DRDO Offers to Develop New Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter Aircraft for Indian Navy

The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) has offered to develop a new twin-engine carrier-borne fighter aircraft, dubbed the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), for the Indian Navy, the Hindu reported citing Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh.

According to Admiral Singh, the new aircraft will be developed based on the experience gained with the development of the naval variant of the single-engine HAL Tejas Mk-1 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and should be ready by 2026.

“The Qualitative Requirements are being made. They said they should be able to push it out by 2026. If it meets our time and QR requirements, we will definitely take it,” he said at the annual press conference ahead of the Navy Day.

During the press briefing, he also said that the Navy expects to have the country’s first indigenously developed aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant (also called Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1, IAC-1), operational by 2022.

In a major milestone for the Indian carrier aviation development, the naval variant of the Tejas LCA, dubbed LCA Navy, conducted its maiden landing onboard the Indian Navy’s sole operational aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya on Jan. 11. This was the first time an Indian home-built aircraft is landing on the flight deck of a carrier and with it, India joined a select group of nations (USA, UK, Russia, France, and China) having showcased this capability.

Adm. Singh also said that the current LCA Mk-1 will act as a technology demonstrator and would be put to various carrier compatibility tests, and this experience will be the use for the development of the new TEDBF fighter aircraft.

Following the first landing of the LCA Navy on the aircraft carrier, the Indian Navy said in a statement that the milestone “will now pave the way to develop and manufacture the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter”.

According to Navy sources, the service is not keen to take delivery of the single-engine fighter jet as it is eyeing a twin-engine aircraft for carrier operations. This also eliminates the naval variant of LCA Mk2, also called “Medium Weight Fighter”, which is equipped with a more powerful engine (General Electric F414-GE-INS6 turbofan (98 kN) in place of GE F404-GE-IN20 (53.9 kN)), airframe modifications such as close-coupled canards, and features such as infra-red search and track (IRST) system and a missile approach warning system (MAWS).

Tejas AF Mk.2 Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) Concept
Tejas AF Mk.2 Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) Concept being developed for the Indian Air Force.

The new TEDBF fighter will be powered by two GE F-414 engines and the aircraft will have an all-up weight (AUW) of 24 tonnes. The aircraft will reportedly have a payload capacity of 9 tonnes and a maximum speed of approximately Mach 1.6. The aircraft would be comparable in size with the MiG-29K fighter jet currently operated by the Indian Navy from INS Vikramaditya.

The first flight of the TEDBF is targeted for 2025-26 with the fighter expected to be inducted into the Navy by 2031. The new aircraft will replace the MiG-29K/KUB jets that currently operate from INS Vikramaditya and will also serve onboard INS Vikrant which is scheduled for commissioning next year.

According to an NDTV report, the Aeronautical Design Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) are also studying a variant of the TEDBF for the Indian Air Force, dubbed Omni Role Combat Aircraft (ORCA). ORCA would weigh a ton less than the TEDBF as it would not have the reinforced landing gear required for carrier operations and would also thereby costs less.

Omni Role Combat Aircraft (ORCA) Concept
Omni Role Combat Aircraft (ORCA) Concept

Both the jets will be equipped with a host of new features such as state-of-the-art Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, data links and communication systems. The jets will also be armed with homebuilt weapon systems such as Astra beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).

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