Air Defence System (ADS) is in the final stages of ordering and so
the time is right to contemplate the design for our future stealth
medium combat aircraft (MCA) –– possibly a naval strike-fighter
to operate from the aircraft-carriers.
reports indicate that the concept studies on a twin-engine MCA were
undertaken for induction around the year 2015. It is likely to be a
stealth strike-fighter optimised for the air-to-surface role.
Reportedly the only components common with Tejas the Light Combat
Aircraft (LCA) will be part of the wing, the Kaveri engine, and an
array of proven systems and subsystems.
proven LCA delta wing gives good performance and its aerodynamics
are now well understood to justify retention, however a higher wing
loading has been preferred. The fly-by-wire (FBW) controls in
combination with a delta platform have certain advantages,
especially in terms of high fuel storage, increased manoeuvrability,
less control surfaces and low radar cross section (RCS). The
instability which occurs during low-altitude penetration with
significant payloads are minimised, thus the crew does not come
under undue strain during long-range missions. The MCA will
additionally use a radar-absorbent material (RAM) coating to reduce
MCA will have a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of about 18 tons.
With the emphasis on stealth, the MCA will have two small,
outward-canted fins and the Kaveri engines will be without
afterburners to minimise IR (Infra-Red) signature. For partial
compensation for lack of afterburners, the Kaveri engines on MCA
will have a slightly higher dry thrust than the LCA engine. These
engines will also have thrust-vectoring (TV) nozzles for manoeuvring.
Thrust-vectoring engines may prove to be invaluable to MCA. Apart
from letting it use shorter airstrips for landing and take-off, TV
engines will prove to be of immense value in dodging incoming enemy
beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles (AAMs) at extreme
super-cruise capability of supersonically sustained flying without
use of afterburners is not being sought for the MCA. But
super-cruise capability is critical to compound the tracking
problems of enemy ground-based defences. Moreover super-cruise
capability will by default increase the range of air-to-ground and
air-to-air ordnances permitting more stand-off distance to ensure
survival of the MCA platform. This aspect is useful since MCA may
have to fulfill risky SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence)
missions and have to destroy enemy high-value thus well-protected
military, commercial and industrial assets. A decent ranged ALCM
(Air Launched Cruise Missile), perhaps a further development of
Indo-Russian BrahMos should be a top priority. MCA should be a
twin-seat design for optimum distribution of pilot-workload during
critical and psychologically demanding missions.
for stealth reasons, external conformal fuel tanks will be mounted
above the wings, as is being considered for the LCA. Conformal fuel
tanks increase mission range to a considerable degree while the MCA
will be free to manoeuvre to the full. Stores will be carried
externally, however, possibly conformally under the wing and
fuselage, and will therefore increase RCS until released. This
aspect is less than ideal and provision should be made for internal
weapon bays to carry weaponry in missions that demand extreme
stealth attributes. Additional stores should be semi-recessed under
fuselage either in conformal style or laterally.
is too early and speculative to go to details regarding avionics. An
ASEA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar will be obligatory.
ASEA beams are difficult to detect while they can detect hostile
emissions and neutralise them with their jamming transmitter. For
passive navigation and attack high-quality Forward-Looking Infra Red
(FLIR) and Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) will be necessary.
Combination of ASEA radar, IRST and FLIR will ensure that MCA will
remain aware of potential air-threats even while firmly focused on
EW (Electronic Warfare) suite should contain in addition to standard
RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) and chaff/flare dispensers, towed
decoys and directed-energy weapons to snap the guidance of incoming
AAMs. With wide choice of guidance methods for future AAMs like
active-radar, infra-red, imaging infra-red and passive homing,
drastic countermeasures become obligatory.
a bold step the MCA may be designed from outset as a naval
strike-fighter with reinforced airframe and undercarriage and
“arrestor-hook”. The thrust-vectoring engines by default will
permit shorter take-off and landing-approach speeds. It will provide
our Naval Air Arm the flexible Nuclear-delivery platforms if
situation demands. MCA will in addition be able to make
instantaneous post-attack assessment and may be recalled or
redirected to a different target even while it is enroute to its
targets. In an “all-out” nuclear scenario usually the naval
stealth SSBN (Submarines, Ballistic missile armed, Nuclear powered)
and Nuclear strike-fighters from mobile aircraft-carriers hold the
key to massive punishing retaliation. Land-based versions of
naval-MCA could also be developed with relative ease.
points out that it is difficult for land-based fighters to adapt to
a maritime role, but naval fighters can easily be adapted for land
based applications. This trend continues and United States F-4
Phantom and French Rafale are glaring examples. If all goes well,
the LCA and the MCA, along with the indigenously developed advanced
light helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, is to put India on the map as a major
aerospace manufacturing nation. It should also silence a section of
media that repeatedly negatively criticize our defence research
scientists and professionals.
capability and self-reliance has many-fold benefits. A solid
foundation on our own capability can be set up. Sanctions do have
only a marginal effect and can be ignored. Interestingly foreign
collaborations are easy to attract if strong indigenous capability
is built up as resources can be shared.
who negatively criticize our indigenous capability and production
are either ignorant or choose to ignore the fact that after USA,
India has the largest pool of scientists and qualified technical
brains and personnel in the world. The United States does not suffer
from such illusions. The projected transfer of “dual-use” high
technology between United States and India in fields of peaceful
nuclear research and space exploration through “glide path”
program, indicates the deep American respect for Indian human
resources, technical ability and knowledge absorption.
is natural to harbour trust and reliance on branches of our Armed
Forces along with our defence research scientists and personnel. For
their part the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)
and associate organisations should enter into reciprocal
joint-development of military hardware and software with established
overseas consortiums for speedy delivery of items to our defence