Bangalore: The country''s efforts to locally develop, and produce, a high-tech fighter aircraft received a big boost with the indigenous fly-by-wire, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas programme crossing a major milestone on Thursday as it successfully test fired a close air combat missile.
The LCA Prototype Vehicle-1 (PV-1), piloted by the chief test pilot of the National Flight Test Centre, Group Captain N Harish, reached an altitude of 6.5 km and a speed of 0.6 mach before firing the R73E Russian-made missile in "the autonomous mode" from the aircraft''s left wing tip.
The test firing of the ''fire and forget'' R73 air-to-air missile, one of the most capable air-to-air missiles in its class in the world demonstrated the health and handling of the aircraft during the actual firing. It is a major step towards the "weaponisation" of the LCA Tejas.
The firing of a missile involves dealing with unwanted frequencies, and also with the effects of the missile plume on engine air-intake as well as on composite structures of the aircraft, such as the wing surface. Other missile separation aspects also need to be studied.
The test firing also showed that the mating of the circuitry between the aircraft and the missile was successful. This was an unguided firing of the missile and was conducted in the safest part of overall flying envelope in terms of speed and altitude. Tejas will need to receive operational clearance in more demanding flying profiles, such as at low speed-low altitude, low speed-high altitude, high speed-low altitude, high speed-high altitude and under high G conditions.
According to PS Subramanyam, director of the LCA programme, the firing of the missile demonstrated clearly that India was now capable of integrating missiles to a fighter aircraft. "The multi-organisational and multi-dimensional integration and firing of the missile involved aspects such as structures, aerodynamics, flight mechanics, avionics, general systems and propulsion. The LCA team supported by the Indian Air Force, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, National Aerospace Laboratories, other defence public sector enterprises, the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification have all partnered to demonstrate this integration capability," he told media persons.
According to Subramanyam, the autonomous firing of the missile, a first for the country, was achieved in the face of great odds. "Three years ago we were told by the (missile''s) vendor that we will not be able to do it on our own and that only they could demonstrate it for us. They were also not prepared to share information on it. The knowledge that we have now gained will give us the confidence to integrate any missile on any fighter aircraft," he said.
The next major milestone is target acquisition and fire control, which will take off only after a multimode radar (MMR) is fitted on the Tejas. The MMR, which is being developed with Israeli help, is likely to be fitted onto the Tejas before the end of the year.
The Rs5,500 crore LCA programme has successfully conducted 763 flights and is coming close to achieving its initial operational clearance.