A Tale of 2 Navies: India and China’s Carrier Airwing Development

By The Diplomat

This is the third and final part of a three-part series reviewing Indian and Chinese carrier procurement. Part one reviewed the history of China’s and India’s aircraft carrier procurement and part two outlined the future trajectory for the two countries’ carrier and escort fleets. Part three below explores the development of carrier airwings in both China and India.

Indian Navy Carrier Airwing Development

The Indian Navy (IN)’s carrier procurement plan of the late 1990s and early 2000s dovetailed with a plan to develop a carrier-based naval variant of the single engine LCA Tejas aircraft that was being pursued by the Indian Air Force at the time. This variant was aptly named the LCA Navy. Two flying prototypes of the LCA Navy were ultimately developed, with the lead prototype making its first flight in early 2012. The LCA Navy was a STOBAR configured aircraft with reinforced landing gear, tailhook, and additional LEVCON surfaces to enable the aircraft to operate from a carrier.

The IN expressed varying degrees of interest in the LCA Navy during the 2010s, while the two prototypes were tested from land-based ski jump and simulated carrier landing facilities. The IN opted out of the program in late 2016 and then hinted at a revival in 2018, including consideration of a slightly larger aircraft with rear tails named LCA Navy Mk 2. In early January 2020, the second LCA Navy prototype made Indian aviation history by being the first domestically produced fixed wing aircraft to land and take off from a carrier, the INS Vikramaditya.

However, later in April 2020, the Indian Navy formally opted out of the LCA Navy program, instead seeking to pursue a new, larger twin engine deck-based fighter, appropriately named TEDBF, that would benefit from technologies and experience gained in the LCA Navy program.

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