Government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will deliver 16 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in the final operational clearance (FOC) configuration to the Indian Air Force (IAF) by the end of this year, said HAL chairman R. Madhavan. He added that 16 LCAs have been delivered in the Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) configuration already. An additional eight are being produced as trainers.
The LCA received its FOC last month during the Aero India show in Bangalore, for induction into the Indian Air Force as a fully weaponized fighter. Following the major Vayu Shakti Air Force exercise in February, the Chief of the IAF, Air Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, reported, “It is a fighter jet and behaved like a fighter. It did well both in air-to-air combat, as well as air-to-ground combat.”
HAL has been waiting for the past six months to receive an order from the IAF for 83 LCA Mk1As to enable it to expand its production capacity. The version will have line-replaceable units (LRU) for ease of maintenance, and enhancements that include an Elbit radar and Cobham probe for in-flight refueling. The number of single-seaters and two-seater trainers has not yet been specified. It will take three years for the first flight from the time of signing the contract, Madhavan said. While HAL’s technical bids have been evaluated, the commercial bids have yet to be opened. Following a price negotiation, a formal contract will be signed with HAL. Madhavan noted that with HAL now involved only in integration, and production of components out-sourced to private companies, it was likely that production would speed up the in future.
“After that [Mk1A], we should take up LCA Mk2…which in the long term would replace the Jaguar, the Mirage, and MiG-29s,” said Dhanoa. The Mk2—a medium-weight fighter version of the supersonic LCA with a maximum all-up weight of 17.5 tonnes, a delta wing, and close-coupled canard, and a payload of 6.5 tonnes—will be powered by a General Electric F414 engine with advanced digital control. It will have an advanced sensor suite and be capable of firing beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles beyond 100 km (62 miles). The addition of an infrared search and track system will allow the fighter to track aircraft through their heat signature.
Based on the IAF LCA, the naval version of the LCA Mk2 will require an increased-thrust engine, reduced weight, an increased wing area, and a tailhook. “We have to move on towards a twin-engined deck-based CATOBAR [aatapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery] fighter,” chief of naval staff Sunil Lanba told AIN.
Beyond the LCA program, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is India’s fifth-generation fighter planned for production once the LCA Mk2 design is frozen. It is said to be designed for swing role, with BVR and close-combat capability, and precision strike. Madhavan said that a manufacturing partner would be sought for the AMCA.