Sukhoi for Bengaluru? DRDO hunts for a supersonic Flying Test Bed

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M

Bengaluru, March 16: A Sukhoi for India's Aviation Capital -- Bengaluru?

If the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has its way, an aircraft that can reach supersonic speeds would enter Bengaluru's celebrated list of fighters enjoying permanent residency.

Sukhoi 1

Sources confirm to OneIndia that the DRDO has already moved a paper to acquire a supersonic aircraft that will act as a FTB (Flying Test Bed).

The FTB is an aircraft being used for testing the performance of systems and sub-systems in airborne conditions.

The systems can range from engines, radars, data links, EW (electronic warfare) suites, radio altimeters among others.

Sukhoi 2

DRDO says the FTB reduces the cycle time for the development of airborne systems. Also, more FTBs under their command could reduce the dependency on foreign agencies.

In May 2014, the DRDO had acquired a FTP Nabhrathna -- a modified and custom-made Dornier (DO-228) aircraft, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Nabhrathna was rolled out from the hangars of HAL's Kanpur-based Transport Aircraft Division.

Sukhoi is the best bet as FTB

A committee has already been set up to look into the possibilities of acquiring the FTB. In addition to members from the DRDO, the committee has representatives from the Indian Air Force and HAL.

While Sukhoi is leading the fray, the advantages of MiG 29 are also being considered by the committee.

Sukhoi 3

The current requirement for a supersonic FTB is being explored for the primary use of Gas Turbine and Research Establishment (GTRE).

Although GTRE's capabilities in developing a desi power plant for Light Combat Aircraft Tejas have run into a rough patch, efforts are being made to carry forward the technical expertise for other engine programmes.

Sukhoi is being tipped as the best choice with a price tag of around Rs 400 crore. DRDO officials are of the opinion that with HAL's MiG Complex in Nashik already rolling out, they have the advantage of making the modifications with less fuzz.

"It's a huge process to make modifications if the aircraft is imported from abroad. We have to save time and money and Sukhoi could be the answer. Even certification too becomes easier in India," an official said.

BrahMos experiments will come handy

DRDO officials say that the modification work on Sukhoi done for launching the air version of BrahMos will come handy for DRDO.

"The BrahMos missile weighs around 2.5 tonnes while a Kaveri engine is around 1.22 tonnes. There are two pilots in a Su-30 MKI and one can easily monitor the engine and independently operate it," the official said.

With the wind tunnel test results of BrahMos already available, DRDO is hopeful that a decision is taken soon in acquiring the FTB.

"Our labs including LRDE, CABS, RCI and other national institutes such as IISC and NAL too will require a supersonic FTB," the official added.

Sukhoi 4

Once DRDO acquires a supersonic FTB, it will be flown by Test Pilots from the Aircraft Systems Testing Establishment of IAF in Bengaluru.

Currently, the DRDO operates a low speed FTB (IL-76) suitably modified to carry out Kaveri engine tests at Gromov Flight Research Institute (GFRI) in Moscow.

"We felt the need for a high speed FTB capable of high manoeuvres for assessing the engine behaviour during transients. The feasibility of using MiG-29 available at GFRI Moscow is being studied now. We have already assessed the modifications to be carried out on the MiG-29," the official said.

Photos: Basani Satheesh Kumar, MoD

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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