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Indian Navy Considering Small N-LCA Order?

Indian Navy Considering Small N-LCA Order? 5

The Indian Navy is kicking around the idea of ordering a small number of naval N-LCA fighter jets to operate as a dedicated training and technology development squadron for frontline naval aviators and future combat assets. The idea hasn’t yet crystalized into a paper proposal, but internal discussions are believed to be looking at 12-15 aircraft that will be built by HAL.

The idea of purchasing and inducting the N-LCA, while still only theoretical at this stage, would be a complete about-turn from the Indian Navy’s standing decision of years not to induct the platform, and instead focus its energies on two proposed programs — the indigenous twin engine deck based fighter (TEDBF) and a proposal to purchase at least 26 multirole carrier based fighters, a contest between the American F/A-18 Super Hornet and French Rafale. In February, Livefist reported that the Rafale had been declared to be in pole position for the contract after trials with the Indian Navy.

In February this year, two years after its first deck landings on an aircraft carrier, an N-LCA ‘trapped’ on the navy’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. You can read all about those landings here. While the N-LCA is still below performance requirements demanded by the Indian Navy from a fleet fighter, energy in the program has almost certainly helped revive interest in the program to the extent that a proposal to actually order a handful of airframes is being spoken of internally.

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Indian Navy Considering Small N-LCA Order? 6

In late 2018, the Indian Navy leadership declared that it wished to see the N-LCA fly off Indian aircraft carrier decks. That sentiment has not only been given wings by the N-LCA program’s sprightly performance on both the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, but with several serving and veteran naval aviators professing sense in giving the N-LCA squadron space in the Indian Navy.

A senior officer familiar with internal discussions tells Livefist, “Moving the N-LCA out of the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) and into the navy proper would mean cockpit time spread across many more numbers of naval aviators than just those involved in the NFTC. Our test pilots at the NFTC have done yeoman service on the program. It would be the most fitting tribute to their sustained faith in the program that the navy brings some of these platforms into operational service for a specific purpose. It would in fact provide a unique bridge between test teams and frontline fliers. While the N-LCA was delinked from frontline usage requirements, it is also true that this platform can serve a very useful purpose in service that does not impinge on other modernisation pursuits.”

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Indian Navy Considering Small N-LCA Order? 7

Another officer suggests that pushing the N-LCA into the navy would subject the aircraft to the full rigours of naval aviation and pull it out of the possessive embrace with which dedicated test teams may regard them. “It would give the N-LCA a chance to fully stretch its wings in the real world, with the opportunity to train batches of pilots in STOBAR operations, something they currently do abroad,” he says.

Senior officers at the LCA’s development hub, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bengaluru, said they were unaware of any move to pitch a small package of N-LCAs to the Indian Navy, and that they had dedicated all resources towards the TEDBF program, though they did leave room for an “enthusiastic section within the service” which believes the N-LCA has had a raw deal. They also agreed that a contingent of active service N-LCAs in the Indian Navy would provide a nerve centre of customer feedback that would feed right into the TEDBF program.

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