraft is exorbitant.

(Note: Serving IAF officers are not authorized to speak to the press, which justifies the anonymity of the sources quoted by the report. However, anonymity also raises the possibility of fabrication.)

All the three points raised by the anonymous IAF sources are dubious.

RCS Comparison

The RCS comparison in the report is simplistic. RCS varies with the aspect of the aircraft (front, side, rear) and the frequency of the RF energy used by adversary radar. According to open source, western figures Su-57 RCS varies from 1.0 sqm to 0.5 sqm while the RCS for the F-35 is very impressively in the range of 0.0001 sqm to 0.0015 sqm! (The report wrongly quotes the F-35 RCS as being 0.2m.)

What the report does not mention is that the Su-57 features  2 L-band radars in the leading edge root extension (LEX) of its wings.

L-Band radars are more effective against Low Observable (LO) targets than X-Band radars typically fitted on fighters including the F-35. However, because of their longer wavelengths. L-Band radars feature reduced resolution. The combination of L-Band and X-Band, supported by good algorithms to fuse the target returns, can significantly reduce the effectiveness of LO shaping. In other words, the Su-57 could conceivably detect an F-35 as easily as an F-35 can detect a Su-57, their vastly differing RCS notwithstanding.

In clear weather, the effectiveness of the X and L band radar combine would be further increased by the fusing of Su-57 IRST readouts. (Russian IRSTs are known to be very capable.)

Survivability in Contested Airspace

Another important factor to keep in mind is that LO shaping is a means not a goal. The goal is survivability in contested airspace. Air Forces want a fighter that can operate in heavily defended adversary airspace without being easily shot down.

Contested airspace survivability comes from a combination of LO, Electronic Warfare (EW), and Self Protection Suit.

LO shaping makes it difficult for airborne and ground radars to continuously 'see' the adversary, EW spoofs (generates false returns) and blinds airborne and ground radars making it difficult for them to guide surface-to-air missiles, and a Self Protection Suit blinds or confuses the IR or RF seekers fitted on air-to-air and surface-to-air missile

Russian EW capabilities are good. The Su-57 will extensively use them to spoof adversary radar.

Boeing F/A-18E/F

As part of the service life extension program for the F/A-18E/F, Boeing is introducing modifications that will make the aircraft more stealthy. 

Boeing F/A-18 and EA-18 program manager Dan Gillian says the aim of the F/A-18E/F modifications is to make the aircraft "stealthy enough in a balanced survivable way to be effective." 

“The F-35 is a stealthier airplane, but we have a balanced approach to survivability, including electronic warfare and self-protection."

Like the proposed F/A-18E/F, the Su-57 takes a more balanced approach to survivability.

FGFA Engine

The Su-57 currently features the AL-41F1 engine, The production variant of the aircraft would be fitted with the Product 30 engine which is 30% lighter, features improved thrust (19,000 kgf vs. 15,000 kgf), has better fuel efficiency and fewer moving parts resulting in improved reliability and 30% lower life-cycle cost.

The extent of modularity of the Product 30 engine is not known. However, like LO, modularity is a means not a goal. The engine has less moving parts and is hence more reliable. 

The Product 30 engine is still on the test bench. Any comments on the extent of its modularity would be highly speculative.

Operating Costs

Russia chose to make the Su-57 less stealthy than its western analogs because it wanted to reduce operating costs! Any suggestion that operating costs of the Su-57 would be higher than those of the F-35 would not just stretch the truth, but also the imagination!

Conclusion


What I have stated above was part of my response to a request for comments on the ToI report from an online publication. The publication quoted just my comments on the FGFA engine (after introducing a grammatical error.) The comment was picked up by other news outlets including The Drive. Indeed, The Drive Warzone goes on to build a case for the IAF to drop the FGFA and opt for the F-35 instead! Which makes me wonder? Was that the original intent of the ToI article? 

I believe that having appointed an expert committee led by  Air Marshal S Varthaman (Retd.) the government should accept its recommendations.

I also believe that neither Russia nor the US is going to part with its frontline stealth technology and any F-35 purchase is going to come with more strings than the babus in MoD or the Air Marshals in Vayu Bhavan could count in the days preceding their retirement.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dhruv Flight Safety Record


One IAF and one IA Dhruvs have been involved in accidents since March 18, 2016.

