GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES
The programme was delayed by US Government sanctions which have now been lifted
India's Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is studying accelerated development of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) after the US Government lifted sanctions on 22 September.
LCA development has been severely hampered by the sanctions imposed in 1998 after India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. The LCA's first flight in January this year was more than five years late.
General Electric and Lockheed Martin were prevented from continuing participation. GE was barred from supplying further F404 engines for the test flight programme. Lockheed Martin Control Systems (now BAE Systems) was aiding flight control system development, and India was prevented from removing two flight control computers and test equipment from the USA.
Although the ADA, working with Hindustan Aeronautics, finally got the LCA to flight status without external help, testing is slow. A little under 7h have been amassed on around 13 test sorties since the start of the flying programme. Before sanctions were lifted, estimates of the earliest entry into service ranged from the ADA's 2006 to the Indian Government's 2012-2015.
India's Gas Turbine Research Establishment is developing the 18,200lb- (81kN) thrust Kaveri engine for production LCAs, but development problems have forced the Indians to seek international partners. Talks have been held with Snecma over M88-based turbine and control technologies, and with Eurojet partner Rolls-Royce over the EJ200. The Kaveri was set to power the third LCA prototype later this year, but is not now due to be ready until at least 2004.
Indian air force LCA test pilot Wg Cdr Tarun Banerjee says that although the EJ200 is considered a "strong contender" for a planned initial batch of 30 production aircraft, it was "developed for twin applications. We will have to wait and see. The sanctions lifting may allow India to speed up the programme again because it could let GE bring in more engines."
Banerjee says LCA tests are "going extremely well" with the second aircraft set to fly by December. The first attempt to exceed Mach 1 is likely in January, and the first production standard variant (PV-1) is to join the test programme around June. PV-1 to -4 will be dedicated to weapons and systems tests, while PV-5 is the first two-seater. To date TD-1 has reached M0.7 and 26,000ft (7,930m) altitude.
Source: Flight International