The first prototype of the LCA Navy (NP-1) will be a two-seat trainer variant of the naval fighter, and will be followed by the single-seat NP-2 (of the kind shown in the photos above). I met LCA Navy programme director Cmde CD Balaji (Retd) today at DefExpo and received a full update on the programme. Cmde Balaji says he is aiming for a full power-on of NP-1 in the next three months, a roll out of the aircraft from its final integration facility by mid-2010, and a first flight in the second half of this year.
The front fuselage of NP-1 is identical to the LCA fighter trainer that began flight tests in November last year, and therefore test points for the LCA Navy have already started clocking, according to Cmde Balaji. The only part of the front fuselage that will require a full routine of tests is a small additional control surface near the wing roots in the LCA Navy that isn't there on the air force version. The NP-1 prototype is 80% complete, with some work left on the aircraft's landing gear. The LCA Navy will also have auxiliary air intakes.
Significantly, while EADS has already begun consulting with the LCA air force variant programme, the LCA Navy is still to begin consulting with Lockheed-Martin (which won a bid to consult for the LCA Navy) since protocol clearances from the US government still haven't come through (which, personally stinks of something deeper).
"We are fully capable of completing the exercise on our own. However, we have decided to hire the services of a consultant to optimise our requirements. For example, we need to reconfigure our landing gear for a greater sink rate, etc," Cmde Balaji says.
Photos by Shiv Aroor