  1. One IA ALH crashed in eastern Ladakh on September 5, 2017, afternoon shortly after take-off. According to ToI sources, the pilots reported "loss of the right rudder (which controls the tail rotor)" soon after getting airborne.
  2. One IAF ALH based at Tezpur went missing on July 4, 2017, while carrying out an HADR mission near Itanagar.
According to the ToI, the IA alone has recorded at least 20 Dhruve accidents since 2002.

As on March 18, 2016, since 2002, 14 military and 2 civil Dhruv helicopters have been involved in accidents, out of which 11 occurred in India and 5 abroad. Out of 16 accidents, 12 occurred due to human error & environmental factors and the remaining 4 occurred due to technical reasons. [via PIB]

The entire fleet has been grounded a few times due to technical snags in the past, which included being found unsuitable for multi-role requirements due to excess weight and limited engine power.

According to MoD (July 2015), since the induction of the helicopter in AFs in the year 2001, 08 (Eight) major accidents have taken place, all of which, have been investigated by a Court of Inquiry as per extant instructions. Necessary modifications/upgradations have been carried out, on the basis of past experience, to cater to Defense Forces’ requirements. [via PIB]

The following is an incomplete listing of Dhruv crashes.
  1. One IAF ALH crashed near Sitapur of Lucknow area at about 1657 hrs on July 25, 2014. The Helicopter was airborne from Bareilly at 1553 hrs and was on a mission to Allahabad. The Pilot gave a 'mayday' call and soon after that, there was a loss of contact on radar and on the radio. A total of seven air warriors including two pilots were on board. There were no survivors.
  2. In February 2014, an ALH Dhruv chopper exported to Ecuador crashed in Ecuador killing three people on board.
  3. A Dhruv crash-landed in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district on February 28, 2010 while rehearsing for ‘Vayu Shakti’ air power exercise. The helicopter was part of the Sarang helicopter display team of the IAF; the team was rehearsing for a display on the opening day of the exercise. The two pilots escaped unhurt after making an emergency landing.
  4. A Dhruv crashed during a military parade in Ecuador in October 2009 injuring its two Ecuadorian pilots. The Dhruv was one of the five helicopters sold to Ecuador in March 2009. The accident took place at Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport during formation flying along with two other helicopters. The crew, who were trained in India, managed to get out of the crashed helicopter on their own and were taken to a hospital.
  5. A Dhruv ALH of the Sarang display team crashed at Air Force Station Yelahanka in February 2007 killing one of its pilots and badly injuring the other.
  6. In November 2005, an ALH being ferried to Jharkhand crashed near Hyderabad after the tail rotor sheared off. Following the crash, the Indian Armed Forces grounded the Dhruv fleet; the crash was eventually attributed to the use of date expired resin in the composite tail rotor.
  7. In November 2004 an ALH delivered to the Royal Nepal Army experienced a hard landing damaging its undercarriage and landing gear. 

Ecuadorian Air Force Crashes

In October 2016 it was reported that the Ecuadorian Air Force has moved to sell the three remaining Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Dhruv utility helicopters out of the seven it purchased between 2009 and 2012. T

Ecuador's Defence Minister Ricardo Patino announced the decision on October 20, 2016, IHS Jane's Defense Weekly reported.

Four out of the 7 Dhruvs delivered to the Ecuadorian Air Force were involved in crashes. Two of the crashes (enumerated above) resulted in the helicopter being written off. Of the four crashes, 2 were attributed to pilot error and 2 to mechanical failure. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

IAF Heron TP-XP: A Strategic Platform, Not Just an Armed Drone

Heron TP-XP at Aero India 2017

IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries) introduced the Heron TP-XP, a special export variant of Heron TP, at Aero India 2017 in Bengaluru, India. (The 'special' probably refers to a customized IAF variant.)

The Indian MSM's  (Main Stream Media's) stress on the Heron TP-XP's attack capability is rather misleading. The acquisition has a strategic dimension that is much more important.

The IAI website states that "Heron TP-XP, the latest derivative of the Heron family, is an advanced long range, long endurance (MALE) UAS, designed to perform a variety of strategic missions with a high level of reliability."

An IAI press release before Aero India 2017 stated that the "Heron TP-XP constitutes a multitasking, multi-payload strategic air superiority aircraft, integrating the most advanced of IAI technologies." 

Notice that the word strategic features in both statements describing the Heron TP-XP.  The word armed features in neither.

The reason isn't difficult to understand. With its 30-hrs plus endurance, 45000-ft operational ceiling, and all weather, day and night surveillance capability the Heron TP-XP is a veritable satellite that can be stationed above a battlefield. 

