With the Ministry of Defence sanctioning US$542.44 million (Rs2,431.55-crore) for the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in order for it to undertake full-scale engineering development of the ‘Tejas’ Mk2 medium multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA), it would seem, on paper at least, that ADA as per its own projections is now well-positioned to roll-out the first ‘Tejas’ Mk2 prototype by September 2013 and make this prototype fly by December 2014, following which Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) would begin series-producing the M-MRCA by 2016. In reality, however, several R & D challenges lie ahead, most notably in the areas of systems integration and mission software development, which can only be overcome if ADA is allowed to fast-track the selection and procurement of key mission sensors, cockpit avionics and structural components. For its part, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy, which are the principal stakeholders in the ‘Tejas’ Mk2 programme (with each financing 40% of their respective variants of the ‘Tejas’ Mk2) and will become the fourth-generation M-MRCA’s principal operator as well, has insisted on several enhancements to be incorporated into the single-engined single-seat ‘Tejas’ Mk2, which include:
· A major upgradation of the glass cockpit design that is characteristic of the existing Tejas Mk1 MRCA, with two 8-inch by-20-inch panoramic active-matrix liquid crystal displays (PAMLCD) replacing the existing four bulkier AMLCDs.
· Installation of a fully integrated but open-architecture mission avionics suite that will include a new-generation mission computer, active electronically-steered array-based multi-mode radar (MMR), an infra-red search-and-track sensor, or IRST (either pod-mounted or carried internally), helmet-mounted display (HMD), and two-way airborne data-links for communicating with friendly combat aircraft, AEW & C platforms and unmanned aerial vehicles..
· An integrated defensive aids suite (IDAS) that includes a combined radar/missile approach warning system, countermeasures dispenser, fibre-optic towed-decoys, and an internal self-protection jammer.
· An air-to-air/air-to-ground software-defined radio system that harnesses the power of its distinctive automatic routing and relay capabilities to offer extended range, while offering video, voice and data simultaneously at an exceptionally high data rate.
· The ability to carry a laser designator pod, tactical reconnaissance pod, and escort jamming pod.
· Installation of a frameless canopy actuation system, and a retractable aerial refuelling probe.
· Employment of triple-ejector racks capable of launching precision-guided munitions (PGM) like the 125kg/250kg AASM (from the France-based Sagem Défense Sécurité subsidiary of the SAFRAN Group) laser-/GPS-/imaging infra-red sensor-equipped standoff munition, GBU-39 small-diameter bomb, CBU-105 sensor-fuzed weapons from Textron Systems, and MBDA’s Brimstone millimetre-wave radar-guided anti-armour missile.
From the above, it becomes evident that the IAF intends to position the ‘Tejas’ Mk2, to be powered by a 98kN thrust F414-GE-INS6 turbofan built by GE Aero Engines, as an M-MRCA capable of undertaking all-weather defensive counter-air operations, as well as all-weather effects-based tactical air-to-ground precision strikes in support of friendly ground forces out to a depth of 80nm beyond the jointly-defined Army/IAF fire support coordination line. Consequently, in order to meet the IAF’s time-bound roadmap for inducting the ‘Tejas’ Mk2 into service, ADA is soon expected to convene a series of bidders’ conferences, following which both global and restricted requests for proposals (RFP) are likely to be issued to interested original equipment manufacturers (OEM) by the last quarter of this year, with final vendor selection taking place before 2012 ends. For supplying the PAMLCDs, the principal contending OEMs are expected to include US-based L-3 Display Systems, BARCO of Belgium, SAMTEL Display Systems Ltd of India, Elbit Systems of Israel, and SAFRAN of France. The PAMLCDs will enable the pilot to view more battlespace information within a larger viewing area. The open-architecture mission computer has been developed by the Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and will be built by HAL. As far as the X-band AESA-based MMR goes, on paper there are six competitors: SELEX Galileo’s Vixen 1000es/ES-5 Raven, the four-nation Euroradar consortium’s Captor-E, THALES Avionics of France’s RBE-2, Israel Aerospace Industries/ELTA Systems’ EL/M-2052, Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam radar (SABR), and Raytheon’s RACR. The SABR is the result of Northrop Grumman’s long-established expertise in fielding AESA-based MMRs for combat aircraft since the 1990s, starting with the APG-77 for the Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptor, APG-80 for the UAE Air Force’s Block 60 F-16E/F Desert Falcons, and APG-81 AESA for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning JSF. Raytheon too has a well-established reputation in this field, having supplied the APG-79 (from which the RACR is derived) for the Boeing-built F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block 2, and the APG-63(V)3 for Boeing F-15SGs of the Republic of Singapore Air Force. The EL/M-2052’s array comprises ‘bricks’ of 24 transmit/receive modules, making it easy to assemble the AESA in different configurations to match the size and shape of an existing combat aircraft’s nose, up to 1,290 modules. Smaller, lower-module-count versions can be air-cooled, reducing weight and making integration simpler. Of these contenders, the least risky favourites for being shortlisted are the SABR and RACR, both of which have been available since 2008.
