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|July 13, 1998||
US sanctions hit progress on LCA and light chopper projects
India's two most ambitious projects -- the Light Combat Aircraft and the Advanced Light Helicopter -- have been thrown out of gear following American sanctions in the wake of Pokhran nuclear tests in May.
The United States has put an embargo on the sale of GE 404 jet engines which was to be fitted into the LCA, slated for induction into the Indian Air Force combat fleet after full flight trials.
The US is also denying the fly-by-wire system for the aircraft. The fly-by-wire technology sold earlier by the US firm Martin Meritta has been withdrawn. The American software engineers who were working in Bangalore adapting the systems to the Indian LCA and making necessary software changes are being withdrawn.
A team of Indian scientists (software experts) who were posted at Meritta factory in the US are also being sent back to India. The Indian scientists and engineers involved in the LCA project for testing and flight proving of different sub-systems for the aircraft at the US air bases are being asked to return to India.
This is the first major setback to the multi-million LCA project conceived in 1985. The LCA was expected to enter squadron service with the IAF in the year 2003.
For the Advanced Light Helicopter, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited had approved the outright purchase of 30 American LTHC engines for civil version of the helicopter. Later, the ALH steering board decided to install the LTHC engine into the naval version of the helicopter for anti-submarine and anti-vessel warfare roles.
The ALH being developed for the last nine years was being test-flown with the French Turbomeca 333 engine. A number of such engines had been purchased, based on which several flights of ALH for defence use had taken place.
Now, with the American embargo, the IAF and army are having discussions with the ministry of defence to go back to the French for engine for ALH.
According to defence experts, the French have offered an engine with higher power, which is either more than or equivalent to the American LTHC engine. The French Turbomeca engine is reported to be much lighter in weight which could enable the ALH to carry more load.
The ALH project is now likely to suffer more delays because of the engine problem.
Defence experts say denial of GE 404 engine for the LCA and the LTHC engine by the US would amount to breach of agreement. They feel the supply of such equipment should not be covered under the sanctions.
The experts feel that India would have to be more careful in holding negotiations with the American companies for future supply of defence equipment and components.
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