India could seek outside help with flight testing of its indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft as the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) looks to accelerate the programme.
If the ADA, which is responsible for the LCA's design and development, goes ahead, it would represent a major about-turn for the project. A year ago, Indian defence minister A K Antony said that the domestic agencies responsible for the programme were able to manage on their own. "No need is felt for a strategic partner," he said then. "Efforts are being made to accelerate the flight tests."
However, a source close to the defence ministry says that the ADA is keen to ensure that it receives the initial operational clearance and final operational clearances before the targeted delivery date of late 2010.
© Indian Air Force
"There are internal talks going on within the ADA on whether it would be better to get a foreign partner that has experience with securing the initial operating capability and full operating capability," says the source. "There are many factors to consider, but the most important is that the LCA should be ready for delivery to the Indian air force by the end of next year."
One possibility is to approach the companies that are involved in the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender for help. The aircraft that are in contention for the MMRCA competition are the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 Falcon, RSK MiG-35 and Saab Gripen. Officials from some companies are expressing willingness to help the LCA programme, especially if it would give them a leg-up in the MMRCA competition.
Last week, the LCA progamme logged its 1,000th test flight. There are now seven prototypes, and the ADA and manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics hope to conduct hot weather trials in April and March.
The ADA had hoped to have the Tejas in service by early this decade, but design and performance issues and problems with the development of the indigenous Gas Turbine Research Establishment Kaveri engine have caused lengthy delays.
The Tejas now uses the General Electric F404-IN20 engine, but the ADA has abandoned hopes of using the Kaveri and could choose between GE's F414 and the Eurojet EJ200 in the coming year. Its initial order will be for 80 engines and an option for 80 more, with the majority to be licence-produced in India.
India's air force has ordered a squadron of 20 LCAs, which should enter service in 2011.