If and when it is implemented (it is still awaiting authorisation from the Govt of India), the planned 83 Tejas Mk.1As will use the GE-supplied F404-IN20 turbofans, and after these engines reach the end of their total technical service lives (TTSL), they will be replaced by a new 98kN-thrust (with afterburning) turbofan that will use the M88-2 engine’s core section supplied off-the-shelf by France’s SAFRAN, while up to 60% of the turbofan’s components will be derived from those already developed by the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) for the Kaveri turbofan. All these modified components (including second-generation single-crystal turbine blades) will be co-developed with the help of military-technical mentoring by SAFRAN. So, for 83 Tejas Mk.1A MRCAs, the turbofans to be procured should comprise 83 F404-GE-IN20s, plus 83 of those turbofans that will be co-developed by GTRE and SAFRAN.
For the LCA-AF Mk.2 MRCA, the turbofan to be co-developed by GTRE and SAFRAN will, from the very outset, become the definitive propulsion system. However, the question of exactly how many LCA-AF Mk.2s need to be ordered has not yet been answered by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
This, in turn means that GTRE and SAFRAN will have until 2026 to come up with the definitive turbofan for the commencement of airworthiness-related flight-test regime for both the Tejas Mk.1A and the LCA-AF Mk.2’s weaponised prototypes. Initially, however, the LCA-AF Mk.2’s flying prototypes will be powered by F414-GE-INS6 turbofans.
As I had explained earlier, it all depends on how or whether at all SOUND COMMON SENSE can be or cannot be applied. Let me elaborate: the Jaguar IS/DARIN-3 platforms, even after re-engining, will be able to stay in service for only another 15 years. Since these aircraft are now used for tactical air interdiction and battlefield air-interdiction (since the deep-strike roles will be taken over by the Rafales and several Su-30MKIs, while tactical interdiction/defensive counter-air roles will eventually be taken over by up to 150 single-engined imported MRCA like the F-16 Block 70), there exists a market for fourth-generation battlefield air-interdiction/defensive counter-air MRCAs—roughly 160 aircraft—required for replacing the Jaguar IS/DARIN-3 platforms. This is where the LCA-AF Mk.2 ought to come in, but the project will have to be INTELLIGENTLY managed, i.e. make the MoD-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) the prime contractor answerable to IAF HQ, while reducing the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to just a design services provider. HAL in turn should be empowered through sufficient managerial autonomy to appoint its own clusters of public-sector/private-sector vendors as sub-systems/components suppliers, so that HAL does only final-assembly and systems integration. Above all, HAL must be allowed to come up with a financial plan under which such an industrial consortium will be required to put up 80% of the LCA-AF Mk.2’s non-recurring developmental costs, this of course being offset by a guaranteed, irrevocable order for 160 LCA-AF Mk.2s. HAL in turn must be able to guarantee a fully functional/ certified, weaponised LCA-AF Mk.2 at best by 2028 (if developmental work commences in 2018). If this is done, then the IAF will not have to worry about incurring additional costs for force modernisation and it will then stop opposing the LCA-AF Mk.2’s service-induction. Similarly, the Indian Navy (IN) should be bold enough to use a variant of the LCA-AF Mk.2 as a shore-based maritime-strike platform. Meanwhile, the tandem-seater version of the Tejas Mk.1A can be made to serve as lead-in fighter-trainers (LIFT) for both the IAF and IN.
All this is definitely doable from both financial and military-industrial standpoints, but it will require enormous amounts of sound common-sense to be pooled from within the Union Ministry of Finance, MoD, and the IAF and IN HQs so that a comprehensive project management roadmap can be articulated and adhered to without any deviations.
Interestingly, the IAF has mandated that IF the fifth-generation AMCA is to be indigenously developed by ADA, then use must be made of F414-GE-INS6 turbofans for that portion of the flight-test regime that is dedicated to the optimisation of the medium-weight AMCA’s airframe (the Su-57 FGFA on the other hand is a heavyweight fifth-generation MRCA), flight-control logic and the digital fly-by-wire flight control system.
What Is Required For Design/Performance Optimisation Of LCA-AF Mk.2
For achieving the required angles-of-attack, instantaneous/sustained turn-rates and climb-rates (i.e. agility metrics), the LCA-AF Mk.2’s airframe will have to sport LEVCONs of the type already developed for the IN’s LCA (Navy) Mk.1 MRCA.
