Officials of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) confirmed at the recently concluded DefExpo in Gujrat that there are no plans to develop an Air force version of the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) that the organisation is developing for the Indian Navy to meet its requirements for a Deck based fighter jet to operate from the Indian Aircraft carrier.
The 26-ton aircraft is designed to suit the needs of the Indian Navy, and the Air Force has showed no interest in its needs, since it is supporting the construction of the 25-ton AMCA and 17.5-ton Tejas MkII fighter planes to satisfy its combat fleet needs for the next 15 to 20 years.
When asked if the 13000 crores programme can be justified when the requirement is only for 45 units, we informed that it is an initial requirement that will be procured to replace the Mig-29K fleet, but that the Navy will ultimately procure close to 100 units as it plans to operate three aircraft carriers and has reduced its requirement for foreign deck based fighter from 57 jets to now only 27 jets to accommodate more TEDBF jets in later stages.
Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF): India’s Indigenous Fighter Jet that will fly from Navy’s Aircraft Carrier
The TEDBF (Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter) is a 4.5x generation multirole combat aircraft currently under development by ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) for the Indian Navy which is stated to replace Mig-29K by 2031.
Timeline & Updates in TEDBF programme:
- In April 2020, ADA announced that they’re working on a new design of naval aircraft as per Indian Navy’s MRCBF (Multi-Role Carrier Based Fighter) requirements to replace Mig-29K/KUBs.
- Government approval for the project was given nod in mid-2020 for which ₹13,000 crore will be sanctioned, currently 40% of the initial development of TEDBF is funded by the Indian Navy.
- At the start of 2021, the Concept Review (design) stage was initiated and two designs were proposed: a) Delta-Canard Design, b) Trapezoidal design with tail stabilisers.
- The Concept Review (design) stage was completed by December 2021 and Delta-canard design iteration has been chosen and Preliminary Design Review (stage where new technologies are tested & if mature enough, are integrated to the product subsystem) has been initiated.
- TEDBF’s first flight is planned in 2026 and is set to enter production in 2031. As far as timeline of the programme is concerned, as per ADA Chief and Project Director (Combat Aircraft), Dr. Girish S. Deodhare, ADA is confident about the timelines as most of the technologies used in TEDBF are already proven in LCA Tejas & associated programmes.
Key Features& Specifications of TEDBF:
- Design: The design of TEDBF can be seen as the consolidation of the technologies developed and validated in the LCA Tejas and associated projects into a complete new design. The engine intakes and close-coupled canards are similar to Tejas Mk2. One of the distinct features in the front fuselage is introduction of LERX (Leading Edge Root Extension) which along with the close-coupled canards will provide significant Lift to Drag ratio which will assist the aircraft in smooth take-off from the ski-jump with significant payloads. The delta wing configuration is similar to that of Eurofighter Typhoon, which acts as a rear stabilizer to provide stable lift to the aircraft (by generating negative lift at higher wind speeds). The shape of the front fuselage is made stealthier to reduce the RCS (Radar Cross-Section area) rendering it less detectable to Radars. Like Mig29-K/KUB, it will feature wing folding to suit the Indian Navy aircraft carriers. Also, DSI (Diverterless Supersonic Inlet ) will be featured which will help in the controlled and better air flow into the engines, weight reduction and reduced radar signature, thus improving stealth.
Engines &Weight capacity: It will feature 2× F414 engines from General Electrics, US, with 58.5kN dry thrust and 98kN wet thrust (with afterburner) which will enable the aircraft an MTOW (Maximum Take-off Weight) of 26 tons.
Radar, Sensors, Electronic Warfare Suite & Cockpit:
Radar: Upscaled indigenous Uttam AESA (Active Electronic Scanned Array) radar will be featured in the aircraft.
Sensors: Similar to Tejas Mk2, TEDBF is set to feature a variety of indigenous sensors developed by DARE (Defence Avionics Research Establishment), such as Indigenous Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system for passive target acquisition to be featured at the nose plug of the aircraft. Indigenous RWR (Radar Warning Receiver, most probably the next generation RWR DR-118 by DARE) at the tailfin.
Electronic Warfare Suite: It will sport an integral Unified Electronic Warfare Suite (UEWS) and a dual colour Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) also developed by DARE.
Cockpit: The Cockpit will feature the state-of-the-art Large Area Display with sideways Hands On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) for better view and comfort of the pilot.
Wingspan: Like Mig-29K/KUB, TEDBF will feature wing folding options, with the unfolded wingspan of 11.2m and folded wingspan of 7.6m. These dimensions will enable the aircraft to fit within the lift dimensions in both the carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant.
