TEJAS during its successful take off from INS Vikramaditya on January 12

It eyes lead role in light plane project

After playing a prominent supporting role in the TEJAS naval prototype’s tricky landing and take-off debuts from a Navy ship last week-end, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd eyes the prospect of fully designing and developing a twin-engine fighter plane for the Navy if or when an occasion comes up.

Asked what the successful twin acts of naval prototype NP2 mean for its manufacturer HAL, company Chairman and Managing Director R Madhavan said the recent ship-based trials will, of course, not translate to business from the Navy unless a twin-engined fighter project formalises from the Force.

Mr. Madhavan said, “It is our desire that the twin-engine Navy project be given to us so that we can design TEJAS-Navy as required. Such a step will lead to speeding up the project.”

HAL has already been deeply involved in the ongoing deck trials of the two naval prototypes; it has produced them for the Defence Research & Development Organisation DRDO. The defence public sector company has contributed to designing sub-systems of the TEJAS project - a plane that was originally started for the Air Force.

The DRDO’s special arm ADA or the Aeronautical Development Agency in Bangalore is tasked with designing and developing the TEJAS versions and future indigenous fighter planes.

Vital Parts

HAL said many critical paraphernalia and support staff for the naval prototype were its contributions, both before and during the recent trials on the ship.

It contributed the arrestor hook system, a redesigned landing gear, a speed controlling device for landings, a drooped nose to give the pilot a good view, a stronger fuselage and the fuel dump.

“We anyway design the TEJAS structures. Our engineering is proven. If it is possible to extend it to the full project, it would speed up the R&D,” Mr. Madhavan said.

“If a twin-engine naval aircraft project should come up, then HAL can offer the Navy a deck-based aircraft.” With a design house each in Bangalore and Nashik, he said HAL was up to taking up such a task.

The two Navy prototypes NP1 and NP2, seen as potential trainers, are derived from the IAF version of the indigenous light fighter. A production standard version called NP5 has also been considered.

All these are single-engine while the Navy indicated in 2016 that it needed only two-engined aircraft. With a double-engine TEJAS being some time away, more so for the Navy, it is an area of interest for its stakeholders.

Rare Capability

The second TEJAS-Navy prototype TEJAS-NP2 achieved two technologically challenging feats. On January 11 it did an arrested landing on the relatively narrow decks of the carrier INS Vikramaditya and took off the next day ├Čn what is called the ski jump style.

Underlining the achievement, Mr. Madhavan said only 3-4 countries have such a technology to deploy or land their fighters from the limited confines of a carrier.

Currently HAL’s fixed-wing design house is working on the HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft.

About the scope for a naval aircraft fleet an informed person said its current fleet of Russian origin MiG-29Ks are expected to go obsolete around 2028-32. Another opportunity to replenish naval aircraft could arise if the country goes in for a third aircraft carrier around the year 2040 as envisioned for the long term.