- Jan 7, 2016
- Since the time India show its interest in buying a single engine fighter, there is a lots of discussion going on whether India should buy F 16 or Saab Gripen. Both the companies i.e Lockheed martin and Saab are pushing their planes very very hard. Both the companies have made some very very attractive offer including Make in India and total technology transfer. Both the companies have promised their latest technology to India. Lockheed martin has offered its top of the line F16 with Block 70 version, Saab has offered Gripen E. Both the companies has offered to shift their assembly line to India and make India a hub of all future production and export. Saab has shown interest of 100 years of business relationship and ensure that they will export more planes from India than what they sell to India.
While both the companies are making trying to make their offer more attractive, HAL has come out with a news that they can make LCA MK2 by 2018-19 and production may begin in 2020. This is a time frame by which we may expect F 16 and Saab Gripen to produce their Aircraft if we take decision today and give them green signal to start the work on their plant.Now there is a question whether we should go for Gripen E or we should opt for LCA MK2. And this question needs an analysis to evaluate the pros and cons of both proposals. I am trying to analyse both the planes on various parameters in Indian context.
- Engine and power.
Both the planes are using GE 414 with Dry thrust 62 kn and wet thrust 98 KN. So both the derives the power from same engine. However, India is working on Kaveri engine. They are taking consultency from fom France and France has promised to make plane operational within 18 month. New engine is supposed to have same power as GE 414. Hence, LCA MK2 will have an additional engine option and most important of all is that it is a desi option. Gripen uses US engine and if gripen is bought, the separate agreement with US is required for the engine which adds to the vulnerability to the Gripen make in India deal.
-Dimension, Aerodynamics and T/W ratio
Saab Gripen NG has following specifications. I will compare them one by one against the specification of LCA Mk2.
- Length overall 15.2 m
- Width overall 8.6 m
- Basic mass empty 8000 kg
- Internal fuel 3400 kg
- Max takeoff weight 16500 kg
- Max thrust 98 kN
- Min takeoff distance 500 m
- Landing distance 600 m
- Max speed at sea level > 1400 km/h
- Max speed at high altitude Mach 2
- Supercruise capability: Yes
- Max service altitude > 52.500 ft
- G-limits -3G / +9G
- Hardpoints 10
- Combat turnaround air-to-air 10 min
- Full engine replacement 1 hour
So far as highest speed is concern, both the planes will have almost same highest speed or gripen may have a little bit higher highest speed which does not make a big difference.
LCA MK1 has 500 m take off distance and it will reduce 15% atleast in Mk2 so LCA mk2 will have short take off distance compared to Gripen.
Speed at sea level is concern, MK1 has a speed of 1350 KM/Hr at sea level so LCA mk2 with lower weight, better aerodynamic and almost 20% higher dry thrust engine and 9% higher after burner thrust should easily cross 1400 Kmph figure of Gripen.
The most important difference between the 2 plane is the weight of both plane. Designers of LCA Mk2 has said that they have designed the plane with 6100 Kg weight and target is 6000 Kg. Even if we take it 6200 Kg , LCA mk2 shall be significantly lighter than Gripen . It will have 2 ton lower weight. and that is going to make big difference. I will discuss that later on.
So far as MTOW is concern, Gripen DATA shows that at 16.5 Ton. Ideally it should be 2.5 times the dry thrust which comes around 15.62 tons but let us assume that it is 16.5 tons as stated in specification. LCA Mk2 uses the same engine so it should have an ability of 16.5 tons MTOW but let us apply that 2.5 factor rule. LCA Mk2 should carry atleast 15.62 MTOW. Now Gripen with 8 ton weight +3.4 ton fuel is left with 5.1 ton payload on plane. On the other hand LCA MK2 with 6.2 ton empty weight and similar fuel of 3.4 ton should left Tejas with 5.7 ton weight which compares favorably to Gripen.
Fuel fraction of tejas shall be 0.35 against 0.29 of gripen which is favorable. So far as range is concern, Tejas should have higher range as both planes are using same engine and same quantity of fuel but Tejas being significantly lighter should have a longer range. However, as we show in case of MK1 vs Gripen C, Gripen has a higher range.
