by Girish Linganna

The Indian Navy plans to purchase domestically produced TEDBFs (Twin Engine Deck Based Fighters) to equip its fleet of aircraft carriers in the future. Based on the Indian Navy’s specifications for the Multirole Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) requirements, in April 2020, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) announced they would develop a new carrier-based fighter aircraft. The Government approved the project in the same year.

In September 2022, ADA began the preliminary design phase of TEDBF, which is expected to be completed within two years. The design process consists of three parts. The initial step involves sizing, refining, and enhancing the aerodynamic design of the TEDBF. Using CFD Analysis, the aerodynamic configuration will then be adjusted. Subsequently, a wind tunnel testing model for high-speed and low-speed tests would be developed for TEDBF aircraft. In the last part of the preliminary phase, the wind tunnel will be used to evaluate the canard, air intake, and DSI.

Within two to three years, the TEDBF project is expected to transition from the design phase to the implementation phase. In an optimistic scenario, the aircraft will be finished by 2026.

The Indian Navy currently uses the MiG-29K onboard its carriers, which has certain operational issues. The engine has been reported to have fuel problems, excessive oil consumption, and too many failures.

The TEDBF Project

A two-engine delta-wing fighter with a canard is being developed under the TEDBF project. HAL will build the plane based on the ADA’s design. As a multi-mission aircraft, it will carry out air superiority, theatre defence, naval operations, and electronic warfare. It is expected that the TEDBF will replace the MiG-29K on the INS Vikramaditya and the INS Vikrant.

As a result of dissatisfaction with the characteristics of the single-engine carrier-based Tejas fighter, the naval LCA (N-LCA), and the possible termination of the program, the TEDBF program was officially announced. A model of the aircraft was presented at Aero India 2021. The first flight is planned for 2026, and the vehicle is expected to enter service by 2032.

The N-LCA program assisted the ADA designers in comprehending the carrier interface, launching from a ski jump at an angle of 140 degrees, taking off from a distance of 200 metres or less on an aircraft carrier, and landing on the deck. The aircraft is being tested at the INS Hansa, Goa, Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF). The two N-LCA models being tested are the modified Air Force version, and a newly built prototype of the navy version is expected shortly.

The two engines on the TEDBF will enable the plane to take off from the aircraft carrier more rapidly, manoeuvre more freely, have a greater flying range, and carry a greater combat load. In addition, it will give a survivability edge if one of the engines is disabled during battle. Its wings will fold for storage in aircraft carrier hangars. The aircraft would rely heavily on Indian ideas and manufacturing. The development of flying prototypes should cost around $1.75 billion, according to first estimates.

TEDBF is planned to have a phased array radar. There are thirteen external hardpoints on the aircraft – including two for small air-to-air missiles on the wingtips.

TEDBF will be the Naval analogue of Omni-Role Combat Aircraft (ORCA) being developed for the air force. ORCA is a ton and a half lighter than the deck version as it need not have ruggedized landing gear and structure strengthening for deck landing.

TEDBF is anticipated to have a crew of one pilot, a length of 16.3 metres, a wingspan of 11.30 metres, and a maximum take-off weight of 26,000 kgs. Two General Electric F414 diesel engines power the aircraft with a thrust of 5965 (10000) kgf. The aircraft may have a top speed of 1.6 Mach (2000 km/h), a ceiling of 18000 metres, a combat radius of 800 kilometres without air refuelling, and weaponry including a 30-mm gun, guided and unguided rockets, and 8000-kilogram bombs.

TEDBF is a novel design based on technology developed and tested during the LCA Tejas programme. Similar to the Tejas Mk2, the distance between the engine intakes and canards are close. The LERX (Leading Edge Root Extension) distinguishes the front fuselage. Due to the aircraft’s high Lift to Drag ratio and close-coupled canards, it will be able to take off easily and haul a significant amount of weight from the ski jump. The delta-shaped wings would be able to create negative lift at high wind speeds, providing the aircraft with constant lift (by acting as a rear stabilizer). To lessen radar visibility, the design of the front fuselage has been altered.

TEDBF will incorporate a DSI (Diverterless Supersonic Inlet), which enhances engine airflow, decrease weight, and minimize radar visibility. Therefore, it will grow stealthier.

MRCBF Is A Temporary Solution

While the TEDBF is being developed, the MRCBF will serve as an interim measure. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and French Rafale M have cleared the trials and are the final contenders for the contract.

During a news briefing, Vice Chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral SN Ghormade, said that Rafale and Boeing F-18 testing had been conducted to demonstrate their capabilities to operate from the Indian aircraft carriers. He said the objective of the Indian Navy is indigenization. And hence MRCBF and MiG-29s will be only a temporary solution. In 5-7 years, TEDBF could be ready, he added.

Earlier, the Navy had said it was not interested in a single-engined fighter, effectively shutting out the Swedish Sea Gripen, also known as Gripen Maritime.

Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH