BANGALORE: NP-1, the early Navy version of the home-grown Light Combat Aircraft, made its first flight on Friday.
The final product, late now by five years, would be another three years away. Public sector company Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which is building two prototypes, will have a new naval production line “so that the Navy gets as much importance as the Air Force” in receiving its LCAs, Vice-Admiral, Mr Satish Soni, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, said at a news conference after the flight.
HAL is coming out with a trainer NP-1 and a fighter NP-2. The Deputy Chief of Naval Staff set the developing agencies a deadline of 2014 to ready the naval version for full flight, or IOC (initial flight certification.)
The Navy has an ambitious plan to have at least 40 fighter planes on its ships. “We are in urgent need of many fighter aircraft to fly from our decks [battle ships],” he said. The planes will phase out the ageing British-made Sea Harriers. They will join the MiG-29 carrier fleet.
“We need to operationalise the LCA at the earliest. We must set strong targets, identify all problem areas, fly the LCA longer than [today’s] 20 minutes and get it soon to Goa.” A ship-like test platform, called SBTF, is coming up on a cliff on the Goan shores.
The flight over Bangalore tested some of the improvisations made for the ship-based plane. The real test will be a “ski jump” or launch and critical landing in Goa towards December this year. The LCA is being developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency. The naval LCA has been sanctioned Rs 1900 crore towards the improvisations over the LCA for the Air Force. The first model, NP-1 was sanctioned in 2003 and unveiled in 2010.
Nearly 100 industries are contributing systems, design and materials to the programme. “LCA Navy is the first attempt in the country to provide a complete marine force multiplier that will give unique battle punch to the Naval Aviation arm [and] fulfil the dream of blue water Navy,’ a DRDO statement said. Vice-Admiral Mr Soni, the Air Chief, Air Marshal Mr N.A.K. Browne, and HAL’s Chairman, Mr R.K.Tyagi, were among those who watched the landmark flight at the HAL defence airport at noon.
At a news conference, Dr V.K. Saraswat, DRDO’s Director-General and Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, said the conversions were challenging and the new technologies took time.