This has to be one of the most perplexing pieces of news in a long time. The Light Combat Aircraft Tejas needs a new radome. A helpful Livefist reader pointed me to a late 2012 expression of interest
(EOI) by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to vendors to “design, develop and manufacture radome for LCA”.
The ADA’s Directorate of Avionics & Weapon Systems in the EOI of September 2012 notes that it is “looking for alternative radome for LCA as part of their product improvement activity”. Let’s go over this slowly. A few months short of initial operational clearance, the fighter programme figures the platform needs a new radome? A reading of the document suggests that the ADA is looking for another radome to compare — if the new one is better, great. If it isn’t, tough, they’ll stick with the old one. But why are they even looking for a new one? What’s wrong with the existing radome design? Have systems trials been impeded by an unsatisfactory/faulty radome? A reading of the ADA document throws some light. But only some.
The EoI puts forth that the programme is looking for a radome “to replace the existing radome with improved EM (electromagnetic) performance) and with no change in existing geometry and pitot attachments.” OK, so there’s nothing specifically wrong with the radome’s aerodynamics or structure. Also note the following points: (a) The new radome needs to have identical geometry, though surface smoothness needs to be “equivalent or better”. It also appears that the agencies testing the Tejas are not entirely happy with the lightning protection system of the existing radome and that there is rain water ingress at the radome-fuselage junction in the current structure.
Looking for further details about the Tejas radome online, I occasioned upon this excellent post
over at www.aame.in, which reported the Tejas programme’s new radome requirement first in December last year, and must therefore have credit for breaking the story. The author of the post is right when he notes, “To my mind it indicates a level of dissatisfaction with the outcome of [ADA’s] own design efforts, and a degree of lack of confidence to see it through to the end
The questions that this EOI throws up are many: Why now? Could this disrupt programme/delivery timelines further? How bad is it really with the current radome? A new radome will involve attendant trials — will those delay the programme further? This is not a good situation for a programme that is already replete with hurdles, even now.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony today said, “The Tejas is headed towards IOC-2, but I’m waiting for FOC. The programme must be speeded up.” Yeah, well.