Tuesday, October 6, 2009

India To Look for Foreign Partner To Help Develop Naval LCA

NEW DELHI - India has decided to look for global partners in developing the naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), as Lockheed Martin failed to get needed security clearances.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has ordered six naval versions of the single-engine LCA, giving a boost to the homegrown program. The move is seen as a further commitment by the Navy to the LCA program, said a senior Navy official.

Lockheed Martin ran out of time in getting the necessary clearances from the U.S. government to enter into a contract with India on providing consulting services in the design and development of the naval version of the LCA, said a senior Indian Defence Ministry official. The ministry has no choice but to look for partners in the Western world other than the United States, so that the LCA (naval) program does not suffer further delays, the ministry official added.

Lockheed executives based in India were unavailable for comment.

The Navy only last month ordered six naval-version LCAs and has committed about $30 million for each aircraft.

The naval version of the LCA is a small, lightweight, multirole supersonic fighter jet. It is under development and is required to operate from an aircraft carrier with a "ski-jump" takeoff ramp and arrested recovery system. The first naval prototype is being built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), Bangalore, and is scheduled for integration tests and first flight toward the end of this year.

The naval LCA will be used on a domestically built aircraft carrier, the Air Defence Ship, which is due to enter service with the Navy in 2014.

India is looking for an overseas partner to help in optimizing the landing gear design and making associated changes in the aircraft's structural configuration to bring down the weight of the aircraft by at least 500 kilograms.

As the LCA would be operating from am aircraft carrier, the Defence Ministry will seek the help of an overseas vendor in determining the location and attachment of the arrester hook system on the deck of the ship, and aerodynamic fixes to improve the plane's takeoff and landing performance on the carrier, said a scientist with the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which is developing the LCA.

The overseas partner also will advise Indian scientists on the need for an alternative engine with higher thrust. In addition, the foreign partner will advise the ADA on ways to test the arrestor hook system. 

The LCA (naval) version has been designed with structural and landing gear modifications to the existing Air Force version to handle larger loads and arrested recovery.

The need for a foreign partner arose during the course of the design and construction of the LCA (naval) version after it was observed that the weight of the naval version compared with the Air Force version is higher than originally planned and budgeted. With the General Electric (GE) F404 jet engine and the aircraft's mass, the performance of aircraft was found to be lower then anticipated.

The Indian Air Force's version of the LCA also is being powered by the GE 404, but the Air Force wants a higher-thrust engine, as there has been an increase in the weight of the aircraft due to increased demands by the user. 


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