Our Cinderella must step out

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by JAISWAL, Dec 15, 2011.


    JAISWAL Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 13, 2010
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    Our Cinderella must step out | idrw.org
    It has been called the “Last Chance Aircraft”, and
    worse. Its designers and developers have been
    excoriated for endless delays. But the time has
    come to say it: In the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA),
    India may finally have a winner.We say “may”
    because the “last mile” is often the most difficult
    one to cross. This requires first, an emphatic
    ownership of the step-child by its primary
    operator, the Indian Air Force(IAF), its chosen
    manufacturer, the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd
    (HAL) and its parent, the Ministry of Defence.
    Second, and most importantly, it needs a serious
    managerial boost so that the production of the
    aircraft- whose significant bugs have already
    been worked out-can be undertaken on a
    modern industrial scale.

    But the payoffs are tremendous. The country
    gets a highly capable multi-role fighter which it
    can acquire in significant numbers at a reasonable
    cost. It also gets a potential weapons system
    which it can export, for commercial gain, as well
    as to push its military diplomacy. It would be fair
    to say that the LCA is the only significant
    weapons system created by the country’s vast
    defence research and production base which can
    compete with contemporary products -including
    the Chinese JF-17- and win.
    Though the IAF says that it is committed to
    bringing the aircraft into squadron service, its
    current plans cater for just two squadrons of the
    aircraft, where they ought to be really talking of
    several. But that is not entirely the IAF’s fault; the
    process of productionising the aircraft has been
    excruciatingly slow and past delays have made
    the IAF leery of putting their eggs in the LCA
    Till now, the ADA and HAL have built eight
    prototypes and six limited series aircraft and it has
    undertaken some 1800 takeoff and landing cycles
    without (touch wood) a single accident. Pilots
    swear by its ease of handling and
    maneuverability. However, according to reports,
    the true initial operational clearance (IOC) of the
    LCA has been delayed yet again. The IOC, which
    means the aircraft can be flown by any military
    pilot-not just test pilots- was technically available
    since January 2011, but there are a range of issues
    that have yet to be sorted out to the air force’s
    Now, say reports, the final operational clearance
    will only be available by the end of 2014. This
    provides an invaluable opportunity to set in train
    steps that will ensure that the LCA emerges as the
    first class product that it intrinsically is.
    Simultaneously, the efforts to come up with a
    Mark 2 version of the aircraft with a more
    powerful GE F414 turbofan engine, have been
    completed, with the prototype slated to fly by
    2014 as well. And, the naval version of the aircraft
    which is expected to be used by the country’s
    indigenous aircraft carrier is also in its last stages
    with two prototypes to take to the air soon.
    It is important to see the aircraft in comparison
    with the others that are flying, both as potential
    adversaries, as well as competitors for the export
    market. The aircraft under 10 tons of operational
    empty weight are the American F-16, the Chinese
    JF-17, the Swedish Gripen. Of these the LCA is the
    lightest at just 5.9 tons.
    In part this is because of its use of carbon fibre
    composites. The US and the Chinese aircraft have
    a carbon composites content of near zero, while
    the more modern Gripen has 30 per cent content
    by weight. The LCA has 45 per cent, but as much
    as 90 per cent of the surface of the LCA is made
    of carbon fibres. This makes it light, strong and
    rugged, since the carbon fibre composites neither
    age nor corrode.
    But its most important quality is that it does not
    reflect radar beams, unlike the metallic
    components of aircraft. In other words, this gives
    the LCA a naturally low radar signature or ‘stealth’
    characteristics. Given its small size anyway, it is,
    in the words of a former fighter pilot, “virtually
    invisible” to adversary fighters.
    The use of carbon fibre gives the LCA another
    advantage: with its low operational empty weight,
    and compared to an aircraft with similar engines,
    the LCA has greater thrust to weight ratio. The
    LCA Mk 2 is likely to have 1.53, compared to the
    other agile fighter, the F-16′s 1.64. The Gripen
    has 1.44 and the JF-17 has 1.28. Indeed, the LCA’s
    rate of acceleration compares favourably with
    heavy two-engined fighters like the Eurofighter,
    which has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.64.
    Carbon fibre parts do not deteriorate with age or
    corrode and hence the navalised version of the
    LCA will prove a big advantage. But it is true that
    carbon fibre parts are expensive to make and
    ideally, the process should be automated and
    procured in large numbers to keep their prices
    low. India has already invested a great deal in this
    technology beginning with the Dhruva
    programme in the mid-1980s and it is one of the
    world leaders in such technology.
    Clearly, its natural stealth characteristics, low
    operating costs, maneuverability and its sensor
    and weapons suite make the LCA a real player in
    the global market. Indeed, according to an air
    force officer, the performance of the LCA as a
    fighter exceeds that of the Mirage 2000, even
    when the latter is upgraded.
    Although the IAF has committed itself to
    inducting two squadrons of 40 LCAs, its actual
    needs are much greater. As of now the air force
    puts “close air support” or missions in support to
    the army in a low priority. But there is great need
    for the IAF to take up that mission seriously,
    especially in the mountain areas, and for that the
    LCA is the ideal machine. Further, the IAF’s
    reliance on heavy and expensive fighters would
    make its reaction time to emergencies-cruise
    missile or UAV ingress at the country’s
    periphery-rather slow because they cannot afford
    to base their expensive assets too close to the
    border. Here, the LCA provides a quick reaction
    option as it can be forward based.
    The most interesting aspect of the LCA is in
    relation to exports. This is clearly the one
    worldclass product which can be used to woo
    friends and allies, especially in the
    neighbourhood. The LCA gives India the option to
    compete with the Chinese JF-17 in a score of
    countries including Egypt, Bangladesh, Myanmar,
    Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
    Indeed, there is a wider market, too, if HAL is
    willing to dream big and do something about it.
    There is a market for some 3,000 fighters to
    replace the MiG-21s, F-5s, early model F-16s
    which will retire in the coming 10-15 years in
    countries of Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific and
    elsewhere. Getting even ten per cent of that
    market would be a stunning achievement for
    But to reach that goal, India needs to think big.
    HAL, is still making its current limited series
    aircraft by hand, as it were, and it has no
    experience in sales and marketing abroad. As it is,
    there will be a need to transform HAL’s work
    culture to make a product to the highest world
    standards. Equally important would be product
    support, again an area in which the HAL has not
    done too well in the past.
    But all this cannot be done by the HAL itself. The
    LCA programme was a national endeavour to lay
    the foundations for India’s aerospace industry. If
    it is to meet that mandate- and it is on the
    threshold of doing that- it needs attention right
    now from the topmost levels of government and
    the Ministry of Defence.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    ejazr and Soorya Dhanush like this.
  3. Soorya Dhanush

    Soorya Dhanush Regular Member

    Oct 6, 2011
    Likes Received:
    A good humble article.Nice..
    It is very happy to hear some kind words about our fighter jet.
    Quality is important.We should give a world class light combat fighter.:namaste:

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