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September 12, 2015

Let IAF test-fly 5th-Gen fighters, Russia told

 Ahead of PM Narendra Modi's visit to Moscow in December, India has asked Russia to allow IAF test pilots to fly its fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) to evaluate its capabilities.

"Flight-testing will help decide the way forward on the collaboration between the two countries on the FGFA. All options, ranging from an off-the-shelf purchase of 60-65 jets to joint production, are on the table," said a top defence ministry official on Friday.

The fact that India needs an FGFA, which combines stealth, super-cruise capability, super-maneuverability, data fusion and multi-sensor integration on a single fighter, in the years ahead cannot be disputed.

For a country that is yet to even make its first indigenous fighter (the fourth-generation Tejas) fully-operational, the choice is limited. While the F/A-22 'Raptor' of the US is the world's only fully-operational FGFA as of now, the Russian Sukhoi T-50 and the American F-35 'Lightning-II' Joint Strike Fighter are the ones undergoing final developmental tests.
But having repeatedly rejected the FGFA overtures made by the US, India was slated to seal the project to co-develop and co-produce the Sukhoi T-50 with Russia at least three years ago.

It was after all way back in 2007 that the Indo-Russian inter-governmental agreement for the FGFA was inked. It was followed by the $295 million preliminary design contract in December 2010.

India, along the way, also slashed its requirement from the original 166 single-seat and 48 twin-seat fighters to just 127 single-seat jets. The overall FGFA project cost for making all the 127 fighters in India was pegged at around $25 billion.

But technical, cost and delivery timeframe wrangles have kept the final design contract — under which both sides were to chip in an initial $5.5 billion each for prototype development and infrastructure - far away from being inked till now. "The off-the-shelf purchase is being considered since the final R&D contract may take more time," said the source.
A cash-starved Russia, which is now cranking up its arms sales to Pakistan much to India's discomfiture, hopes Modi's visit will break the logjam on the FGFA. India, in turn, wants Russia to "compress" the delivery timeframe to around 36 months from the original 94 months, as was first reported by TOI.

All this comes in the backdrop of the Modi government scrapping the deadlocked $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project with France for 126 Rafale fighters (108 of which were to be made in India) earlier this year. Instead, the Modi-Hollande summit in April decided that India would buy 36 Rafales in a direct acquisition deal with France. 
- TOI

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