India, Russia Revive 5th-Generation Fighter Aircraft Talks

After a wait of nearly a year, India and Russia have revived talks on the much-delayed fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). A high-level Russian delegation arrived in New Delhi this week to recommence negotiations over the much-delayed Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project, or as it known in India, the Perspective Multirole Fighter (PMF).

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. Under the new offer, India will have to pay $3.7 billion, instead of $6 billion, for the technological know-how and three prototypes of PAK-FA fighters. India has already pumped in PDC cost of $295 million (Rs 1,483 crore) into the project in 2010 but it got delayed because the IAF had some issues. Russia has made a new offer on the delivery of Sukhoi T-50 (PAK-FA) fighter jets to India under the joint FGFA initiative.

New Delhi has told Russia that it wants a new engine and the plane must have supercruise 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) program as FGFA is already being tested as a 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 aircraft is expected to be spread across seven years.

The PMF was supposed to be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) by 2022, with India receiving 144 aircraft for an estimated $30 billion. Russia was supposed to purchase 250 planes, however in late 2015, the Russian Air Force announced that it would only purchase one squadron of the new fifth-generation fighter jet.

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 a 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.

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. Source
Stay tuned for more updates! Jai Hind!
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