For all-passive target acquisition-cum-tracking beyond the range of the biological Mk.1 eyeball, an infra-red search-and-track sensor will have to be mounted aft of the nose-section and just ahead of the nose landing gear section, since this will get rid of the obstruction of field-of-view posed by the fixed aerial refuelling probe (supplied by UK-based Cobham) mounted in the MRCA’s starboard side. Two IRST sensor options ought to be explored for installation: either UK-based Selex ES’ Skyward, or the IRST-21 from Lockheed Martin.
The selected IRST sensor will have to be seamlessly integrated with the Elbit Systems-developed TARGO helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) so that it can present a synthesized image of the tracked target on the HMDS’ visor along with superimposed fire-control cueing data required for slaving the IIR sensor on-board the all-aspect RAFAEL-built Python-5 SRAAM when operating in both lock-on-before-launch and lock-on-after-launch modes.
For the on-board AESA-MMR, the modes of operation should include multi-target detection and concurrent tracking/fire-control (for mid-course guidance for the Astra-1 BVRAAM), terrain avoidance, weather search, traffic collision avoidance, moving ground target indication, Doppler beam-sharpening, and synthetic aperture ground mapping. Although the DRDO’s LRDE laboratory began developing the ‘Uttam’ AESAR-FCR since 2012, its full-scale model displayed at the Aero India 2017 expo in Bengaluru last February revealed that a lot more work is required in the area of weight reduction. In addition, unless an environment control system (ECS) is indigenously developed for meeting the AESAR-FCR’s co9oling requirements, additional developmental work will have to be undertaken to integrate the AESAR-FCR with an imported ECS.
This, in turn, will necessitate the acquisition by the DRDO’s LRDE and CABS laboratories of a turbofan-powered airborne testbed that, apart from hosting the prototype AESAR-FCR/ECS combination, will also have to accommodate all the data servers required for the real-time recording-cum-monitoring of all the performance parameters of the prototype AESAR-FCR/ECS combination. An alternative option—if available—would be to ship the prototype AESAR-FCR/ECS combination abroad to a country which is willing to offer the services on a commercial basis of a suitable airborne test laboratory.
The ADA-designed cockpit for the LCA-AF Mk.2 (which was unveilled in 2013) has already been deemed as ‘deficient’ by the IAF, which has since then been showing its preference for the Cockpit-NG suite that was originally developed by Israel’s Elbit Systems and can easily be provided by the HALBIT joint venture of Elbit Systems and HAL.
In fact, the IAF also prefers the same Cockpit-NG suite for the F-16 Block 70s that are on offer from Lockheed Martin and it needs to be noted that Elbit Systems had originally developed the Cockpit-NG suite for the global F-16 mid-life upgrade market, and now even Saab has selected the Cockpit-NG for its JAS-39 Gripen-Es.
For comprehensive self-protection, the LCA-AF Mk.2 will be required to internally accommodate a wide-band self-protection jammer, integrated digital radar warning receivers-cum-jamming transmitters, laser warning receivers and missile approach warning system (MAWS) sensors (similar to what Sweden’s SaabTech has developed and is now supplying for installation on-board the HAL-developed Rudra, LCH and LUH helicopters).
While the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based DARE laboratory has already developed the jammer as well as the integrated digital radar warning receivers-cum-jamming transmitters (that have already been installed on the upgraded Jaguar IS/DARIN-3 flying prototypes), the LEDS laser warning receiver will have to come from SaabTech, with the MAWS being the AAR-60V2 MILDS-F from Cassidian of Germany.
The LCA-AF Mk.2’s airframe will be required to internally host four integrated digital radar warning receivers-cum-jamming transmitters, two LEDS laser warning receivers (preferably on re-designed wingtips) and six MAWS sensors in a distributed-architecture layout in order to ensure all-aspect hemispheric coverage.
The LCA-AF Mk.2’s airframe will be required to internally host a new-generation jet-fuel starter, as well as an on-board oxygen generation system (OBOGS).
The DRDO-developed aircraft stores release and ejection mechanism (ASREM) will have to be incorporated into yet-to-be-developed dual ejector-racks and triple-ejector-racks similar to RAFAUT of France’s AT-730 triple ejector-rack (that contains three TG-480 ejectors) and AUF-2 dual ejector-rack.
Incorporation of an actuated cockpit canopy opening/shutting mechanism, along with a retractable aerial refuelling probe (also available from Cobham), should be desirable for incorporation as well.
It is only after incorporation of all the above-mentioned elements that a final call ought to be taken on the required quantum of fuselage stretch and increase in wing area of the LCA-AF Mk.2. It, therefore, may well be that the current estimate of a 1-metre fuselage stretch required for incorporation is premature and needs to be worked out again in finer detail in close consultations with the IAF and IN.