EO (Electro Optical) / IR (Infra-red) sensors under its fuselage provide real-time vision of the battlefield under all lighting conditions. A LRF (Laser Range Finder) facilitates precise distance measurement to provide real time targeting information using a satellite communication link. 

A LD (Laser Designator) allows a target to be illuminated for stand-off strike by a fighter aircraft using laser guided bombs.

For surveillance, the TP-XP can be fitted with a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) or a MPR (Maritime Patrol Radar).

ELINT / ESM payloads facilitate electronic snooping and spoofing. 

If you don't find the above roles strategic enough, here comes the clincher. The Heron TP is capable of missile defense and may just be the platform to put some sense into tactical nuke brandishing adversary generals! A Heron TP would be able to detect a Nasr TEL (Transporter, Erector, Launcher) much before it comes within striking range of an advancing armor column, allowing the TEL to be targeted using  coordinates beamed by the UAV 

There would be other significant pay-offs from the Heron TP acquisition. The UAV features ATOL (Automatic Taxi-Takeoff and Landing) systems and triple redundancy for maximal safety and reliability, features that DRDO is desperately trying to incorporate in its Rustom-2 MALE UAV.

It's clear that the purchase of 10 Heron TP-XP MALE UAVs from Israel's IAI would be a landmark acquisition, but hardly for the reason that the MSM is highlighting.

The deal is reportedly worth $400 million, which would put the cost of each UAV at $40 million.

It would be possible to lightly arm the Heron TP-XP to strike terrorist targets, but that wouldn't be optimal utilization of a strategic platform valued at $40 million.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Should ADA Push LCA Navy Mk.2 Against IN Wishes, or Focus on the AMCA?


LCA Navy Mk.1 at Aero India 2017

On December 2, 2017, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba told the press that the Indian Navy is scouting for another carrier operations compatible fighter besides the MiG-29, since LCA Navy lacks the payload required to be effective when operating from a carrier.

“The present LCA Navy does not meet the carrier capability which is required by the Navy. We will continue to support the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in their efforts to develop a carrier-based fighter aircraft. At the same time we will seek aircraft elsewhere which can operate on the aircraft carrier,” said Admiral Lanba.

On January 24, 2017 the Indian Navy went ahead and released a RFI for procurement of approximately 57 Multi role carrier borne fighters (MRCBF) for aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy (IN).

However, speaking to the press in February 2017, ADA Director Commodore C D Balaji (Retd.) said that the Navy Chief's December remark that the LCA Navy lacked adequate payload was restricted to LCA Navy Mark I.

"...We knew (it) was a heavier platform upfront and it was basically a technology demonstrator and that is how it is intended," he said.

Recalling the development testing underway since 2016, Balaji said "....we will convert this project into a product and that will happen once we do an arrested recovery (by mid of this year), the moment we do that we will carry the learning into Mark II which has already been designed."

Clearly, the IN and ADA are not on the same page on the future of LCA Navy. The Navy wants to support LCA Navy as a technology development project, but ADA wants to see LCA Navy Mk.2 operationally embarked on IN aircraft carriers.

ADA is reported to have vigorously lobbied with RM Manohar Parrikar to keep the LCA Navy Mk.2 project alive. ADA's desire is well intentioned and widely supported by defense enthusiasts who believe that in order to become a great power India must equip its forces with home made weapon systems.

However ADA's attempt to arm twist the IN through the RM to eventually accept LCA Navy Mk.2 for embarkation makes little sense because despite a more powerful engine (LCA Mk.2's F414 has 10% greater thrust than the Mk.1's F404 engine) and optimized design, LCA Navy Mk.2 will fall woefully short of IN requirements specified in its MRCBF RFI.

Scale model of LCA Navy Mk.2 armed with 4 air-to-air missiles at Aero India 2015


LCA Navy Mk.2 Limitations

ADA's aggressive plugging of LCA Navy Mk.2 suggests that the Mk.2 is as capable as the MRCBF that the navy is seeking. This is far from the truth. The extra thrust of the F414 engine would make the LCA Navy Mk.2 more maneuverable but will not significantly increase its weapon load, which the IN considers inadequate. The extra thrust would come at the cost of higher fuel consumption, particularly close to max power setting, negating some of the benefits accruing from the 700 liter extra fuel that the Mk.2 would carry.

LCA Navy Mk.2 will be a more capable air defense (AD) fighter than the Mk.1 but will continue to lack credibility as a strike aircraft. It's range and weapon load carrying capacity would be limited even when operating from 3000m runways, let alone when conducting STOBAR operations from a 200m carrier deck.

