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Naval LCA prototype moves for final phase of shore-based trials

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The twin-seat trainer naval variant of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA-N) is moving to a test facility in Goa for the final phase of its trials even as uncertainty hangs on the future of the project for an indigenous aircraft carrier-based fighter jet.

In 2017, the Navy cited its unhappiness with the LCA-N programme citing that both Mark 1 and Mark 2 variants were underpowered, to opt for an import of carrier-based fighters.

The navy is likely to seek requests for proposals (RFP) from western manufacturers of carrier-based jets like the F/A-18 and the Rafale-M later this year. The Navy will spend over Rs 50,000 crore to import the aircraft over the next five years.

ADA, meanwhile, has continued LCA-N development. Naval Prototype-1 (NP-1) as the trainer variant is called, flew two sorties in Bengaluru on April 24 with two new featuresan arrestor hook and pilot controlled LEVCONs.

Leading Edge Vortex Controllers(LEVCONs) are flaps that open up on the side of the aircraft like air brakes, allowing the aircraft to reduce landing speeds. Last year, the single-seat fighter variant, NP-2 underwent landing taxi trials at the Shore-Based Test Facility (SBTF) to prove its arrestor hook system.

The (SBTF) in Goa mimicks an aircraft carrier with a ski jump and a separate runway for arrested recovery’ was commissioned in 2014 is used to train the navy’s MiG-29K carrier-based pilots and for testing the LCA-N prototypes.

(An arrestor hook is a retractable landing aid which snags arrestor wires laid across an aircraft carrier allowing the aircraft to land on runways as short as 90 metres).

The LCA-N project which began in 2003, two years after the first LCA prototype flew, was meant to provide the navy with a light carrier-based fighter aircraft. When the navy eventually chose the MiG-29K as a medium-weight carrier-based fighter, the LCA-N development continued. NP-1 was rolled out in 2010 and first flew in 2014.

The Navy’s decision to import fighter aircraft saw the conversion of the LCA-N into a navy supported technology demonstrator. The ADA project team has used the two prototype aircraft as technology demonstrators to master the two most complex technologies- landing and taking off from a deck less than 200 metres long.

The project team says that while they have mastered take-off, they are yet to perfect landing the LCA using its arrestor hook which explains the new round of tests in Goa.

Officials at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the DRDO-organisation that runs the project say if they meet all project, the technology demonstrator project can be closed by the year-end.

Source : Defence News India

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