In yet another achievement for the DRDO in its effort to develop a variant of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for use on aircraft carriers, the fighter performed its first-ever night-time 'arrested' landing at a facility in Goa on Tuesday. The achievement brings the LCA Navy variant closer to trials off an aircraft carrier.
An arrested landing is an essential part of aircraft carrier flight operations and involves the raising of high-strength wires to snatch hold of a hook under the aircraft's fuselage as it comes in to land in order to decelerate it and bring to a halt. Arrested landings are the only method for most aircraft to land on aircraft carriers, which have very limited space compared with conventional runways.
In September, the DRDO and Indian Navy had announced the first successful arrested landing of the LCA Navy variant at the Shore-Based Test Facility at INS Hansa in Goa. In that test, the DRDO explained the LCA Navy needed to land on a stretch of just 100 metres, whereas a land-based aircraft uses a runway of about 1km in length. The LCA Navy has also proved its capability to take off from 'ski-jumps', similar to the one used on the Indian Navy's existing aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.
In a press statement, the DRDO noted the first night-time arrested landing demonstrated "ease of handling and confidence achieved in arrested landing technologies." In late September, the LCA Navy successfully completed its first 'full cycle' of a ski-jump take-off and an arrested landing, simulating its operations off an aircraft carrier.
Making arrested landings is considered a test of pilot training and skill and requires close coordination with crew on the aircraft carrier's flight deck. In an arrested landing, the aircraft's speed reduces from nearly 250kmph to zero in just a few seconds. Not surprisingly, night-time arrested landings are considered even more difficult as the pilot will find it harder to visually spot the elevated arrester wires.
The DRDO has continued development of the LCA Navy variant even though the Indian Navy had indicated in 2017 that it was 'de-linking' from the programme as the aircraft was 'underpowered'. The DRDO had begun work on the LCA Navy variant in 2003 and the aircraft first flew in 2014. DRDO is also developing a Mk2 variant of the LCA Navy that will use a more powerful F414 engine from GE in the US.