As Sea Harriers retire, Naval Tejas readies to fly off aircraft carrier next year - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 10 May 2016

As Sea Harriers retire, Naval Tejas readies to fly off aircraft carrier next year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th May 16

At the end of thirty years of flying from Indian Navy aircraft carriers, the iconic Sea Harrier jump jet will make its ceremonial last flight on Wednesday. Readying to take its place is the naval version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which recently completed a successful flight-test campaign in Goa.

While the Sea Harriers operated from the INS Vikrant and INS Viraat, now both retired, the Naval Tejas will operate from the Vikrant’s successor, an indigenous aircraft carrier that is scheduled to be commissioned in 2018.

Commodore (Retired) CD Balaji, chief of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas development programme, told Business Standard that taking off from a 200-metre deck has been fully established. So has “hot-refuelling” --- topping up the aircraft after a sortie with the engine running and the pilot in the cockpit --- which allows a rapid turnaround between sorties.

For the navy, it is vital to ready the Tejas for the INS Vikrant and, subsequently, the next aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. The MiG-29K will be the medium fighter on INS Vikrant, as it already is on INS Vikramaditya. The Tejas is crucial for filling in the light fighter slot.

Balaji reveals a committed navy is funding 40 per cent of the development cost of the Naval Tejas. The MoD has allocated Rs 3,650 crore for the naval programme.

The ADA chief described the flight trials in Goa between March 27 and April 25, in which two Naval Tejas prototypes flew 33 sorties from a Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) -- a full-scale replica of an aircraft carrier deck. Built on land, the SBTF allows carrier deck take-offs and landings to be validated, without unduly endangering an aircraft carrier, or an aircraft prototype and pilot.

When taking off from an aircraft carrier, a fighter revs up its engine to the maximum, while held back by a “restraining gear system” (RGS). Then, the RGS is disengaged, and the fighter shoots forward, accelerating to take-off speed in just 200 metres of deck. At the end of the deck runway, a “ski-jump” lifts the aircraft upwards, after which it flies on its own power.

In December 2014, the Naval Tejas had taken off from the SBTF ski-jump after rolling 300 metres. Now, the fighter has proven it can take off from just 200 metres, even carrying two R-73 close combat missiles.

“With this campaign, ski-jump launches are no longer a challenge. We will now explore the limits the fighter can be taken to. We will further fine-tune the control law software to take-off with higher payloads,” said Balaji.

In aircraft carrier combat operations at sea, the Naval Tejas must take off with up to 3.5 tonnes of payload--- more fuel for longer range; and more weapons for a lethal punch. For this, the aircraft carrier would steam into the wind, ensuring a “wind-over-deck speed” of up to 20 knots. That would provide added lift to the aircraft, allowing higher payloads.

In aircraft carriers with catapult launchers, as the navy’s next indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, could be, the catapult allows higher launch speeds and, therefore, higher payloads.

Similarly, fitting the Tejas Mark-2 with the more powerful General Electric F-414 engine (the current Mark -1 fighter has the smaller F-404 engine) will allow greater payloads and more ambitious mission objectives.

Even more challenging than taking off from a 200-metre carrier deck is to land an aircraft back on the carrier. This requires touching down precisely at the edge of the runway, aligning the approach with the help of an “optical landing system” and a “landing control post”. At landing, an “arresting gear system” --- including wire cables across the deck runway --- latches onto a hook on the fighter’s tail and rapidly decelerates it to a halt.

“In the current campaign, the Tejas did over 60 approaches (without actually touching down) to gather data for fine-tuning the control law software. In the next campaign this month, we will do “touch and go” approaches to validate the software and then graduate to full landings,” explains Balaji.

Finally, the Naval Tejas demonstrated its “fuel jettison” capability --- a safety feature that allows the fighter to quickly jettison on-board fuel if it encounters a problem soon after launch and must quickly return for an emergency landing on the carrier.

“By mid-2017, we will have established on the SBTF that the Naval Tejas can be flown off an actual carrier, and we will then graduate to ship-based testing. We currently have two prototypes in testing, and will build a third by then”, says a satisfied ADA chief.


  1. People said navy imports combat stuff. They have shown , it us not so. Great,
    IAF needs to learn. Maybe MoD can divert some funds to navy from IAF budget or gave a Naval aviator to head fighter command.
    LCA navy has excellent STOL characteristics, why cannot IAF too adopt the same basic design, possibky a suitable radar & a lighter landing gear.

  2. I am giving my opinion as per my designing experience.there is no obligation to take these suggestions seriously.

    1. I feel the wing surface area has to increase so that in windy conditions the plane can approach the flight deck at slow speeds and is more stable and has very good chance to engage the tail hook. The wings have to be thinned and be single piece moulded wings be used so that the weight reduction be achieved. I feel cracked arrow delta wings like F16 XL would be more suitable.
    2. The engine has to be GE 414 I feel try to get ÉPÉ engines so that more fuel can be carried in the conformal fuel tanks and the range can be increased and the carrier can be safely placed far off to attack the targets at long distance without risking the carrier group.
    3. The air intakes have to be wide enough so that humid air coming to the engines would have sufficiant oxygen to burn the fuel completely and I would apply a simply ratio of air intake surface area to KN produced by leading single engined fighters like F35 , F16 .
    4. The sensor fusion has to be complete and sonobuoys can be dropped from tejas around the approximate position of the submarine and torpedoes can be dropped and submarines can be attacked with an active link between the sonobuoys and torpedoes with tejas so that the protective envelope against the submarines can be increased. Tejas can quickly get the submarines are much larger range that the attack helicopters.


