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October 17, 2013

Finally, Tejas gets electronic warfare systems

After eight years of research and postponement, India’s first indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas, positioned at HAL Bangalore, has finally been fitted with electronic warfare (EW) systems.

Now, new test flights will happen with electronic warfare anytime during November or beginning of December. The 2,348 test flights of the LCA so far have not had electronic warfare. The new test flights will bring in new data and information for further development of the aircraft and the electronic systems.

Sources in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) told Deccan Herald that the LCA Prototype Vehicle-1 (PV-1) has now been fitted with a radar-warning receiver, a radar-warning jammer, laser warner, missile-approach warner, emitter, and a flare dispenser. The systems are now undergoing ground trials with aeronautical engineers simulating multiple threats to the aircraft and then examining its response.

The results of the ground trials will help fine-tune the electronic systems for the actual test flights. The ground trials will take about a fortnight or a month. So, test flights will be held in mid-November or December.

Engineers and scientists working on the project say the radar receivers and jammers will track enemy signals from air and ground, while the emitter will watch out for missile launches from ground. Systems to track missiles from air and enemy aircraft will also be part of the LCA. The entire system has been developed by both Indian and Israeli engineers and scientists.

The fitment of the electronic systems has an interesting history. For almost eight years, a section of the aeronautical community has been resisting its fitment, anxious that the add-ons may cause a first crash, which has never happened so far in the LCA’s test-flight history. They have been very keen on securing the operational clearance, initial as well as final from the Indian Air Force, even if the LCA did not have the electronic system.

Their reasoning was that once the IAF certified it as operationally worthy, they would have a successful product to showcase to the world. Also, the LCA has had a perfect record of test flights and no one wished to risk an add-on on the LCA that had not been tried. The idea was to defend the ‘zero crash’ record.

This was made known sometimes explicitly to engineers and scientists working on the electronic systems, who, however, had been pressing for very long that the systems ought to be fitted and trials conducted to be able to fine-tune them. This difference of perception on the LCA persisted for long, and one consequence was, no vehicle or version of the LCA was identified for many years to fit the equipment. This caused delay of over five years in launching the electronic systems on the LCA and to questioning of the very purpose and objective of building the systems.

After haggling for over eight years, it has been finally decided to instal the electronic systems on the LCA prototype Version-1. But there’s a catch here. The PV-1 has not flown for very long and has been parked in the hangar with later versions of the LCA undertaking the test flights. The PV-1, which began flights in around 2001-02, has completed 242 test flights after which it has been grounded. Now, there is a bit of anxiety about how an aircraft that has not done flights for long will perform with the new electronic warfare systems.

The confidence, however, is that the aircraft may perform well because its health has been under check almost daily and every department concerned will certify that all parts of the aircraft are flight-worthy. Without this certification, the PV-1 will not be allowed to fly. But once it passes the certification, the LCA PV-1 will become the first vehicle to fly with electronic warfare systems.

Deccan Herald

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