India’s twin-engine deck based fighter, being developed to replace Russian-origin MiG-29Ks, is likely to be ready by 2026

Work on India’s twin-engine deck based fighter (TEDBF), which will operate from the Indian Navy’s current and future aircraft carriers, is on track, Vinod Kumar, the project director for the programme, has said.

The TEDBF is being developed to replace Russian-origin MiG-29Ks.

In an interview to journalist Anantha Krishnan M, Kumar said the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has received inputs from the Navy and worked out two configurations which satisfy most of the requirements.

Kumar said that the ADA received “informal requirements” for the TEDBF from the navy “very early in 2020”. The formal operational requirements were given by the Indian Navy in May, after which the ADA worked out two configurations for the TEDBF program — “Delta-Canard and Trapezoidal with Tail”.

Both these configurations satisfy most of the requirements put forward by the Indian Navy for this program, the TEDBF project director added.

“We are confident about the configurations. We will go to the Indian Navy, the user, and then seek their view on what is the way ahead to freeze the configuration and fine tune all the requirements with the PSQR (Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements) that will be released by the Indian Navy,” Kumar said.

Kumar revealed that the Delta-Canard configuration of the deck based fighter will undergo low-speed wind tunnel tests soon.

“Requirements that the navy has put in terms of carrier suitability and performance have been taken into consideration for this configuration,” he said.

ADA started pursuing a twin-engine design (now TEDBF) after the Indian Navy made it clear that it was not interested in a single-engine fighter. This effectively killed the Mk.2 version of the single-engine naval TEJAS.

“The Indian Navy is looking for a twin-engine deck based fighter in lieu of the TEJAS Navy MK-2. With confidence generated from AMCA design, we have developed twin engine competence,” the ADA has said in the past.

“We are not ditching the TEJAS Navy MK-2. The navy is adamant they do not want a single engine fighter. Hence we have to reconfigure. This decision has been forced on us. It involves a significant design effort which could be avoided if we continue with the single engine TEJAS Navy Mk.2,” an ADA officer told Livefist.

Kumar said that the experience gained and technology developed by the ADA in the navalisation of the TEJAS will flow into the TEDBF programme. Naval version of the TEJAS made its first successful ski jump take-off and arrested landing from the INS Vikramaditya on 12 January last year.

The TEDBF, which will weigh around 23 tonnes, will be larger than the 13.5 tonne TEJAS MK-1 fighter and the 17.5 ton Mk-2 version of the fighter. The fighter would be in the same class as the MiG-29Ks, which the Indian Navy currently operates from its only operational aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya.

Reports say the fighter, currently in the initial stages of design and development, would have the ability to carry a weapons payload of nine tons.

As a dedicated deck based fighter, it will feature folding wings to save space.

The TEDBF will be equipped with a large number of indigenous sensors and weapons. According to the ADA, the fighter will have an improved version of the home-grown Uttam active electronically scanned array radar developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Advanced version of India’s first air-to-air missile, Astra, will also be integrated on the TEDBF.

The TEDBF should be ready by 2026, Navy Chief Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said at a presser ahead of the Navy Day in December 2020.

“The Qualitative Requirements [QR] are being made. They said they should be able to push it out by 2026. If it meets our time and QR requirements, we will definitely take it [fighter aircraft],” the Navy Chief was quoted as saying.