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SOURCE: Anantha Krishnan M / MANORAMA ONLINE

The Medium Weight Fighter (MWF), the gen-next variant of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas – LCA MK-II, will enter the Detail Design phase next month. The configuration for this advanced single-engine fighter has been frozen along with sub-system level Preliminary Design Reviews (PDRs).

It is now confirmed that the most-critical ‘aircraft-level PDRs’ will be held at the end of this month. And, the detail design and tool design activities will start from next month. Sources confirmed to Onmanorama that the all-important metal cutting for MWF is scheduled to start from April 2021. Sources claim that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has indicated to induct about 12 squadrons of MWF.

Long lead activities like procurement of raw material for metal cutting have already been commenced. “We have frozen the design configuration,” says an official.

At the time of publishing this story, a 1:1 mockup cockpit of MWF has already reached the DefExpo site — Vrindavan Yojna area — from Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bengaluru. The mockup, an engineering cockpit simulator, is embedded with large area display (LAD), sleek Head-Up Display (HUD) and side stick, or control stick on pilot’s side console.

Project so far

The present allocation is about Rs 2,500 crore and it is only a matter of time before the funding is enhanced for increased scope of the MWF.

“We are unable to put an estimated figure now as to how much the project would cost till the four prototypes are rolled out. At this stage, costing of many requirements is still being estimated. On completion of all estimations a final figure will emerge,” an official said.

The idea of MWF was mooted after the IAF wanted an ideal platform to replace Mirage 2000, Jaguar and the MiG 29.

It wanted a fighter with improved range, endurance, lethality and increased payload carrying capacity.

Based on the requirements projected by Air HQ for enhanced performance, configuration optimization studies were initiated by ADA in November 2016.

“A configuration with improved performance and increase in internal fuel was evolved. Subsequently, the IAF also indicated a requirement to integrate heavy stand-off weapons. To meet these capabilities, a final configuration was worked out in September 2018,” says an official.

This placed the aircraft in the MWF category and the Air HQ issued Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQRs) in July 2019.

At present, along with ADA and HAL, many DRDO and CSIR labs, private industries and academia are involved in the programme.

Unique features

In addition to improved range and endurance, the MWF has a maximum all-up weight of 17,500 kg with increase in weapon carrying capacity. Among the key features are:

• Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar in place of Multi-Mission Radar (MMR)

• Internal electronic warfare (EW) suite with jammer

• Integration of latest sensors like Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) and Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS)

• Multi sensor data fusion

• NCW (Network Centric Warfare) capabilities

• Close Coupled Canard

• Improvements in maintainability

• Increased internal fuel

• OBOGS (On Board Oxygen Generating System)

To a query on the first-time-features to be embedded on the MWF, probably missing on other platforms in its class, sources claimed that add-ons like multi sensor data fusion, NCW capabilities, OBOGS, Close Coupled Canard, IRST and MAWS make the fighter superior.

Supersonic drops tanks, retractable air-to-air refueling (AAR) probe, quick turnaround\role change and fly-by-wire flight controls with upgraded Digital Flight Control Computer (DFCC) are some of the other features of the MWF.

To be powered by GE-F414-INS6 engine, the MWF has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet.

It is 14.6 m in length, has 8.50 m wingspan and stands at 4.56 m height. It is capable of touching up to +9/-3.2 ‘g’ limits and can fly at maximum speeds of 1.8 Mach.

Loads of weapons

Once operational, the MWF will be one of the most potent fighter platforms of IAF owing to its versatile weapon menu. Officials confirm that the MWF will have 11 hard points (to carry ammunition/drop tanks) as compared to seven on Tejas Mk-1/1A.

It will also be able to carry eight Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles at any given point of time giving it an edge.

The ammunition pack on MWF include heavy and long range stand-off air-to-ground weapons, Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs), conventional bombs, BVR missiles, Close Combat Missiles (CCMs) and smart precision weapons.

MWF can carry weapon loads up to 6,500 kg as against 3,500 kg by its earlier avatars, while the maximum All Up Weight will be around 17,500 kg.

This will make MWF in the category of Gripen NG, F 16 Block 70, F 18 E/F and Mirage 2000.

During configuration studies, IAF is said to have indicated that MWF should be a replacement for Mirage 2000 and have more advanced avionic capabilities. Accordingly, the designers have made the MWF architecture and configuration relatively more modern than Mirage 2000.

Target 2023

The first prototype of MWF ‘roll out’ is scheduled for August 2022 with its first flight expected in September 2023. A total of four prototypes are being planned initially.

Not wanting to repeat the missed lessons in Tejas MK1 project, the IAF is involved actively in every step right from the beginning of MWF. The Project Monitoring Team (PMT) from IAF is a part of all activities providing necessary inputs to the designers. Periodic reviews are also conducted by Air HQ.

Similar to the Tejas MK-1, HAL is fully involved from the beginning as the principal partner mandated to produce all prototypes.

“It is not Tejas and it is not light and hence not LCA. It is a medium weight category aircraft set to replace 4+ generation aircraft,” says an official.