An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 01 October 2002

A comparison of India’s LCA with Taiwan’s Ching Kuo, Sweden’s Grippen

and China’s J 7 8 And 10 Programmes

India’s LCA

India has spent over one and half billion dollars since 1983 (of which approximately 35 per cent was allocated towards payment for foreign avionics equipment and consultancy fees) on the ambitiously challenging and ab intio development of the Light Combat Aircraft. Dr Kota Harinarayan and Dr KG Narayanan were the main architects of the DRDO project and both have left for better pastures, after struggling with the project for over 20 years. More than 50 Indian research and production agencies are involved in the project, which had to tide over sanctions imposed by the USA in 1998.

The LCA programme is severely slowed down and becoming more expensive and less promising by the day, unless, as is the view of many experts, some radical collaboration is attempted with an experienced aircraft manufacturer. From its very inception, the Indian DRDO scientists kept declaring over-optimistic target dates to gain both funding and customers, keeping the IAF and the Navy attempts to monitor the progress at bay.

The Government has now sanctioned a series production of six LCAs at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., possibly to ensure service participation and funding from the Air Force budget. The LCA programme is steered by the Aeronautical Development Authority, Bangalore. It has so far achieved 50 flying hours and speeds of 610 Kmph through 12 flight tests on a Technology Demonstrator aircraft (TD1), a 30 minute maiden flight by TD2 on 6 June 2002 piloted by Wing Commander Tarun Banerjee, and a few other flights.

The first two experienced test pilots Wing Commanders R Kothiyal and R Nambiar have left the project to further their service careers having spent a decade on the LCA. The test flight preparation is a tedious and expensive activity. The ADE validates the control laws by the Minibird and Ironbird test rigs at Bangalore. It also does development work on the FCS and other systems, at Calspan Buffalo in USA and BAe.

It is now accepted that the small, light weight, delta configuration, tail less LCA design is the smallest unstable fly by wire platform ever tested, and TD 2 is due to attempt the challenging supersonic flight. Fingers in Bangalore remain crossed.

The 8.5 ton tail-less composite airframe fighter plane is fitted with equipment from Ericsson/Ferranti (multi-mode radar), Martin Marietta (flight controls), General Electric (F404-F2J3 turbofan with reheat), BAe (control law consultancy), Alenia (CFC wing panels), Honeywell (Inertial Navigation System and ring laser gyro), Sagem, Sextant, Martin Baker (ejection seats),  Moog (actuators) and many other foreign and Indian suppliers who have been mainly associated with the project for the technology demonstrators.

This was a major flaw in the initial planning of LCA. The over optimistic DRDO had decided ab initio to replace the GE engine with the untested indigenous Kaveri GTX 35VS engine expected to generate 18,078 lb of thrust, 13% more than GE 404. This engine made by GTRE in India with help from Snecma, and most other avionics in the final versions, including the ejection seats, were to be finalised later. They now accept that the Kaveri engine still undergoing tests in Russia will not be ready within the time frame and even if it is, and other equipment is changed, it will need reworking all over again and the suppliers have warned them on shifting goal posts. ADA head Verma is heeding this very serious warning. The project is therefore at a crucial stage.

One could learn some lessons from a comparison with similar LCA programmes of China, Sweden and Taiwan, which have been equally challenging but have succeeded sooner.

A severe debate is therefore raging in the corridors of the Air force and Naval Headquarters whether this most delayed project will see operational induction of the planes into the IAF by 2007 as announced by the outgoing Director, Dr. Kota Harinarayan who has handed over to M B Verma or will it be obsolescent when it does. The IAF, fearing delays, have made a pitch to order 140 upgraded 2000H from Dassault to augment the 45 Mirages in the two Squadrons at Gwalior and to replace the MIG 21bis Fleet, as it has been the centre of controversies with accidents and loss of pilots.

HAL has volunteered to carry out assembly of Mirages on the lines where it produces the Jaguar, and the SU 30 MKI. The Navy has been promised the LCA with folding wings with a capability to launch at 100 knots speed from the 37,500 ton Air Defence Ship to be built at the Cochin Shipyard, with a take-off mass of 12 tons from a 12 degree ramp. The recovery will be by arrestor gear at 120 knots landing speed and the Navy is skeptical whether this can be achieved by Indian scientists, especially if the carrier is to be designed around this plane. Hence the Navy has pitched for the MIG 29 K or Rafael. The Russians have carried out trials of MIG 29K for the Indian Navy at a specially prepared airfield near Moscow.

