From 1983, when an indigenous fighter development programme was launched with an attempt to develop second generation technologies, to 2008 when the programme has successfully developed 4+ generation technologies the LCA Tejas has come a long way, says ADA director, Dr PS Subramanyam.
What are the major state-of-the-art aircraft technologies used on the LCA?
To begin with, I'd like to take you back to 1983 when the programme began with the attempt to develop second generation technologies. The whole world then was developing fourth generation technologies. There was a gap of almost two generations of technologies. This is what we have overcome with this particular LCA programme. When we talk about state-of-art technologies in the LCA, we are talking about state-of-the-art technologies related to unstable aerodynamics based aircraft, where the basic airframe is unstable. We have to make it stable by what we call instant fly-by-wire flight control systems, which is also a unique technology - we are only the fourth or fifth country in the world to have developed this digital technology.
Another technology that has been developed for the programme is called digital avionics technology, or a glass cockpit.
Yet another technology where we have really bridged the gap is in the area of composites.
I have mentioned these four state-of-the-art technologies because when we started the programme many foreign consultants on the programme said this country cannot catch up with these technologies at this point and suggested we go back to older technologies. It was then that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who was the director general of the organisation, who said no. He told us he had confidence in us and that we could go ahead with developing these technologies.
We did that and today we have arrived - these technologies are now in use with the two Technology Demonstrator aircraft - TD1 and TD2.
We have gone over the hump and today we are at the 4+ generation of technologies. In these particular aircraft all electronic and mechanical systems are controlled by computers.
Even today we don't have such functional systems as digital avionics, glass cockpit and other related technologies in the Indian Air Force.
Another state-of-the-art feature in these technologies is that all the microprocessors used in our systems are only 12-16 months old - since we have deployed the open system architecture. With such a concept we can catch up with any evolution in electronics and keep on changing the hardware, as with computers.
So all the microprocessors used in the system are only 12-16 months old . That's the kind of currency we have got.
All sensors used in our aircraft are state-of-the-art - whether it is the navigation systems, the helmet mounted system, or what we call the day-night attack sensor. If you look at the Indian Air force, even they have picked up the system only a year or so ago.
Most of the things we use, even the materials, are state-of-the-art and in terms of technology this aircraft is going to be current even after 10 years.
What are the derivatives of LCA?
Seeing the performance of the Technology Demonstrators the Indian Navy and air force have now gained confidence in the aircraft – a confidence that they can move on to higher derivatives of the aircraft.
First, in March 2003, the Navy came forward with an order for a naval variant of the aircraft and decided to fund it.
Subsequently, the air force, realising that there was inadequacy of thrust in the aircraft, asked for a higher derivative of the aircraft with a new engine in the 90 tonnes class. This will be a Mark 2 version of the aircraft and will boast of new electronic warfare tools, reduced weight and improved performance.
The navy has also asked for a Mark 2 variant which will use a very small distance for take off and landing from an aircraft carrier. It will land with an arrestor hook. So, almost four new derivatives are planned – the air force and naval variants, the air force fighter trainer,the navy fighter trainer and Mk 2 versions of these.
This shows the confidence with which the user is placing orders for these derivatives.
Another very important point is that the users are funding the development of these derivatives. This shows we now have a lot of business, which is taking place with user participation.
What are the future programmes planned?
As I said earlier, when we began the programme we were dealing with second generation technologies. Now we have jumped to fourth generation technologies. If you don't have future programmes planned, and stay where you are, you will only be widening the technology gap with the rest of the world. If you wish to progress further, one way is to keep developing technologies. Keeping this in mind we now have a separate programme for technology development.
But unless technologies are packaged and put on the aircraft they will not mature. So we are working on programmes like the medium combat aircraft. So far we were quite hesitant whether the user will require such technology. But they have communicated that they need a medium combat aircraft, in the medium weight class, in which platform they have asked us to incorporate next generation fighter technologies.
So we have conceptual studies for the next generation fighter aircraft with medium weight - of around 20 tonnes. The technologies which will go into that are futuristic technologies, like stealth. The aircraft should not be visible. It will have radar cross section reduction, infrared reduction. It will have super cruise technology, and also, this kind of an aircraft will have all weapons concealed in the airframe itself - all the conformal weapons.
In the case of avionics we have visualised that unless we take a quantum jump and understand what is happening in the rest of the world we will again be widening the gap.
So we have decided to work on integrated modular architecture of the weapons and avionics system. That architecture will be built into this.
These are some of the technologies on which we are currently working .
What is the relevance of this seminar for your future technology requirement?
The seminar is very relevant. As I have pointed out we are now working on future technologies and programmes -so depending on what we need, and what we understand from our interactions with our users, we have to conceptualize what our future programmes and technologies are going to be like.
Using interaction opportunities with experts from the rest of the world we intend to understand what they are contemplating... here we will find ourselves hobnobbing with all the experts who are coming eg: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Embraer - you name it and all the companies are coming. Based on our interactions and one-on-one discussions with them we will try and figure out what future technologies they are contemplating.
As one of my colleagues said today the rest of the world has realised that India is a force to reckon with. Earlier, they would never have partnered with us but today they want us to be partners. They are ready to share information. Through this sharing of information we will realise if the technologies we are contemplating for development are contemporaneous are not.
What kind of aircraft to make ...what kind of unmanned aircraft we should make, what kind of technologies we have to put into these aircrafts - all this visibility will come only from a seminar of this nature.
We have also made sure that the people who come, the topics we cover are of such a spectrum - that we get to know if the technologies that we intend to develop are the right technologies.
We would also like to understand their approach with such programmes, their programme management techniques which will help us make our plans perfect.
In what way would co-operation with foreign agencies or companies benefit the LCA programme?
Since this our first time we are very conservative when it comes to designing and developing this aircraft. We wish to avoid failure at any cost. Technically, our aircraft weight is1.5 tonnes extra – because of our conservative design the weight is 500 kg extra.
If we had a foreign consultant on this project -someone who has gone through the same processes he doesn't have to do anything for us but tell us simply, where we could possibly curtail the weight of the aircraft. We would be prepared to improve our design. In other words, a large number of design iterations which will be required to reach perfection would be cut short because that consultant has already gone through similar experience.
Another thing is with regard to flight testing - the number of flight tests that we do is more than is required. This is something even the foreign vendors are saying. They know the optimal size of the testing that we need to do. Most of the companies have been in the industry for the last 50-60 years and have made three to four generations of aircraft. These are things they have already done and we have not.
The inputs we take from them is intellectual and not related to hardware or software. We will tell them what we intend to do - their job will be to tell us to achieve meaningful reductions in time and energy.
With such consultancy the number of design iterations we are going to do is likely to reduce - the number of flight tests we are going to do is also going to reduce.
If we reduce flight testing time by, say, six month we will achieve savings of nearly Rs1000 crore. So whatever small amount we will pay them for consultancy is meant basically for them to tell us whether we are on the right track, or not.
There is going to be no hardware or software support.
This is the way ahead for our future programmes where foreign collaboration will take place - we have now come to the four and a half generation level but when we contemplate taking on fifth generation fighter aircraft technologies benefits are expected to be substantial.
This is the purpose of the collaboration, which we are contemplating for the existing LCA programme, as well as for future fifth generation fighter programmes. This is the advice given to us by our higher management - do some kind of consultancy or participation programme so that partners also invest resources and result is optimal in terms of time and cost.