Attended my first Aero India this Saturday. I won’t describe the difficulties in getting into the show, but once I did, it was quite alright.
The highlight for me was the conversations I had with Cmde Jaydeep Maolankar, Test Pilot of the Tejas program and Cmdr Sukesh Nagaraj (Deputy Project Director, NLCA).
I was lucky to spot Mao sir alone and walked up to him, introduced myself and spoke of my association with BRF and then we had a conversation on the Tejas program for half an hour..he was incredibly frank, friendly, didn’t hold back any facts and only left when he got a call from someone..here are the salient points of our conversation, some of which we already know but am listing it anyway.
- Tejas LSP6 is the platform on which the spin chute will be integrated but it’s not here as yet. Will get done before FOC.
- Tejas Mk1 has achieved the IOC AoA limit of 22 deg and they will go a couple of degrees further in tests, when the spin chutes are integrated on LSP6. This is to ensure that they know that the airplane is safe even at higher alpha although the FBW will restrict it to the AoA limit for FOC for service pilots (which is higher than 22 deg, but he didn’t say how much)
- Mao Sir scoffed at the suggestion that the engine was choking at higher alpha. He said there is no such thing, but rather because it was designed initially for the Kaveri’s airflow and had to redesign it for the F-404. They have already tried various intakes on the LCA, with/without spring mounted doors on the intakes.
- Tejas MK2 will get an approx 10mm increase in diameter for the increased air flow requirement of the F-414 (Cmdr Sukesh Nagaraj confirmed this as well). Too small a difference to be visible to the naked eye for us jingos. The spring mounted doors may also be bigger if needed
- When asked about the STR and ITR rates of the Tejas, he simply smiled and said “it’s enough, let me put it that way”. When I queried him further, asking about the ASR that the IAF had set based on the Mirage-2000 and MiG-29’s STR and ITR, his smile vanished and he got serious.
He said that when people look at 10 different brochures and come up with requirements, without looking at whether meeting all those requirements is even possible for ANY one fighter, they set themselves and the program up for failure. He was very frank about this, stating that even those brochure specs were just that- brochure specs that even those famed fighters sometimes don’t meet. But they were taken as benchmarks anyway and then, without even bothering to look at the technological base in India, the ASR was prepared.
- He was full of praise for the handling of the Tejas. It’s a true delight to fly and both he and Grp Cpt Suneet Krishna have tremendous confidence in the aircraft itself. He said that they both push the aircraft to its current limits without any worry since the FCS is very good.
He did mention that they didn’t push the Tejas Mk1 to its limits at the airshow but just wanted to display that it is maneuverable enough.
- When I asked him whether the Navy fully backs the NLCA program, he laughed and said “I’m here, aren’t I?”. So all in all, it appears that the IN is backing the program fully
- NP1 hasn’t flown more than 4 flights because they’re re-designing some of the structures on board. This is the additional strengthening required for handling the thumping that is a carrier landing.
The landing gear is being re-designed since its overweight and NP2 is going to fly soon.
- I brought up the point he made at AI-2011 about how the Tejas should’ve started as a carrier variant and then gone on to the IAF variant.
He seemed genuinely happy that someone had remembered that point of his and described the main issue with the NLCA NP1.
The issue as he described it was that the LCA didn’t have a central keel to pass the structural loads to, something he said that the AMCA won’t face since it’s a twin engine fighter.
This meant that they had to put new attachment points which aren’t the ideal solution and result in the bulky appearance of the current landing gear.
- I was going to ask him about the AMCA naval variant and he said that currently there is no plan for it.
At this point he had to leave and I was disappointed since I hadn’t gotten to discussing anything about the Elta 2032/MMR, Litening LDP and the weapons on the Mk1 such as the Derby/Python V/R-77/Astra and Sudarshan..
Next, I went to the ADA stall and just asked aloud if anyone could talk to me about the Mk2. A gentleman in a suit stepped up and said “Yes, what do you want to know about it?
Which one, the IAF Mk2 or the Navy Mk2?” and I said “IAF Mk2” and he laughed and said “oh, you disappointed me, I was hoping you’d say Navy Mk2”..
Turned out, it was Cmdr Sukesh Nagaraj, Deputy Project Director of the N-LCA program..
