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September 18, 2014

Indo-Russian 5th gen Stealth Fighter Program Finally Moves Forward


India and Russia have finally sorted out all sticky issues that have been holding back an agreement on the Fifth Generational Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) program, a Russian diplomat in India said, ending the opening chapter of a program expected to build 200 jets at a cost of $30 billion.

No Indian Defence Ministry official would confirm that all problems had been resolved, especially those related to workshare between the two countries.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin discussed the matter during a summit in Brazil in July,a source in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said. Both leaders agreed the FGFA deal should move forward, the source added.

In 2010, officials signed a preliminary design agreement between India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) and Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau to jointly produce the FGFA for use by both countries. A final accord, which will pave the way for production, has been pending because the Indian Air Force hasn’t approved the design and the manufacturers have not yet ironed out how much work each side does.

India has wanted to boost its workshare from 18 percent to more than 25 percent. Both countries have invested $295 million.

The Russian diplomat said India’s share will steadily increase to 40 percent as the Indian industry matures, especially with respect to incorporating sophisticated technology into the aircraft.

India and Russia will sign a final agreement on the program by year’s end, the MEA source said.

Russia reportedly has also agreed to the Indian Air Force’s demand that the jet be a two-seat design; the prototype is a one-seater.

HAL and Sukhoi Design Bureau have sorted the list of systems and subsystems that each side will supply, a HAL official said. According to the agreement, India and Russia will jointly develop the thrust vectoring system for the plane; HAL will supply the mission software and hardware in addition to the avionics suite of the aircraft.

India’s beyond visual range missile, the Astra, is being developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, along with Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which will be mounted on the FGFA, the Air Force official said.

The Sukhoi Design Bureau and HAL proposal for the jet is a derivative of the Russian T-50 aircraft, which is in the prototype stage.

The Indian Air Force expects to receive the first FGFA prototype by 2016 for user trials, followed by delivery of two more aircraft in 2018 and 2019. The FGFA is scheduled to get into production by 2021, the Air Force official added.

Four prototypes of the Russian T-50 aircraft have performed more than 300 test flights.

An Air Force official said that is because India entered the program at a late stage of development, which benefits the Russians. The Air Force “wanted to get involved in the FGFA from the drawing board stage and it appears the FGFA project is to finance the Russian FGFA project.”

The MEA official, however, said both countries benefit, adding that Putin and Modi reaffirmed that the project must move quickly as technical issues are sorted out between HAL and Sukhoi Design Bureau.

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