India on April 27 conducted the first flight of the naval version of its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

The 20-min. naval prototype (NP-1) test sortie took place over Bengaluru and was flown by Air Commodore T.A. Maolankar and co-pilot Wing Commander Maltesh Prabhu. The aircraft executed various maneuvers, including low-speed handling and close formation flying at slow speed with another aircraft, a defense ministry official says.

The LCA is expected to replace the Indian navy’s aging fleet of British-built Sea Harriers and complement its fleet of MiG-29 carrier aircraft. The aircraft is the second short-takeoff-but-arrested-recovery (stobar) fighter in the world along with the Russian deck-based aircraft, and will be the only carrier-borne fighter in the light category.

“The design of first indigenous naval aircraft imposed huge technological challenges [on] the Defense Research and Development Organization to meet the peculiar requirements of naval aircraft, starting from saline and humid environment of operation, restricted availability of deck run for launch and recovery and high operating load conditions,” says V.K. Saraswat, chief of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

The flight allowed India to cross a major milestone in design, development, manufacturing and testing of a “four-plus” generation, carrier-borne, fly-by-wire stobar aircraft, Saraswat says.

“This project will give India a self-reliance capability in a true sense” and also help the navy win approval for additional future aircraft projects, he said.

The navy LCA’s development was initially approved in 2003 with a budget of 19 billion rupees ($362 million). But various factors delayed the first flight for about five years.

With the indigenously built Kaveri aero engine still on the testbed, the Aeronautical Development Agency of the state-run DRDO was forced to use a General Electric F-404IN20 engine.