So far as aerodynamics is concern, Gripen is n excellently designed plane so far as aerodynamics is concern which give it a very good speed and long range. LCA Mk1 was considered to be a bit draggy but a lots of studies have been made to improve its aerodynamics is concern. Making LCA Mk2 0.5 m longer is already a part of Aerodynamic improvement process for better compliance of Area rule. There are some other aerodynamics changes which are coming in LCA Mk1+/LCA Mk2. Study says that it will reduce drag by 8% and improve trans sonic acceleration by 20% (For MK1). So these aerodynamic changes should make LCA Mk2 a plane with very good aerodynamic characteristic.
-Radar, Electronic, EW, Sensor fusion.
So far as radar is concern, Gripen has a very good radar. LCA Mk2 is also all set to get top of the class AESA radar till Uttam is ready with 150 KM range. Israel has already offered ELTA 2052 but india has issued a tender for the same with TOT. So India will either get ELTA 2052 or any better radar and it will not be any way inferior to the one of Gripen.
So far as EW is concern, India and Israel are making EW for Tejas and has designed MAYAVI Ew suite for Tejas and work is on for better EW. India has got spectra confugered for Indian requirement. If spectra technologies goes in LCA MK2 by the way of buy back clause, It will be superior to Gripen. If not, Indo-Israeli EW will match that of gripen.
So far sensor fusion is concern, Gripen is a top class plane. India is also working on sensor fusion but how much effective that will be is not known and time will tell the story. Here is an area where I see gripen is leading in current scenario.
So far as other avionics are concern, Gripen uses lots of imported Avionic compared to India. I do not see any plane a clear winner here.
- Weapons: Both will use very good targeting pod and imported missile. India shall use Python and derby and Russian missiles along with Astra. Gripen can uses AIM Series and Meteor missile. Meteor is a top class missile but new Israeli I Durby will provide 80% of meteor performance claims rafael. How ultimately ASTRA will turn out to be is not know but it will be a promising missile. Both planes are neck to neck in A to A missiles but If Meteor is used, Gripen will have an edge. Both will have gun according to their requirement and both can use guided bombs. India has just tested SAAW bomb which will give LCA MK2 an edge in anti airfield strike capability.
-BVR and close combat
Both the planes have excellent BVR and top AESA radar. However, because of small size and extensive use of Composite should give LCA Mk2 first detecting capability. I see LCA Mk2 at a slight advantage.
In combat configuration of 50% fuel and 800 KG Air to air missile, Tejas will have a significant advantage because of very high combat TWR. it is 6200 KG empty weight+1700 KG fuel +800 KG missiles against the gripen figures of 8 ton empty weight+1700 KG fuel+800 Kg air to air missile. Tejas has figure of 1.11 against 0.93 of gripen with GE 414 engine of 98 KN Wet thrust. Tejas shall be at a big advantage because of its light empty weight and should maneuver fast and beat Gripen in close combat. Tejas shall have an advantage of low wing loading also which should give it an edge at high altitude fighting.
-Conclusion: Both plane are very good having their edge over others in different area. However, Tejas with its small size and very high T/W ratio offers many advantages as a platform. There is nothing in Gripen which gives it any significant advantage over LCA Mk2. LCA Mk2 shall be very cost effective and offer India a platform to integrate its own weapon , Own engine to which Thrust victor can be added (Russia has already offered) . It will have a lots of configuration options also. Once it is ready in next 5 years with Indian engine , Indian AESA, it will be a weapon very difficult for any other system to match and will give India and edge over any other rival in air combat. It will easily outclass anything china or pakistan has. India can mass produce it and offer it to many friendly countries across the world including Vietnam, Indonesia, African countries and even to the countries like Brazil who are interested in Gripen. It will offer everything which Gripen offers + many more. What India need at this stage is to expedite LCA Mk2 program and make it it sure that it goes into production in 2020 as promised.