A multibillion dollar programme to develop and produce a stealth fighter with Russia appears to be in peril, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) against pursuing it as it believes that the platform lacks the desired stealth characteristics and is inferior to US-made F-35 and F-22 jets, said a senior IAF officer familiar with the project.
He clarified there were no plans to go for a US stealth fighter.
In the IAF’s assessment, the proposed Indo-Russian fifth generation fighter aircraft, or FGFA, comes with limited capabilities and design issues at an exorbitant price. “Whether the FGFA programme is on or off will be a political decision. The IAF doesn’t think it’s worth pursuing,” the person quoted above said.
The government is finding it hard to reconcile two different points of view on FGFA.
While the IAF wants the project to be abandoned, a high-powered panel appointed by defence ministry to examine different aspects of FGFA recommended in its report last year that India should go ahead with the scheme.
“We are spending more time to see what are the merits and demerits of both arguments. But yes, the FGFA is abhorrently expensive, so we are looking at what we are getting for our money,” said a top defence ministry official familiar with the project.
Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman (retd), who headed the ministry’s panel, refused comments on his report or the contrary IAF view on the stealth fighter. “I would like to leave it to the defence ministry,” he said.
India has been in discussions with Russia but has not signed a $4 billion research and development contract for FGFA.
“I was never enthused by it and I would go by what IAF has to say,” said Air Marshal Vinod Patni (retd), head of Centre for Air Power Studies and a former IAF vice chief.