Away from the much discussed issue of how French and US companies are in the race to provide fighter jets for the Indian Air Force, India and Russia have quietly set about to conclude a pending agreement to co-develop the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). Sources confirmed to The Tribune that a deal for signing a research and development (R&D) contract for the FGFA would be inked in the coming months. The differences are being ironed out.
The R&D contract signing has been pending since June 2013 when the preliminary design contract (PDC), which detailed out the fighter’’s configuration, was completed. The PDC cost $295 million (Rs 1,483 crore). New Delhi has told Russia that it wants a new engine and the plane must have super cruise ability, a 360-degree radar ability, added stealth features among 40-odd other modifications over the existing prototype. A plane called the ‘T-50’ built by the Russians under the PAK-FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) programme as FGFA is already being tested as prototype in Russia.
The IAF said AL-41F1 engines being used on the existing T-50 were just upgraded versions of the Sukhoi-30MKI’’s AL-31FP engines and it would need a new engine. Also, the Ministry of Defence wants that the R&D contract should have an adequate share of work done in India, thus allowing Indian engineers to learn the art of designing and making a plane. The R&D contract is estimated to be for US $4 billion (around Rs 26,000 crore) and a ‘prototype fighter jet’ could be flying in India within three years. The R&D process and final development of the plane is expected to be spread across seven years.
If the India-Russia deal goes through, the Ministry of Defence-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will be the Indian partner. New Delhi is looking at huge numbers in case of its transfer of technology deal. It could be in excess of 200 jets over the next two decades, said sources. In a war scenario with China, an aircraft such as the FGFA would be ideal for missions deep into Tibet. Beijing has good border infrastructure that poses threat to India. With a dwindling fleet of fighter jets, the IAF is now operating at its lowest combat strength in more than a decade. It is down to 33 squadrons (some 16-18 planes in each) as against a mandated 42 squadrons needed for simultaneous and collusive two-front war scenario with Pakistan and China.