SOURCE: VISHAL KARPE / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Top Brass at Indian Air Force (IAF) top brass has come out with guns blazing in the development of the LCA-AFMk2 fighter jet that has been carefully crafted to meet Air Staff Requirements (ASR) in close coordination with the engineers at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) from 2014 onwards when the design evolution of the Tejas Mk1 made the transition to present day LCA-AFMk2 to supersede Mirage-2000-5 in technology and capabilities that was kept as a benchmark for the platform.
LCA-AFMk2 will be replacing three major types of fighter jets in the IAF, which includes Mirage-2000, Mig-29, and Jaguar jets. Mirage-2000 being a multi-role jet and Mig-29 an Air Superiority fighter and Jaguar being ground strike fighter, LCA-AFMk2 will be stepping into the shoes of three different types of jets that were designed and developed for three different operational requirements, but ADA and IAF are confident that LCA-AFMk2 be Omni role fighter jet that will be the main stray of the IAF future fleet from 2030 onwards.
LCA-AFMk2 is the only aircraft in its class that can carry 8 BVR-AAMs with 3 Drop tanks in Air Superiority Configuration and has also shown an impressive weapons package in Strike Configuration, where more air to ground weapons will be integrated. LCA-AFMk2 configurations seem to suggest it is the perfect Omni role fighter jet that the air force desires and is confident will be able to meet or exceed the performance of the jets it intends to replace in near future.
IAF initially had projected requirements for 210 LCA-AFMk2 but as per recent media reports it has now been cut down to 170 jets considering that the development of India’s 5.5 gen AMCA fighter jet is also taking place in parallel and around 120 jets will also be procured in the next 15 years. ADA is also developing a Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) for the Indian Navy and they have been a considerable push from ADA and other stakeholders in the program to consider the development of an air force variant of the jet called as Omni-Role combat aircraft (ORCA).
ORCA will require considerable changes to its lower undercarriage design and, wings and landing fears before it is adopted for the air force variant. IAF has no active participation in the program, nor any air force liaison officer deputed to the program, nor the aircraft is based on the Air Staff Requirements (ASR) set by the IAF to make a case for the development of the air force variant of the jet in the first place and it also seems like IAF is keen that the focus remains on the development of LCA-AFMk2 and AMCA program. Air Force Chief in a recent interview with the media also seems to suggest same that LCA-AFMk2 and AMCA programs are his priorities while there is no incline towards the ORCA program that could have required a considerable amount of investments on its part for conversion from naval to air force variant.
If IAF does still stick to the requirements for 170 to 200 LCA-AFMk2, that could mean it could take over a decade before the last of the contracted jet is delivered sometime in 2036-37, and the sheer number of the jets that will go into production warrants that it is kept technologically more inclined towards 5 or 6 generation technologies while it is under production and many of the technologies do find its way into the last batch of the LCA-AFMk2 while the production line is still busy not as mid-life upgrades after the production line is closed.
LCA-AFMk2B or Block-II, a second upgraded jet of the same, should be considered for development while the jet is still under production. LCA-AFMk2B with better avionics and many 5th generation technologies developed for the AMCA program could keep the cost of modernization much cheaper and since aircraft is already under production and inducted it also will not be required reinvestment in the logistics and the infrastructure, specifically tools and machinery to maintain a new type like ORCA even though both might use same avionics, engine, and radar.
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