OEMs likely to bid for supplying internally-mounted high-resolution IRST sensors include THALES Avionics with its OSF, Russia’s Urals Optical Mechanical Plant (UOMZ) with its OLS-30, and Selex Galileo of Italy with the 55kg Skyward. The sole pod-mounted IRST sensor is likely to be proposed by Lockheed Martin, whose Shadow Pod offers dramatically improved raid cell count (40 times more accurate than radar) at maximum declaration ranges (more than 60km) and provides the combat aircraft’s mission computer with track-file data on all targets and infra-red imagery to video displays. It can operate in either track-while-scan or single-target track modes with selectable scan volumes in azimuth and elevation. The HMD to be chosen for the Tejas Mk2 will be the Dash Mk5 from Elbit Systems. The Dash Mk5 has a magnetic helmet-mounted tracker to determine where the pilot’s head is pointed, and comes combined with a miniature display system that projects information onto the pilot’s visor. The head tracker and visor display act as a targetting device that can aim sensors and weapons wherever the pilot is looking. To obtain a variety of information and sensor-based data such as airspeed, altitude and target range, the pilot can refer to the visual display on the inside of the Dash Mk5 while remaining in a ‘heads-up’ position during combat, thereby eliminating the break in visual contact that occurs when the pilot looks away to check the display readouts in the cockpit. To aim and fire an air combat missile, the pilots will be required to simply point his head at the targets and press a switch on the flight controls to direct and fire a weapon. To attack a ground target, the pilot can acquire the target with a laser designator pod (LDP) and note its location on the helmet display. Alternatively, the pilot can use the helmet display to cue sensors and weapons to a visually detected ground target. An umbilical cable carries power and video drive signals to the internal helmet electronics, and position-sensing signals from the helmet to the signal processor box. The umbilical is provided with a quick disconnect connector to provide for safe ejection. The 8.5kV high-voltage supply for the helmet’s CRT display is embedded within the helmet, so that no high voltages are present on the umbilical. The tube and supply are embedded in the back of the helmet. The Dash Mk5 projects the CRT image via a folded optical path directly on to the spherical section visor. All symbology is calligraphic, produced by a programmable stroke generator, and a green phosphor is employed. Integration of HMD modes, HOTAS controls, and weapons system modes have been done in the Tejas Mk1’s mission computer operational flight programme and are specific to the IAF’s requirements. The two-way airborne data-links are likely to be supplied by HAL, which, among other systems, will be supplying the RAM-1701AS radio altimeter, TACAN-2901AJ and DME-2950A tactical air navigation system combined with the ANS-1100A VOL/ILS marker, CIT-4000A Mk12 IFF transponder, COM-1150A UHF standby comms radio, UHF SATCOM transceiver, and the SDR-2010 SoftNET four-channel software-defined radio (working in VHF/UHF and L-band for voice and data communications), and the Bheem-EU brake control/engine/electrical monitoring system, all of which have been developed in-house by the Hyderabad-based Strategic Electronics R & D Centre of HAL.
The open-architecture IDAS has been under joint development by DARE and Germany-based Cassidian since 2006, and will include the AAR-60(V)2 MILDS F missile approach warning system, the EW management computer and Tarang Mk3 radar warning receiver (developed by DARE and built by Bharat Electronics Ltd) and countermeasures dispenser built by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. Reusable fibre-optic towed-decoys using suppression, deception and seduction techniques that are likely to be evaluated include BAE Systems’ ALE-55, Raytheon’s ALE-50, RAFAEL’s X-Guard, and Cassidian’s Ariel Mk3, which incorporates a phased-array beam-steering device, providing full spherical coverage with 1.2 kW of power. Contenders for supplying the pod-mounted escort jammer include IAI/ELTA with its ELL-8251, and RAFAEL’s Skyshield. For self-protection, Elettronica of Italy has proposed its Virgilius family of directional jammers (as part of the IDAS suite), which make use of active phased-array transmitters for jamming hostile low-band (E-G) and high-band (G-J) emitters.