It's worth noting that the ADA itself plugs LCA Navy Mk.2 as an AD fighter that would provide cover to a carrier group against fighter and cruise missile threats, not as a strike fighter. Scale models of LCA Navy Mk.2 displayed at Aero India 2015 and Aero India 2017 were shown carrying just four air to air missiles (two on each wing) with a center-line drop tank.

Ironically, the IN RFI defines operationally clean configuration (OCC) for the MRCBF to imply that it's carrying four Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and two All Aspect Air-to-Air Missiles (A4M). A total of six missiles, two more than the LCA Navy Mk.2 would carry!

Scale model of LCA Navy Mk.2 at Aero India 2017


Understanding IN Requirement

Carrier groups are primarily strike groups, capable of delivering sustained fire power while operating at considerable distance from home shores. Typically, an aircraft carrier embarks only one fighter type to minimize logistics and maintenance overheads. The primary role of the embarked fighter is strike, so it must features good weapon load and range. Since strike missions often require escort fighters and escort jammers, embarked fighters must also be capable of undertaking these roles.

An embarked multi-role fighter allows mission planners to change the force mix - strike, escorts, jammer - based on how heavily adversary airspace is contested. The single embarked aircraft type is reconfigured for its assigned task.

The US F/A-18E/F, the French Rafale-M, and the Chinese J-11 are examples reconfigurable, multi-role carrier borne fighters with good weapon load and range.

The IN wants a MRCBF - Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter, and the LCA Navy Mk.2's credentials as a multi-role fighter are weak.

It would not be a good idea to embark LCA Navy Mk.2 aircraft on INS Vikramaditya or INS Vikrant alongside MiG-29Ks, as ADA seems to suggest in its brochures and presentations. Having two fighter types on board, would dramatically push up maintenance and logistics infrastructure requirements. More importantly, it would constraint mission planners, deprive them of the flexibility in selecting force mix. Mission force mix would become dependent on embarked force mix! For example, when operating in uncontested airspace LCA Navy Mk.2s would have little to do.

The USN does not embark two fighter types on its super carriers capable of hosting 60 fighters. IN carriers are much smaller and embark around 20 fighters. Operating constraints will become severe. With 60% serviceability and even split of embarked types - INS Vikramaditya would be able to field just 6 MiG-29Ks and 6 LCA Navy Mk.2s at a time, hardly a credible strike force!

Other RFI Shortfalls

Besides limited range and weapon load, LCA Navy Mk.2 would fall short on many other requirements specified in the Navy RFI.

Radar and EW Suite

The RFI specifies a radar capable of engaging airborne and surface target, preferably in a interleaved mode. The aircraft should be equipped with a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) capable cuing an on-board Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Counter measures dispensing suite (CMDS), Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and towed decoy for handling threats?

Interchangeability / Modularity

The Navy RFI also stipulates high degree of interchangeability / modularity - all major airframes components / parts / panels, sub-assemblies, including the canopy should be fully interchangeable between aircraft. Hot and cold engine sections should swapable. It should be possible to change the engine of an aircraft on the carrier itself.

These requirements are easily understood considering that an aircraft carrier could be operating hundreds of miles from home shores. Interchangeability allows recourse to cannibalization to keep more aircraft airworthy. To achieve interchangeability, ADA as the design agency and HAL as the production agency would need to achieve better design and production standards.

Conclusion

Clearly, when drafting the RFI the IN was visualizing Chinese carriers and nuclear submarines in the Indian Oceans, perhaps adversary beachheads on several Andaman and Nicobar group islands. The Navy was probably thinking Super Hornet and Rafale-M, both twin engined medium fighters. Competing against the Super Hornet, the LCA Navy Mk.2 with just one of the two engines fitted on the US Navy fighter would be clearly out of league.

LCA Navy equipped IN carriers aren't going to be enough to deter PLAN forays into the Indian Ocean, so should the IN still procure them to help India achieve self sufficiency in arms production?

Rather than pushing the LCA Navy Mk.2 as the right MRCBF for the IN, ADA would better serve the nation's interest by focusing on AMCA development. ADA certainly doesn't have the infrastructure and talent to pursue both projects simultaneously.

But ADA should continue to pursue LCA Navy as a technology demonstrator, something the Navy wants it to do. After ADA masters arrested landing, as it plans to do later this year, the agency should pursue auto-landing on deck and other relevant technologies, so that when the AMCA project gets a green light, ADA has all that it needs to develop the AMCA Naval variant.