$8.63-billion advanced fighter aircraft project with Russia is in the doldrums

new Russian aircraft Unveiled at MAKS 2019 Air Show
Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jets perform. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

New Delhi : Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) programme between India and Russia, long hanging fire between the two countries has been formally buried, a newsline reported here today.

Business Standard referred to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval who conveyed the decision to a Russian ministerial delegation at a “Defence Acquisition Meeting” in end-February.

Doval and Defence Secretary of India Sanjay Mitra, who attended the meeting, asked the Russians to pursue the project individually and averred that India might join the programme later on, or buy the fully developed fighter jet after it entered service with the Russian Air Force.

New Delhi and Moscow have discussed the FGFA since 2007, when they agreed that Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) would partner Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau (Sukhoi) in developing and manufacturing the fighter. Indian Air Force (IAF) had planned to acquire 127 FGFAs.

However of late, whereas Russia had said that the PAK-FA met its needs, the India Air Force (IAF) had raised some objections with regards to the efficacy of FGFA. Subsequently HAL and Sukhoi had negotiated an $8.63-billion deal to improve the PAK-FA with the IAF’s requirements of stealth (near-invisibility to radar), super-cruise (supersonic cruising speed), networking (real-time digital links with other battlefield systems) and airborne radar with world-beating range. In all, the IAF had demanded some 50 improvements to the PAK-FA, including 360-degree radar and more powerful engines.

But then Defence ministry of India had been reported of desiring greater work share in the development, especially avionics of prototypes.

Indian Air Force had contended that they wanted a real fifth-generation fighter and not just an improved version of usual Sukhoi fighter jets. Proponents of PAK-FA on the other hand point out that the US Air Force F-22 Raptor was built with an extraordinary degree of stealth, but that proved to be counterproductive, since it resulted in high maintenance and life-cycle costs. Burned by that emphasis on stealth alone, US designers de-emphasised stealth while building their latest fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. Instead, they focused on building its combat edge through better sensors, highly networked avionics and superior long-range weapons.

Our inside sources at Fighter Jet World point out that issue of Transfer of Technology (TOT) was at the heart of the matter as to why India backed away from the Project. Since India was contributing equally in terms of economics, it wanted full TOT including the source codes, so that it could customise the jet as per its needs and upgrade it in future on its own.. But Russia was not ready to do that. Indian officials felt that without equal work share and TOT , the money being asked for ,,by Russia was exorbitant to say the least.

Another news that came last evening was that India might issue tendor for 167 4++ generation aircrafts within next 12-18 months which included 110 Medium Multi-role aircrafts for Air Force and 57 Naval variants. Dassault Aviation’s Rafale and Boeing’s F-18E/F Super Hornet are said to be the front runners for the same. In such a scenario, to continue with the FGFA programme would have been boarding too many boats simultaneously for the Indian government.

Meanwhile, the cancellation of FGFA might pave the way for IAF to eventually acquire the F-35 Lightning II, which comes in air force as well as naval variants. Indian military aviation, once overwhelmingly dependent upon Russian fighters, helicopters and transport aircraft, has steadily increased its purchases from America.

In addition, the FGFA’s winding-up means the loss of $295 million that India had invested in its preliminary design between 2010 and 2013

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