Sweden’s JAS 39 GRIPEN

The only other new generation multimission small fighter to enter operational service is the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen now on order by South Africa. This programme was started in 1979 to replace the Saab 37 Viggen and Saab 35 Draken. The first prototype flew in ten years on 9th December, 1988. Software challenges, which led to two Gripen crashes have been studied by the LCA team. However the test pilot Radestrom, in both the crashes survived, and was able to explain the overloading of shock movements, and the project succeeded with BAe and US help. The Swedish Government ordered 96 single seat JAS 39A and 14JAS 39B aircraft in 1992 for fighter, attack and reconnaissance roles.

As all Gripen aircraft are able to perform these missions another 204 aircraft, including 28 two seaters, have been ordered. Propulsion is provided by a licence-built version of the GE F404-400 engine (54 kN, 12,120 lb thrust dry and 80 kN, 18,100 lb thrust with afterburner). The fighter features an advanced Ericson Pulse Doppler radar and integrated crew station. Weapons include the AIM-9L/M (until the availability of the IRIST) short range air to air missile, AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range air to air missile, Saab Rb 15 and AGM-65 Maverick air to surface missiles, DWS-39 standoff munitions dispenser and various bombs, rockets and an internal 27mm Mauser cannon. Aircraft deliveries are to begin in 2003 with the designation JAS 39C (single seat) and JAS 39D (two seat) and will incorporate a higher thrust engine, improved radar, crew station enhancements, an IR sensor, enhanced signature reduction and other improvements.


Taiwan has always had a close relationship with the US Military Industrial Complex. The CHING KUO IDF (International Defence Fighter Ching Kuo) twin-engine project commenced in 1985 two years after India, with R&D funding of $2.5 billion for a seven-year period. It was initiated following the USA’s refusal to supply ROCAF with up to 150 General Dynamics F-16A/B. Bound by the Sino–US Shanghai II joint communiqué of 1982, which prevents Washington from supplying weapons off-the-self to Taiwan, but permits private US companies to supply the weapons technologies to their Taiwanese counterparts, CSIST and AIDC began creating a design team for an indigenous multi-role fighter with the help of California-based Eidetics International.

The Regan Administration proposed that General Dynamics be made the project’s prime design consultant in 1983. This was followed by the creation of a joint venture company between AIDC and the Garrett subsidiary of Allied Signal Aerospace, called International Turbine Engine Company (ITEC), to develop the IDF’s powerplant, the 8350 pounds thrust TFE-1042-70 turbo fan. This same company supplied the Indian ALH project with the LHTEC 800 engine but the process was disrupted when sanctions were imposed. The first IDF prototype was rolled out very fast on December 10, 1988. It made its first flight on May 28, 1989 and second IDF prototype followed a few months later because all proven equipment were utilised. The programme did suffer two crashes. American avionics package included the General Electric AN/APG 67C multi mode fire control radar, Bendix/El-Op HUD also being selected by India, Lear FCS, Teledyne mission computer, General Dynamics HOTAS, Bendix glass cockpit, Litton LN-93 inertial navigation system and Collins communications. Over 200 IDF are on order and two squadrons are in operational service with Sidewinder missiles, bomb stations Vulcan 20mm cannons and Hsiung Feng-2 sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. The cost of each plane is around $30 million while the Indian LCA is estimated to cost $20 million, but final cost will depend on the weapon package.

China’s J-7, 8 and 10

Jianjisi is the Chinese word for a fighter and hence Chinese versions are prefixed with the letter J and the export versions with F. China consciously followed a policy since the late 60s to reverse engineer the MIG 19(J6) and 21 series fighters and improve them with Russian help which turned sour in the 70s. China also set about designing the J8 LCA and to build up the nation’s aviation industry, which is now burgeoning both in the Military and Civilian field, as its economy has grown swiftly.

The successful development of the J-7 was launched in 1981 by Song Wencong and was first flown on April 26, 1984. Inspired by the MiG-21PF, the J-7-III has a turning radius of 5904 feet at 16,400 feet altitude. Its power plant comprises a single WP-13 engine manufactured locally. Airframe design features include a larger tail and an increased backbone ridge to hold additional fuel, single-hinged canopy, larger nose intake for larger radar radome, optical gun sight, tail-mounted RWR, IFF and one under fuselage 23mm cannon with two barrels.

The 110 F-7P Skybolts (a version of the F-7M) is under delivery to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) based at Chaklala and Peshawar. The F-7P’s Defence System 7 avionics package, supplied by GEC Avionics, comprises a Skyranger 7M ranging radar with anti-jamming capability, Type 956 HUD with weapons aiming computer, air data computer, 0101 HR A/2 radar altimeter, Type 602 digital IFF, Type AD3400 VHF/UHF radio, XS-6A beacon receiver, WL-7 compass and Martin Baker Mk.10L ejection seats. F- 7P also has 24 new modifications specified by PAF. The fighters feature two 30mm guns on the wing, and have a speed of Mach 2.05. It has four wing store stations and one centreline station.

