HISTORY! Indian Fighter Lands On Indian Aircraft Carrier

In a landing/take-off cycle that goes straight into the aviation history books, an Indian-built fighter today landed and then launched for the first time from an Indian-built aircraft carrier. Out in the Arabian Sea, an LCA Navy jet ‘trapped’ and then took off from the barely four-month old aircraft carrier.

The flight was piloted by Commodore Shivnath Dahiya, Commanding Officer of the INAS 552 naval flight test squadron.

The event isn’t just a first as far as aviation goes, but is a very welcome surprise in the ongoing effort to get INS Vikrant operationally ready for aircraft. Today’s arrival of an LCA Navy on the Vikrant’s deck formally kicks off aviation trials, which were expected to start only towards the end of this year. In other words, the team working up Vikrant and the LCA test teams were confident enough to go ahead early.

An LCA Navy landed on the Indian Navy’s other aircraft carrier, the Russian built INS Vikramaditya, just under three years ago in January 2020. You can read about that here.

In a series of tweets, Cmde Jaideep Maolankar, who piloted the LCA Navy test landings on the INS Vikramaditya, said, “And so now she actually becomes an aircraft carrier! Pretty much as good as it gets for a naval flt test unit. No surprises-no fus, the Navy way. The images capture essence of naval aviation — deep integration between ship and aircraft! Not visible in the photos is the fantastic depth in carrier suitability design and testing we now own. Congratulations Dax (Cmde Dahiya) you have truly earned this honour after >15 years of toil! Very proud of your achievements and the way you have steered this enterprise! And the whole ADA/HAL team too. And let’s not forget the Naval overseeing team at Kochi that I know (from personal experience) put in exceptional efforts to ensure the design mods and smoothing of rough edges necessary to enable safe fighter operations.”

The LCA Navy currently operates as a test platform for the aviation component of India’s aircraft carrier. After much deliberation, the Indian Navy decided not to pursue the LCA Navy as an operational fleet air platform, choosing instead to commit resources to the near-cleansheet TEDBF (twin engine deck based fighter). This despite the naval leadership keeping the door open to a future operational role for the LCA Navy as it is today. You can read about that decision here.

Today’s deck test is a very healthy sign for the teams involved. It implies confidence in systems and support infrastructure, making room for major time savings in getting the new aircraft carrier aviation ready. In the foreseeable future, INS Vikrant will likely operate some of the MiG-29K jets that operate off the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier. However, the Indian Navy’s multirole carrier based fighter (MRCBF) program has also progressed with strength in the last few months. The Indian Navy is reported to have indicated a preference in the face-off between the Dassault Rafale and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. Anywhere between 20-30 of the winning type are to be procured off the shelf by the Indian Navy to operate off INS Vikrant as a stopgap before the TEDBF comes on line, hopefully early in the next decade.

UPDATE @ 7.26pm IST

The Indian Navy has just announced that a MiG-29K also conducted a trap/launch off the INS Vikrant deck today. A very big day for aircraft carrier and a big step forward in aviation readiness of the navy’s first indigenous aircraft carrier. MiG-29Ks will operate off INS Vikrant’s deck until the Indian government concludes the MRCBF contest, in which it must award a contract to either the Rafale of F/A-18 Super Hornet.

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