I was blown away by this gentleman. Here was one of the top decision makers of the Tejas program and he was warm, friendly, forthcoming and genuinely interested in talking about the program without even asking me what my background was (till much later in my conversation).
He was an engineer on the Sea Harrier, having served on the Viraat. Said he was rookie when Cmde Maolankar commanded the squadron. The salient points of the conversation with him were:
- The Tejas Mk2 is being lengthened by 0.5m only and not 1m as that big gasbag Prasun Sengupta was fibbing about. We really ought to never take him seriously at all. The reason cited were CG change primarily.
- F-414 was primarily an IN requirement. It turns out that the IAF was fine with the F-404IN20 engine on the Mk1. They jumped on the IN’s requirement for a higher thrust engine and requested the IAF Mk2 variant.
- The fuselage on the Mk2 will be slightly wider as well due to the larger diameter of the F-414 engine. This will be used to put onboard additional fuel
- The widening of the fuselage will push out the wings a bit, thus increasing wing span. Otherwise no increase in wing span as such. It doesn’t need it, since the wing area is massive already
- Additional fuel will be required primarily to offset the additional weight (he said approx. 200 kg additional) and higher SFC of the F-414 engine. So, it appears that the Tejas Mk2’s range may not go up significantly over that of the Mk1.
- He confirmed that the intake size will go up by approx. 10 mm for the Mk2.
- There is a LOT of work that is required to be done due to engine change.
This is something jingos must keep in mind since jingos keep asking if this or that engine can be used or not on a platform..pumps, motors, fuel supply lines, nearly everything associated with the engine requires re-design due to an engine change due to higher fuel flow rates for a larger engine and the different specs of the power generation on board.
Plus, the higher weight means localized structural strengthening as well, all of which takes time
- N-LCA will be an out and out 9G fighter. He was categorical about this.
- NP1 trainer doesn’t have a radar- the radome is used for carrying avionics. He said he was more interested in the NP2 since it was the first fighter and was going to carry the same radar as that on the Sea Harrier.
I tried to quiz him on this because the Elta 2032 on the Sea Harrier is not the same as the Elta 2032/MMR on the Tejas Mk1, but he didn’t stop what he was saying.
- NP2 is basically similar to the NP1, but with the rear seater’s canopy painted over (he said that! I asked if it was faired over and he said no, just painted over). The rear seater’s space will carry avionics (that were put into the radome on the NP1) and additional fuel tank.
- NP1’s LEVCONS will be initially having 3 positions- 10 deg, 20 deg and 30 deg, just like flap settings. I tried to ask him if the LEVCONS would be just lift generating surfaces or that they could be used as additional control surfaces by the FBW FCS to increase turn rates but he said that they were primarily required for higher lift when landing and taking off
- They’re working on the hands-free take-off for the N-LCA. He said that it was no big deal and they’ll do it for sure
- Mk2 is to get bigger MFD displays, but he said that even the ones on the Mk1 are actually good and possibly adequate
- One piece of news that will get some jingos happy- he said that he has asked CSIO Chandigarh to develop a frameless HUD instead of the current one. It’ll feature higher FoV and its easier to view through since there is no frame obstructing the pilot’s view.
- DASH HMDS from Elbit for the N-LCA as well. I had initially thought they’d go with the Thales Top Owl-F as on the MiG-29K
- Just as I suspected, I asked him if the current drop tank is transonic- he confirmed that it is. A supersonic tank is being developed to carry about 200 gal. (~750 ltrs)
- Also confirmed that there is nothing wrong with the centerline fuel tank – since we almost never see Tejas Mk1 carry a centerline fuel tank in place of the innermost wing pylon drop tanks. If required, Mk1s can carry drop tank on the centerline station also
- Regarding IFR, it is Cobham that is going to work on it. Asked if it’s a fixed probe, retractable or semi-retractable, it was confirmed to be semi-retractable, like that on the MiG-29UPG.