China’s own combat aircraft J-8 was designed by a team headed by Huang Zhiqian who died in May 1965 and Wang Nanshou, who began work on two prototypes early in 1967. The first flight took off on July 5, 1969. From then until 1979 it accumulated 663 flying hours during 1,025 flights. Gu Songfen was appointed chief designer in September 1978 and small-scale production was authorised the following year. The first of three J-8-1 prototypes was lost on June 25, 1980 and the second prototype flew on Apri1 24, 1981, equipped with the Sichuan SR-4 radar.

USA offered cooperation to thwart Russia. Two airframes were despatched to the USAF's Wright Patterson AFB in 1986 for studying potential enhancements. The J-8-2's aft fuselage has a folding ventral fin and all-flying horizontal stabiliser. It also has a pop-out ram-air emergency turbine under the fuselage. Chaff and flare dispensers and a drag chute are on the tail. The tail is 80 per cent composite. The airframe life is 3500 hours. The fighter has seven external stores stations and a single-point refuelling receptacle. Its power plant comprises two Liyang WP-13A-2 turbojets each providing 65.9 kN or 14,815 lb-thrust with afterburners.

Under the programme code named 'Peace Pearl', the Chinese gained great expertise from USA.  50 J-8s were to be upgraded under a US$500 million FMS-funded programme and 55 spare avionics packages were to be procured between March 1990 and early 1992. The avionics package was to include a Westinghouse APG-66 radar (contract worth $41.4 million signed in December 1987), fire control computer, back-up control and interface unit, CW illuminator plus flight control software, variable speed constant frequency power generator, Litton LN-39 inertial navigation system (contract signed in February 1988), GEC Avionics wide-angle HUD, mission and air data computers. It was also to have had one autopilot with attitude hold and stability augmentation, VHF/UHF and single band HF radios, radar missile detectors and jammers, and an ILS unit. The PRC terminated this programme in April 1990, primarily due to a $220 million cost overrun, and the US reluctance to proceed with the project after Beijing cracked down on Chinese pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Efforts are now currently underway to develop an export derivative of the J-8-2, powered by two augmented WP-13B turbojets each rated at 7000 kilogram’s static thrust at sea level, 6 per cent more than that of the WP-13A on existing J-8-2s. The engines are built by Liyang Machinery Corporation, which is manned by 12,000 employees distributed among three specialised factories for aero-engine assembly, blade producing, punching and pressing, welding, design institute and a warehouse. In its efforts Liyang is assisted by the China National Aero-Engine Corporation (CAREC), which is staffed by 2000 senior engineers and has seven subsidiary factories manufacturing engines. CAREC also has four specialised research institutes, which include the Shenyang Aero-Engine Research Institute, Jiangyou Aero-Engine Research Institute, Wuxi Aero-Engine Research Institute, and the Zhuzhou Aero-Engine Research Institute.

China is now in the final stages of unveiling its own indigenous designed advanced LCA the F-10 fighter, which was first flown in 1998. This aircraft will be in the league of the F-16C Fighting Falcon. It is reported to have two digital computers, dual Mil STD 1553B data bus, composite construction, Litton LN 39 Inertial Navigation system, Israeli HUD and ELTA EUM 2011 radar and good engine capability assisted by SNECMA of France. China claims it has built 13,000 aircraft and 49,000 engines. It is reported the F-10 is Israeli supported and will be a combination of the Israeli upgraded F-16s and Kifir.

China’s ambition is to have an Air Force whose morale was boosted by the shooting down of the US PC3E surveillance plane off Hainan last year, with more modern aircraft like 72 SU-27 and SU-30MKs. In the field of radars, Republic of China (PRC) unveiled its JH7/FBC1 fighter-bomber, equipped with the band X JL10A “Shen Ying” pulse Doppler look up and down fire-control radar which could be fitted on the J-10 developed by the No 607 Institute of Electronic Technology at Wuxi.


India will have to audit and speed up its LCA programme, as the only major achievement has been the home made FCS, Mission computer and Quadruple fly by wire system, but it has a long way to go to prove the machine’s handling capabilities and then to weaponise it. It would be appropriate to quote Gen Liu Shunyao, Commander PLAAF who said, “Air Power will become the main fighting force in local wars and have increasing influence on the progress and outcome of war.”

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