The new Indian Air Force Light Combat Aircraft – known as the Tejas – will not be acceptable for combat duty until at least 2019. Noting recent criticism made by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the authority that keeps an eye on what the Indian government spends its money on, the Tejas has severe shortcomings that have not to been easy to solve.
The LCA Tejas is being build by India’s own Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Despite the number prototypes and pre-production examples slowly coming to 20 aircraft, the problems with the future combat jet continue.
“LCA Mark-I, which achieved Initial Operational Clearance in December 2013 has significant shortfalls as a result of which it will have reduced operational capabilities and reduced survivability, thereby limiting its operational employability when inducted into IAF squadrons. LCA Mark-I does not meet the standards. The deficiencies are now expected to be met in LCA Mark-II by December 2018,” according to a CAG report released this week. This will mean that combat readiness can be expected in January 2019 at the earliest.
One of the significant problems is the electronic self protection suite, like HAL not having been able yet to construct the jammer into the plane. Moreover, HAL needs to incorporate more foreign bought elements, since Indian industries failed to develop a well-functioning engine, radar and information display systems for the pilot.
Despite claims by HAL that the Tejas is functioning up to 70 percent of what it has been promised to do, the CAG puts that percentage on a mere 35 percent.
Problems with the Tejas have resulted in the Indian Air Force having to keep its aging fleets of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21s, Mirage fighters and Jaguar attack jets longer in service, with an increasing cost for maintenance and overhaul.
Despite all criticism, HAL, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy say to be confident that in due course the Tejas will be a robust part of the Asian nation’s defence and strike capabilities.
The Indian Navy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29Ks are awaiting trials by Russian manufacturer Irkut to prove that the Fulcrums can land and make a go-around on an aircraft carrier with only a single engine engaged, military sources in New Delhi say.
Some Indian media like The Hindu are questioning the operations capability of the new shipborne fighters that operate from the deck of the INS Vikramaditya, a former Kiev-class Russian aircraft carrier. Engine problems are the main reason of concern, with reportedly 30 of the MiG-29K engines already having problems on the 13 out of 45 ordered Navy Fulcrums commissioned so far.
The Indian Navy is now awaiting Russian trials on the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov before it clears its MiG-29Ks for single-engine approaches and landings. The Vikramaditya and its air wing are still in working-up trials and do not operate too far from shore to give the fighter pilots a secondary airfield on land to divert to in case the jocks encounter technical issues with their planes.
The second LCA-Tejas prototype in Indian Navy pre-configuration took to the skies on 7 February 2015, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) confirmed on 9 February.
NP2 made its 35 minute flight from the HAL plant in Bangalore, taking off at about 12:27 local time. The aircraft will be especially tested on its landing gear design, which is different from the regular set of wheels of the air force variant.
During the design and construction NP2 has been customized (Plug & Play) to incrementally accept modifications for Carrier Landing aids like the Levcon Air Data Computer, auto-throttle, external and internal angle of attack lights. NP2 is the lead aircraft for arrestor hook integration, Derby Beyond visual Range missile and tactical data link. Arrested landing and ski-jump take-offs will be tested at a shore-based facility in Goa before moving to a carrier at sea.
Captain Shivnath Dahiya, Indian Navy and Natinional Flight Test Centre (NFTC) was the test pilot on the job. Test Director being Gp. Capt Prabhu and the Safety Pilot being Gp. Capt. RR Tyagi were flying chase.
UPDATED 2 JANUARY 2015 | Once again a catastrophe hit an Asian airliner. Air Asia’s Airbus A320-216 with flight number QZ8501 was officially declared missing on 28 December at 06:24 local time en route from Surabaya to Singapore. On 30 December the sad but expected news came that floating bodies and possible even the contours of the plane were spotted in the Java Sea, about 6 miles (10 km) from the location where all contact with flight QZ8501 was lost. That is about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of the Indonesian city of Pangkalan Bun at Kalimantan.
Radar controllers at both Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta IAP and the radar station of Kohanudnas lost contact with the plane at 06:17 on Sunday the 28th at coordinates 03 22’46 S and 108 50’07 E. Very bad weather has been reported in the area, with the pilot asking an alternative route likely to avoid it. The aircraft never reached it’s destination where it was suppose to land at 08:30 local time, nor did its crew send a distress signal.
According to high-ranking Indonesian Naval Aviation commander, Air Asia’s flight QZ8501 is thought to have crashed into Tanjung Pandan waters in Bangka Belitung area, where the water levels are as shallow as 75 to 150 feet (25 to 50 metres). Indonesia’s call during Monday for the US to assist in the search operations was heard. CNN reported just before Midnight London time that the destroyer USS Sampson (DDG-102) – with on board one or two Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawks – is en route to help. A US Navy Boeing P-8I Poseidon is also expected.
Initial reports say that the A320 flight crew contacted Jakarta Air Traffic Control at 06:12 local time and requested an altitude increase from 34,000 to 38,000 feet because of clouds. The plane is also said to have taken a route away from its pre-planned flightpath to evade turbulent weather. The aircraft in question is registered as PK-AXC and had its first flight on 25 September 2008 according to the Airfleets database. The Air Asia plane had taken off from Surabaya at 05:36 local time.