Weapons: TEDBF will have a total of 13 hardpoints that carry a wide variety of weapons along with the external fuel carrying drop tanks. It is likely to feature a mix of indigenous & foreign weapons like Astra Mk1, Astra Mk2 (under development), NGCCM (New Generation Close Combat Missile) most likely ASRAAM from European consortium MBDA, Harpoon Anti-Ship missiles, Precision Guided Munitions like Hammer and Spice 2000. The Weapon Spectrum is expected to be even wider depending upon the type of mission carried out.
Semi-Stealth Aspects: Stealthy frontal fuselage design, use of 90% by surface area Carbon-Fibre Composites, Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) coating, Indium-Tin Oxide coating on canopy to prevent radar reflections on Pilot’s helmet, S-shaped air intakes which prevent line-of-sight of the engine from radar signatures and software derived canard positions for minimal radar deflections may lead to a low overall RCS for TEDBF, rendering it less detectable to radars.
Based on the active participation in the N-LCA programme and watching the developments, challenges and achievements closely along with ADA, the Indian Navy is confident and upbeat about the TEDBF development. The support of the Indian Navy for the indigenous equipment is unparalleled and that’s one of the primary reasons it is fondly known as the ‘Builders Navy’. The TEDBF is an important programme not only for the Indian Navy, its success may also open the doors for its Air Force variant ORCA (Omni-Role Combat Aircraft) and even for exports. It is an important programme in moving Indian Aerospace Industry an inch closer towards self-reliance and contributing towards ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
Role of Naval LCA Tejas (N-LCA) in TEDBF Development: N-LCA programme commenced in 2003 and the first prototype NP-1 was rolled out in July 2010 followed by flight tests the subsequent year. Initial development of the N-LCA was slow due to the modification of Air force version of LCA Tejas and understanding the challenges in developing the naval aspects of the aircraft. These challenging naval aspects includes modification of airframe structure including strengthening of undercarriage (to absorb shocks of carrier take-off and arrested recovery), drooped nose for better visibility, modifications of fuel systems; addition of aerodynamic aspect, software controls etc. In December 2016, due to the long delay and technical reasons such as inadequate TWR (thrust to weight ratio) of N-LCA for carrier based combat operations, Indian Navy decided to pull out from the N-LCA programme but ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) decided to continue the test flying in order to attain technical maturity for the programme which later proved to be critical in the development of TEDBF. In January 2020, Commodore Jaideep Maolankar successfully carried out the take-off and landings (a total of 18 sorties in 5 days) of NP-2 prototype of N-LCA from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.
As per Vinod Kumar T.V., Project Director of TEDBF, important lessons learned in the N-LCA programme which were taken forward to TEDBF development includes the understanding of carrier interface, carrier suitability, launch capability from ski-jump of 14⁰ angle, take-off from a distance of 200m or even less at both aircraft carrier and SBTF (Shore Based Test Facility at INS Hansa, Goa), the recovery phase of aircraft, aerodynamics and flight mechanics expertise etc.
Rafale, TEDBF & Super Hornet
India is looking for a twin-engine carrier-based aircraft, as the TEDBF is not scheduled to be ready for introduction until 2026. The Navy is close to finalizing between the French Dassault Rafale and the US Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. Analysts view both as low-risk solutions due to their relatively mature designs.
The Indian Air Force has received almost all 36 Dassault Rafale fighters. Even though the IAF Rafales are land-based, they are very similar to the carrier-based variant of the fighter jet.
The twin-engine, multi-role, carrier-capable Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter, on the other hand, is another excellent alternative for the Indian Navy.
According to Boeing, the Super Hornets are improved versions of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, one of the most lethal, advanced, combat-proven, multi-role frontline fighters in service today.
The Super Hornet fighter jets can carry air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. The jet is also equipped with a 20mm M61 rotary gun inside.
Why Is TEDBF Better Than The Other Two?
Unlike the Rafale and Super Hornet, which are 4.5-generation fighter jets, India’s future indigenous TEDBF fighter is likely to be a fifth-generation aircraft.
According to reports, the TEDBF fighter will have a more vigorous thrust and payload capacity than the Dassault Rafales. The TEDBF fighters will be able to reach Mach 1.6 speeds, according to the latest numbers released by the ADA. The aircraft, which will be 16.2 meters (53 feet) long, will also be a multi-role fighter.