For tactical strike missions, the ‘Tejas’ Mk2 will be equipped with the Litening-3 LDP and RecceLite tactical reconnaissance pod—both built by RAFAEL. The customised frameless canopy actuation system and retractable aerial refuelling probe are likely to come from UK-based Cobham. The triple-ejector racks are likely to be supplied by either US-based EDO Corp or Cobham Mission Equipment. The rack is a weapon-suspension unit that attaches to an aircraft’s weapon pylons, enabling each pylon to carry three weapons. The mission planning-cum-debriefing system is likely to be custom-developed by Israel’s Rada Electronics Industries, which had earlier developed a similar system for the Su-30MKI.
Weaponisation of the ‘Tejas’ Mk2 is still work in progress, with the Astra Mk1 BVRAAM, now being developed by the DRDO’s Hyderabad-based Defence R & D Laboratory (DRDL), allowing IAF pilots to hit enemy aircraft up to 44km away and at altitudes of up to 20,000 metres. The follow-on Astra Mk2 will have a longer range of 80km. Once it is 15km from the target, the Astra Mk1’s on-board Agat-built 9B-1348E radar will pick up the target for terminal homing. When the target is within 5 metres, the Astra’s radio proximity fuse will detonate its warhead, sending a volley of shrapnel ripping through the targeted aircraft. A drawback in the Astra Mk1 remains its high weight. In comparison with the Astra Mk1’s 150kg, other BVRAAMs like the Derby weigh around 100kg only, while the Vympel R-77 weighs 175kg.
A huge area of disappointment within the R & D programme for the ‘Tejas Mk2’ has been the development status of the indigenous GTX-35 Kaveri turbofan, which remains elusive. Under development by the DRDO's Bangalore-based Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) since 1986, its R & D effort has thus far incurred a cost of Rs28.39 billion (US$640 million). Thus far, nine prototypes of Kaveri and four prototypes of Kaveri’s core (Kabini) have been built. About 1,975 hours of ground-testing and altitude-testing has been conducted on the Kaveri and its cores. Kaveri engine prototype K-9 has been integrated with an IL-76MD flying testbed at Russia’s Gromov Flight Research Institute. After adequate engine ground runs and taxi trials, the maiden flight-test of the K-9 for over one hour was successfully completed on November 3, 2010, and was followed by three more flight-tests. These flight-tests covered 6km altitude and a speed of Mach 0.6. The Kaveri engine development project was sanctioned on March 30, 1989 with a probable date of completion (PDC) of December 1996 at a cost of Rs3.82 billion. The project cost was later revised to Rs28.39 billion. Some of the major reasons for time and cost overruns have ab-initio development of engine, lack of skilled manpower in engine manufacturing, enhancement in the scope of project during development, lack of infrastructure for engine manufacture testing and component-/systems-level testing within India. Flying Test Bed (FTB) trials was not originally included as a milestone in the project, while engine and component failures during testing, which is inevitable in this kind of project, resulted in changes in design and materials, based on various reviews. Also, accordance of less priority from foreign engine manufacturers in view of the minimum order quantity (MOQ) vis-a-vis the production order quantity from other engine manufacturers, and US sanctions imposed after mid-1998 affected the delivery of critical systems and components. Requests for Proposals (RFP) were floated by the GTRE in July 2005 for a undertaking a ‘peer review’ of the entire project and suggesting financially viable ways of achieving successful R & D closure over a 15-month period and undertaking joint production of the Kaveri with foreign engine manufacturers. Four entities--GE, Pratt & Whitney, Snecma Moteurs and NPO Saturn--submitted their proposals within two months. Yet, it was only in February 2007 that the DRDO awarded a contract to Snecma Moteurs for technical assistance in working out the Kaveri’s engineering development problems, especially the fabrication technologies required for bulk production of the Kaveri’s single-crystal turbine blades, which the MoD’s Hyderabad-based Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd (MIDHANI) has been unable to master thus far. The DRDO has since proposed to develop the Kaveri’s production version (K-10) on a co-design and co-development basis with France’s Snecma Moteurs. The technical evaluation for this proposal has been completed. A Tender Purchase Committee (TPC) with members drawn from from the DRDO, HAL, IAF, Indian Navy, and the MoD’s Integrated Finance (R & D) Dept is now negotiating the commercial aspects of a contract.--Prasun K. Sengupta