The naval version of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has successfully completed the first test of the fighter jet’s arrestor hook or tail hook system, used to rapidly decelerate and stop an aircraft when it lands on the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea. The test took place earlier this week at a naval air station located near Dabolim in Goa, India.
“The LCA Naval Prototype 2 (NP2) (…) safely executed the first contact of the arrestor hook system with arresting wire at moderate taxi-in speeds on location at the Shore Based Test Facility, INS Hansa, Goa, today,” HAL said in an August 2 statement. This was the first of a series of tests to verify the arresting hook capability of the naval variant of the Tejas as part of so-called carrier compatibility trials (CCT).
“The CCT involves completion of extensive shore-based trials before embarking on actual deck,” according to HAL. “This trial is the stepping stone towards completion of CCT trials of LCA Navy.” The test took place at a full-scale model of an aircraft carrier deck constructed at the naval air station. The India aircraft maker noted in the statement that India has now joined a select club of countries capable of landing fighter aircraft on the decks of warships.
The naval variant of the Tejas LCA flew for the first time with a tail hook on July 23.
A number of additional tests at higher ground speed will be conducted in the coming months, followed by a landing on an actual Indian Navy aircraft carrier — the INS Vikramaditya — in 2019.
Notably, the Indian Navy has repeatedly ruled out the operational deployment of the naval version of the Tejas LCA — a supersonic, single-seat, single-engine multirole light fighter aircraft that has been under development for the past 34 years — due to a number of technical shortcomings and excessive weight, which would prevent the aircraft from carrying its weapons payload when operating from a flattop.
In fact, the Indian Navy has issued a number of requests for information (RFI) to foreign vendors over the past two years as it intends to procure up to 57 naval fighter aircraft from a foreign supplier. France has been trying to pitch the naval variant of the Dassault Rafale, whereas U.S. aircraft maker Boeing has offered its F/A-18E Block III Super Hornet, a supersonic twin-engine carrier-capable multirole fighter jet based on the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, among others.
The choice of aircraft will be partially influenced by the carrier’s aircraft launch system.
For example, the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, the latter India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, are both fitted with so-called ski-jump assisted Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) launch systems, which puts severe limits on the operational range and armament of aircraft launched from a carrier using this particular system.
In the past, two naval prototypes of the Tejas have repeatedly taken off from a ski-jump meant to simulate a STOBAR launch system armed with R-73 air-to-air missiles. However, senior Indian Navy officials have not been impressed with the aircraft’s overall performance and still doubt that it will be able to carry its full weapons payload when launched from the INS Vikramaditya or INS Vikrant.
The heavy weight of the Tejas may be less of a problem when deployed aboard the second planned carrier of the new Vikrant-class, the INS Vishal, which will likely use a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system, incorporating new U.S. electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) technology. However, it is unclear whether the carrier will ever be built. Furthermore, besides its excessive weight, the Tejas LCA continues to suffer from a host of other technical issues. It is thus unsurprising that as of August of this year, the Tejas has failed to achieve final operational clearance.