Combat air patrol (CAP), interception, ground assault, strike, maritime strike, reconnaissance, electronic warfare (EW), and buddy-refueling will all be possible with the TEDBF.
According to sources, the fighter jet will have an internal weapons bay equipped with advanced short-range air-to-air (ASRAM) and Astra beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles.
It will also be able to carry the anti-radiation missiles Rudram-1 and Rudram-2. These characteristics make the HAL TEDBF a potential future fighter jet for the INS Vikrant.
Compared to LCA Tejas, the TEDBF is far more practical and advanced aircraft. The TEDBF not only has two engines compared to the LCA Navy’s single-engine, but it also has more modern and higher thrust F414 engines compared to the original LCA Navy’s F404 engines.
The TEDBF will be equipped with various homegrown Indian weapons systems and avionics, including a domestic AESA radar. It will have a maximum take-off weight of between 24 and 26 tons, nearly twice that of the original LCA Navy.
The aircraft will also have a canard delta configuration with folding wings.
Official mockups of the TEDBF also show some modest measures to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross-section (RCS), such as angled air intakes and a chined nose.
While experts have previously suggested that the aircraft is a fifth-generation fighter, the overall planform of the aircraft and the absence of any weapons bay relegate it to the category of a 4.5-generation fighter.
TEDBF will be in the same weight class as the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon and somewhat lighter than the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
TEDBF To Replace Mig-29K Fleet
The TEDBF is a STOBAR fighter that will replace the Indian Navy’s current Mig-29K fleet on the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant (with a folded footprint small enough to fit in the elevators of the latter).
By all accounts, the TEDBF appears to be a viable carrier-borne 4.5-generation fighter with the same restrictions as all STOBAR fighters due to the ski jump take-off mechanism.
Nevertheless, the lead prototype is not scheduled to fly until 2026, and even if a three or four-year development period is assumed, the aircraft will not reach service until at least 2029-2030.
Given the predicted widespread proliferation of fifth-generation fighters by 2030 by other key air forces worldwide, the TEDBF could be considered a step backward as a clean-sheet 4.5-generation fighter entering service by 2030.
However, 4.5-generation fighters and enhanced fourth-generation fighter jets will continue to be used by top air forces and navies worldwide. Moreover, fourth and 4.5-generation fighters will continue to make up the majority of tactical fighters for South Asian air forces, including India’s main regional rival Pakistan.
At the Aero India 2021, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) suggested a Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) concept with twin engines to replace the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K aircraft by 2040.
For the first time, ADA verified some of the future plane’s fundamental characteristics, shedding new insight on some of the capabilities that the Indian Navy is hoping to achieve with its new carrier-based fighter jet.
The TEDBF has a maximum take-off weight of 26 tons, which places it in the upper-medium category class of jets, behind the F-35C (32 tons) and F-18 E/F (30 tons), but since it does not exceed the 30-ton mark to be classified as a Heavy category class of jets, it is fair to compare it to jets in its class.
The TEDBF will be powered by GE’s F414IN engines, which have a 98kN Wet Thrust. These engines are also used on the F-18 E/F, giving TEDBF one of its class’s most exemplary thrust-to-weight ratios.
Since TEDBF will be replacing the Mig-29K, which is currently flying out of the aircraft carriers where TEDBF plans to operate, it has a wingspan and height that are significantly less than the Mig-29K despite being slightly longer.
The Navy’s Perspective
Speaking to the media, Chief of Naval Staff R Hari Kumar confirmed that the Navy fully supports the development of the deck-based Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) program. The prototype’s first flight is planned for 2026, and the first Limited Production variant of the TEDBF is scheduled for 2031.
From 2034-35, a 26-ton deck-based fighter jet will replace the Mig-29k, and the program plans to use the experience gained on the LCA-Navy to speed up development.
The Naval Project Office in Bengaluru oversees the program. From 2024 onwards, crores in development funds may be required in several stages until production begins.
The preliminary design review (PDR) for the development of the TEDBF program has begun, and work on the critical design review (CDR) will be completed two years after the PDR is submitted and approved.
The PDR is expected to be completed by 2024, with prototype fabrication and assembly beginning in 2025.
According to sources, the first pre-production TEDBF jets will be delivered in 2029, with the first two aircraft serving as technology demonstrators and prototypes.
Only the third TEDBF will be involved in carrier deck take-offs and landings, while the first two aircraft will be used for flight certification and testing systems and subsystems.
Nevertheless, if the project is completed on time, it will significantly boost India’s growing defense industry and the Navy’s ability to increase its presence in the region.