  3. Great News !!!

  4. Ashley tellis in his recent book IAF: Troubles they come in battalions he completely trashes LCA. He quotes an IAF officer describing Tejas as between a Gnat and Mig 21. Without going into details, essentially calls Tejas an abject failure and HAL and other organizations lacking knowledge and competence to pursue follow up AMCA project. The book explains in detail the crisis facing IAF with increasing 4+ generation planes with China and Pakistan.

    Given my recent read of this book it's hard to understand the chest thumping of super patriotic zealots about great indian Tejas achievement. Every businessman and arms dealer working with the armed forces I have spoke to have consistently maintained their frustration with extreme corruption in the military emanating from the top and fraudulent claims of indigenous designs and lack of competence and will to do good work. In fact most small Indian tech companies claim that the army is specifically anti indigenous design.

    So what's good about Navy acquiring seriously under powered, poorly designed fighter which is hoping to debut with an experimental Elta radar?

  5. In third paragraph, third line it should be ".....taking off from 200 m....", not "....takeoff and landing from 200 m...". As article itself says in lower stanzas that landing is yet to be done.

  6. The article was nice, but Shuklaji couldnt you have placed the watermark some place else on that beautiful Tejas pic!

  7. The article was nice, but Shuklaji couldnt you have placed the watermark some place else on that beautiful Tejas pic!

  8. waiting a fantastic article on NAVIC.

  9. The Tejas is arguably the first fighter in military history to have a naval version being developed simultaneously with the Air Force version. Typically, naval versions of fighters are built as after-thoughts; much after than the Air Force version has gained currency. *

    This shows the high confidence the Navy and DRDO have over the Tejas. Kudos to both of them.

    The Sea Harriers were sputtering since the past few years, and it was high time they were retired. They were were the "MiG-21s" of the Navy, complete with high crash rates and maintenance problems. The N-Tejas could not have arrived at a more opportune time to replace them.

    Also, the N-Tejas is not a "short-legged" fighter even with its F-404 engine. No less than Naval Air Commodore Maolankar himself has said on numerous occasions, that the Tejas (albeit the AF version) has very long legs, and has excellent handling abilities. Strangely, our "unbiased" media luminaries like Times of India, NDTV, Hindustan Times and others have never reported this. They always quote two entities: CAG reports and some whiskey swirling, long-retired Air Marshall, both of whom have zero ideas about the Tejas.

    The N-Tejas can fly much further and carry many more weapons than the Sea-Harriers, even with its current GE-F404 engine. I reckon that with the F-414 engine, the N-Tejas shall be equivalent to the MiG-29K, and future warships need not have the MiG-29K at all. The N-Tejas with its F-414 engine shall suffice.

    Wish the N-Tejas Godspeed.

    P.S: If Shri. Ashley Tellis from halfway around the world is the new authority on Indian military aviation, then God save India.

  10. I feel in addition to the changes I suggested , I feel divert less supersonic intakes be also desiegned and instead of single rudder they should have twin slanted elevator rudders like YF 23 that would give optimal performance. The desiegn team of NG wanted to use the concept of winglet to enhance the performance. I believe no other plane has the aerodynamic performance of YF 23 and I strongly believe as soon as tejas mk1 A is on the assembly line they should desiegn the variants with changes. The desiegn team needs to be more bold and should experiment to optimize the performance.


  11. The amount of time and effort the IAF took to operationalize the Su 30 MKI and the Navy for the MiG 29k, both being unproven aircraft, was mammoth.

    What's wrong in atleast supporting an Indian aircraft. A little optimism would be nice. Had the Chinese been like us they wouldn't be exporting JF 17 to Pakistan and now so many other countries.
    We Indians should take pride in yourself and our creations....atleast faujis.
    Atleast support it!!!

    1. Yea we will support, just want u to be at the pilot seat. We are not some guinea pigs. Risk ur life buddy.

    2. funny u would want to be a guinea pig for a foreign machine n not an indigenous one...hope u r retiring soon sir.

  12. I have a moment to make for the last post Tejas mk1 A must be manufactured as soon as they can. Everybody in IAF has a wrong idea about tejas that it is three legged cheetah.and under performs. Try to get the first twenty planes as single and twin seat trainer versions. Don't buy Rafale as it is retro step as it is extremely expensive to buy , maintain and upgrade. In the same money ask for fifty F 35 A which is a whole generation ahead and one F35 accompanying four tejas can do better job as F35 is very advanced and can be used in passive mode to paint targets for tejas which is a very small plane made of composites and gives a very small target to lock on at long distances. The glass of the tejas needs special nano particle coating to add passive stealth and needs active jammers can turn the war in favor if used with F35. I had an oppertunity about 10 days back to see F 35 B doing touch and go in the night and it was very impressive. The bugs would get removed in a year and full scale production starts in 2019. I still have doubts about the. Russian and Chinese fifth generation planes. They do not have the engine technology as well as fifth generation stealth technology. These planes cannot super cruise for sustained flying. I am suggesting as per my vast experience and my suggestion can be trashed but the fact is 400 tejas , with 100 F 35 and 300 SU 30 with upgraded mirage Mig 29 and jaguar would make IAF strongest and cost effective. Similarly work on consultants to improve the engine life and servicibility of SU 30 so that another 80-100 planes can be added to active list.



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