The Indian Navy recently announced that they would purchase six Tejas fighters as part of an experiment to see if the aircraft would be suitable for naval use. India’s principle carrier fighters are aging Harrier jump jets and navalized MiG-29s, both of which were designed and produced in foreign countries. If the Tejas fighters prove capable in a carrier role, it will mark a big step forward in India’s ambitious programs to both modernize their military, expand the capability of their domestic military-industrial complex, and develop a blue water naval capability.
The Tejas was called the Light Combat Aircraft program, or LCA. It is a small, delta-winged aircraft that incorporates both fly-by-wire technology and multi-mode radar. The airframe is uses a substantial number of parts made from carbon-fiber composites, and the plane features advanced avionics and electronic defenses. While the fighter is a native-Indian design, and will use mostly homegrown components, the engine will be foreign-made and either a Eurojet or General Electric. The maximum speed is expected to be Mach 2, with a 1,840 mile range (without refueling). The fighter is armed with a 23 mm double-barreled cannon, French and Russian-made air-to-air missiles, and a variety of precision-guided missiles and bombs. The navalized version will feature a reinforced airframe and hook arrestor gear to enable carrier landings. The Indian Air Force intends to use the Tejas to replace their aging fleet of MiG-21 fighters.
Carrier air power is essential to far-ranging, blue water naval operations. The are the only truly effective means for mounting sustained attacks on targets or air defense for friendly forces far from friendly airbases. The Indian Navy’s current carrier capability is based on the Harrier, operating off of the INS Viraat. The INS Vikramaditya, a carrier that formerly belonged by to the Russians and is being refurbished by them, is expected to be delivered in 2012, and is supposed to be followed by domestically-built Indian aircraft carriers. The primary aircraft destined to be flown on the Vikramaditya is the navalized version of the MiG-29, which is employed by the Russian Navy in the same role. If the Tejas proves successful, it will no doubt become the primary aircraft of the future carriers India plans to design and build on her own, creating an all-Indian carrier force. Such an accomplishment would mark not just a major technical achievement and a step forward in India’s naval aspirations. It would also represent a successful “one-up” on the Chinese, who have struggled with developing both home-grown fighter aircraft and a carrier capability.
Sources: strategypage.com/htmw/htnavai/articles/20090923.aspx; ada.gov.in/Activities/lca/lca.html