India’s top defense scientist has finally discovered what it takes to be a fighter pilot. Dr. V.K. Saraswat, the Scientific Adviser to the defense minister took a backseat ride in the Swedish Saab’s Gripen D aircraft on the sidelines of the Aerospace Forum held at Linköping, Sweden, last week.
Saraswat, who also heads the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which is developing the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), was visibly excited by the prospect of the flight when he walked down the tarmac to the aircraft in his flight suit.Happily posing for photographers he gave them a thumbs up before he took off and when he landed around an hour later, seemed to have pushed himself hard pulling Gs. Grinning with a sense of accomplishment, he called the Gripen a ‘very user friendly’ aircraft and said he ‘did 2.2Gs’ and a vertical climb.
Interestingly, this flight took place a week after the head of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne took a flight in the French Dassault’s Rafale aircraft on a visit to France. The Rafale has been selected the preferred bid for the IAF’s tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
During the course of the five-year long MMRCA contest, the six aircraft companies competing in the tender invited journalists, Members of Parliament, film stars, industrialists and other prominent people to take a backseat ride in their respective fighter aircraft. But until Browne, senior air force and defense officials had always refrained from accepting invitations to fly in any of the aircraft, lest the ride be considered an endorsement.
Presumably, such considerations are no longer in play four months after the selection of the Rafale, which was in competition against Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Boeing’s F/A-18, MiG-35, Eurofighter Typhoon and the Gripen.
The Gripen and the DRDO’s LCA, both, run on the same engine, the GE F-404 for the earlier model and the F-414 for the later variants. In comparison to the development path from the Gripen A/B to the C/D and now Gripen E/F or NG, DRDO is attempting a development leap from the LCA to the Mk II and so the challenges are considerable. The DRDO has been facing problems integrating the new engine into the LCA for the Mk II and could possibly benefit from Saab’s experience with the development of the Gripen. It is understood that the DRDO and Saab have discussed this idea in their ongoing dialogue.