I asked about the lack of internal volume on such a small fighter for even a semi-retractable probe and he said that its going to be a small probe, and they’ll manage to find the space for it
- No OBOGS on Tejas Mk1 or NP1. It’ll be there from Mk2 onwards. Designed by DEBEL and certified by CEMILAC
- Regarding the landing gear, he said it was 1600 kgs over the Tejas Mk1’s landing gear weight initially!! They designed it per MilSpec which was too conservative. Also, in addition to the general Factor of Safety that is needed for Ultimate Loads, they added another Factor of Safety of 1, for a total of 2.5 because it was being done for the first time in India and they were concerned about the design..and used maraging steel which was heavy.
- He clearly said that before the NP1 first flight, none of the OEMs even believed that this program had any future and no one cooperated with them when asked for help. Then, when NP1 flew, they were interested in helping out.
- US Navy is now consulting with them on where to reduce weight, what other materials to use. All the leg work is done here itself though, and no work is being done by foreign OEMs. They are confident of shaving off 1000 kgs and bringing it to 600 kgs over the LCA AF version’s landing gear weight for the N-LCA
- On the N-LCA Mk2 they will change the position of the landing gear and bring it more towards the wing/fuselage joint. The landing gear will then retract into a fairing for that. That will also free up space in the fuselage for additional fuel
- Regarding radar, he said that they are pretty confident about it. The reason is that they’re using the same Elta 2032 as on the Sea Harrier! Since they’ve already qualified that radar for the Derby, he was pretty confident about the Derby on the N-LCA. Asked about the Python-V he said that it’s the R-73 that’ll be the WVR weapon..when I asked him how come the Python V was shown on the mockup outside, he said it’s just a mockup. Wasn’t very clear about this
- Shockingly about the radar, when I asked about what increased range one might get with the Elta 2032 since the diameter of the antenna on the N-LCA will be bigger than that on the LUSH SHar, he replied that there is no increase in range, its more than sufficient..I asked him specifically again that “really same detection range?” and he said yes. Again not very clear about this
- When quizzed about AESA for the N-LCA Mk2, he said that for now it’s the same Elta 2032 and Cmde Mao had recently even gone to Israel to test the radar that will be used on the N-LCA Mk2. Here, he mentioned that “if you get anything from Israel, just take it.
Their equipment is very good”. Then went on to mention how the Barak was tested on the Viraat and was successful on its very first trial with 2 missiles fired. The first hit the target and the second hit its debris!
- He confirmed that the anti-ship missile for the N-LCA is going to be the Kh-35E, similar to the MiG-29K. Laughed when recollecting how poor the Sea Eagle was as an AShM.
- Primary role envisaged for the N-LCA is that of CAP and Fleet Defence, replacing the Sea Harrier. He was quite dismissive about the P-3C Orion threat (jokingly saying that to shoot that down, a gun is enough!:P), but was primarily concerned about the cruise missile and anti-ship missile threat to the Carrier.
But he mentioned that a Carrier Battle Group consists of several rings of protection for the carrier, and that the carrier will get warned about any possible airborne threat several hundred kms before it even approached it.
With that much warning, a N-LCA could dash to the edge of the fleet and take on the threat.
- When I asked him if shooting down sub-sonic anti-ship missiles with on-board missiles was a possible scenario for the N-LCA, he replied in the affirmative
- When he mentioned this, I asked him how good the Elta 2032 was with regards to dealing with sea clutter and he said that its very good.
- NP2 is currently already going through integration tests. Will likely fly in June or July if no issues are found.
- NP1 has given them a lot of data for how the platform behaves in 4 flights itself
- Said how the LCA is designed as per the Test Pilot’s recommendations- whatever they want, ADA/HAL give it to them. He said let the IAF get the Rafale and then ask for these small changes and then they’ll figure out just how hard it is to get anything they want.
On the N-LCA, we can integrate whatever we want, and for the entire lifetime of the fighter. Easier upgrades will be available since everything is known about the aircraft to the designers
I had to leave at this point since my friend who I’d met after 6 years was in a hurry to leave so we could escape the impending traffic snarl. Thanked the Cmdr profusely and got his card as well.
I asked for some other brochures on the Mk2 and he said that he could give me a soft copy of it. To date, I’ve never had so much come from a single conversation at any airshow or business show.
Very competent fellows are working on these programs. They need our support and encouragement. Those who are constantly piling it on them, with negative reports are basically doing this nation a great dis-service.
Criticize the organization perhaps for its failings, but those who are working on these programs are to be commended and encouraged.