The Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) being jointly developed by India and Russia is once again in focus as the Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin lands in New Delhi on Wednesday, the visit comes ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tour to India in December.
The precursor for the FGFA is the PAK-FA, acronym for Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (meaning prospective aircraft complex of frontline aviation) also referred to as T-50 built by Sukhoi Design Bureau and first flown in January 2010. Five flying prototypes of the T-50 aircraft are currently being tested.
The FGFA will have advanced features like stealth, internal weapons bay, super-cruise (supersonic cruise without firing afterburner), highly integrated avionics suite, enhanced situational awareness and network-centric warfare capability. A new and a more powerful engine and Advanced Electronically Scanning Array (AESA) radar are under development for the FGFA. Next generation weapons too are under development. India envisions a 360 degree radar coverage on the FGFA, which will be an unprecedented capability when eventually installed.
Once India reaches a final agreement with Russia, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will partner with Sukhoi in converting the T-50 into a Fifth Gen Fighter with 43 improvements requested by India. Specialists in India will be developing an onboard computer, navigation system, data displays in the cockpit and the plane’s self-protection system in addition to co-developing other systems.
The project will have equal investment between Indian and Russia and is likely to cost over $30 billion for about 400 aircraft. India plans to induct 144 of these. Though initially India wanted a twin-seat variant it later relented as the Russians demanded an additional $1 billion.
In 2010, officials signed a preliminary design agreement between HAL and Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau to jointly produce the FGFA for use by both countries. So far both sides have invested $295 million for preliminary design. Differences have cropped up between HAL and Sukhoi on the work share with India insisting parity.
Sources in the Air Force have said that the differences have been sorted out and the deal is expected to be inked in December during Mr. Putin’s visit. A final agreement will clear the way for full development and production.
The Indian Air Force expects to receive the first FGFA prototype by 2016 for user trials, followed by delivery of two more aircraft by 2019. The FGFA is scheduled to get into production by 2021, HAL sources have indicated.
The experience of FGFA will impart crucial design and development skills to India for developing future aircraft.