At the time of the disappearance six other planes were in proximity of Flight QZ8501, on somewhat similar routes. Those planes include aircraft from Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air and Emirates, according to reports released by AirNav, the Indonesian national Flight Navigation Service.
There was some debate about the time of disappearance – reports also indicated 07:24, but that seems to be the fault of the difference in time zones between Singapore and Indonesia. After the plane was lost, a search-and-rescue operation was started. But despite great efforts the mission was severely hampered by the weather conditions and darkness, with authorities even pausing the efforts overnight to find the missing plane. The search was resumed at about 06:45 Jakarta time / 07:45 Singapore time on Monday 29 December 2014.
From the air travellers 149 are from Indonesia, three from South Korea, one from Singapore, one from Malaysia and one from the United Kingdom. Six of the crew members are Indonesian, the co-pilot has the French nationality. Air Asia says the crew of A320 flight QZ8501 is seasoned, with Captain Iriyanto having 6,100 flying on Air Asia’s A320. First office Remi Emmanuel Plesel had a total of 2,275 flying hours with Air Asia Indonesia. According to the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU), missing Air Asia Airbus A320’s captain is a former Air Force pilot who used to fly the Northrop F-5 Tiger with 14 Squadron (Skadron Udara 14) based at Madiun/Iswahjudi.
Initial air force reports indicate that Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) was contacted at 07:55 local time (this might be 06:55 depending on the initial mix-up of time zones) to help search for the missing plane. One of the TNI-AU C-130 Hercules from 31 Squadron at from Halim Airbase went airborne on Sunday at 13:10 local time, but a spokesperson quickly called the weather already “rather challenging”. The Herc piloted by Pilot Mayor Pnb Akal Juang flew the Karimata Islands and surrounding areas down to an altitude of 1500 feet, while its crew and 11 pre-selected local journalist from Jakarta based media on board searched in vain. The C-130 returned without finding anything on 18:40 local time.
A spokesperson also said the TNI-AU scrambled a Boeing 737 MPA from Supadio/Pontianak at West Kalimantan, but is was not immediately clear if that was a mistake or if the plane just happened to be there since the 737s are not officially based there. Moreover an Airbus Helicopters NAS-332 Super Puma was ordered to search, likely coming from Skadron Udara 6 based at Bogor/Atang Senjaya Java. On Monday 29 December the Indonesian armed forces sent six aircraft in the air: two C-130s, a B-737-200 maritime surveillance aircraft, a Navy PTDI CN235 Persuaders and two Super Puma helicopters. The Jakarta Post reports that another three TNI-AU C-130s have participated in the search as well, but these might be the Hercs from neighbouring air forces. Bell 412s were also involved in the operations.
Singapore and India
Amongst the other search assets deployed were two Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130H Hercules’s from 122 Squadron based at Paya Lebar Airbase, joined on Monday by at least two RSAF Super Pumas. The Indian Navy put one of its brand new Boeing P-8Is based at Naval Air Station Rajali on stand-by on Sunday.
Royal Malaysian Air Force
At least one Royal Malaysian Air Force Hercules was readied on Sunday, likely from 20 Squadron based at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah / Subang RMAF in Kuala Lumpur. On Monday 29 December the RMAF fielded a C-130 (likely the only C-130MP), a CN235-220M tactical airlifter and and a Beechcraft 200T Super King Air maritime patrol aircraft.
Royal Australian Air Force
Australia pre-alerted one of its AP-3C Orions on 28 December. The RAAF Orion joined the search on 29 December, taking off from Darwin in the early morning and heading to Indonesia. “The RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft has a well proven capability in search and rescue and carries maritime search radar coupled with infra-red and electro-optical sensors to support the visual observation capabilities provided by its highly trained crew members,” RAAF Air Chief Marshal Binskin said in an official statement.
What is left for friends and families of the ones on board Air Asia A320 flight QZ8501 is hope that the combined search effort has at least some result and doesn’t end like Malaysia Airlines MH370.
The Indian Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) passed another milestone on Saturday 20 December 2014, as Navy two-seat variant NP-1 took off using the ski jump at Indian naval air station INS Hansa in Goa for the first time. The test should prepare the Tejas for future deployment aboard India’s aircraft carriers.
The navy variant of the Tejas LCA is India’s first indigenous effort to build a carrier borne naval fighter aircraft. It is designed to operate from the future Indigenous aircraft carriers, the Indian Navy plans to acquire. It will use ski-jump for take-off and arrested landing for aircraft carrier operations. The naval LCA uses a drooped nose section for better view and strengthened airframe structure for aircraft-carrier operations.
Aircraft NP-1 was the first the Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa, which was built to simulate real carrier operations. NP-1 flew for the first time on 27 April 2012.
In other Tejas news, the Indian Air Force is set to receive its Tejas at Bangalore in its initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration in March 2015, a mere 32 years after the go-ahead for the LCA program was given. The first IOC standard aircraft performed its first flight in October this year.
The type’s final operational clearance (FOC) seems a long distance away though, as weapons integrations and an air-to-air refueling capability seem to have been delayed.
Still, if FOC is achieved, the Indian Air Forces still has a lot of desires left, first among which is more a powerful engine than the current GE F404-IN20 engine. A preliminary design review – including the GE F414 engine – has been made for Tejas LCA Mark-II, with a first flight expected no sooner than 2017.