PART 3: The Official LCA Navy Mk.2 Wishlist

The Indian Navy funds 40% of the LCA-N fighter programme, and intends to purchase at least 46 LCA Navy Mk.2s, the more powerful and capable proposition based on the current Mk.1 platforms in flight test. Much more is known now about what the Mk.2 will really involve. But first a short dash back 12 years.

The LCA Navy programme was sanctioned in 2003. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which had been entrusted with converting the standard air force variant, imagined it would take six-seven years to convert the platform into a naval prototype. Amazingly, the team at the time officially noted that the changes to the aircraft would be restricted to 15%. As we now know, things turned out quite differently.

A Team LCA-N official explains, "The major constraint of design space due to the existing LCA AF platform resulted in a sub-optimal design and  compromises leading to the LCA Navy Mk-1 Variant being heavier than anticipated."

Six years into the project, it was officially noted by the ADA after months of discussions with the Indian Navy, that the LCA Navy Mk.1 wouldn't meet all the customer's capability requirements. These 'shortfalls' were put down to the platform's 'sub-optimal design'. It became imperative that a significantly more powerful and capable Mk.2 of the LCA Navy would be the platform that the Indian Navy would spend its real procurement rupees on.

In 2011, the ADA displayed models of its proposed Mk.2 for the IAF and Indian Navy. Apart from a brief wishlist of performance enhancements, not very much was clear. And to be fair, the team itself was awaiting greater clarity at the time.

Officially, according to Team LCA-N, "This programme (the LCA Navy Mk.2) is envisaged to minimize the constraints of LCA Navy Mk-1 and would have significant changes in design to improve aerodynamics, landing gear & arrester hook optimization, structural design optimization, updated sensors, avionics and flight control system. The landing gear mass of the LCA-Navy Mk.2 aircraft is likely to be reduced by 200-250 kg, albeit being capable of a higher take-off mass."

Mk.1 prototypes NP1 and NP2 are now firmly in flight test. Apart from the number of seats in their cockpits, there are other differences: the NP2 naval fighter prototype flies with a modified Israeli Elta EL/M-2032 multimode radar (MMR). Sources add, "In terms of aircraft performance the two Mk.1 prototypes are similar. In that sense, both the prototypes will contribute equally for the carrier compatibility tests from the SBTF. The focus on sensor and weapon capability demonstration will be on NP2."

The Mk.2 aims to sport the in-development L-273/Uttam (the project name, incidentally, revealed first on Livefist) active array fire control radar being put together by the DRDO's Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE). According to official literature, the radar, intended to also be retrofitted on the Mk.1 aircraft that enter service, modes include air-to-air multi-target detection and tracking, multi target air-to-air combat mode, high resolution raid assessment, high Resolution air-to-ground mapping (SAR mode), air to ground ranging, real beam mapping, doppler beam sharpening, ground moving target indication and tracking and terrain avoidance. In air-to-sea mode, sea search and multi target tracking, range signature and inverse synthetic aperture radar will apply. But that's just the radar.

The the No.5 prototype NP5 will be a Mk.1 twin-seat trainer prototype, the construction of which has already begin at HAL. The NP5 was proposed to save time and as a risk mitigation exercise using existing resources and funds.

The MoD is now all set to clear the third and fourth prototypes, NP3 & NP4, both to be single-seat fighter prototypes of the LCA Navy Mk.2, incorporating all airframe and platform changes, including aft fuselage changes to house the new, larger and more powerful General Electric F414-GE-INS6 turbofan engine. Team LCA-N sources confirm that there will be changes in most sections of the airframe.

(Series concluded)

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