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Antony wants India, Russia to focus on futuristic stealth fighter


With turbulence hitting India's biggest defence project in the making, the critical joint development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) with Russia, defence minister A K Antony on Monday stressed "both sides must give their best" for the "significant programme''.

 Speaking at the 13th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation, Antony said it was important for the two nations to do their best during "all the phases — design, development and production — in the execution" of the FGFA project. India will eventually end up spending close to $35 billion over the next two decades to induct over 200 of these stealth "swing-role'' fighters.

 The meeting came barely two days after India finally inducted the long-delayed aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, the $2.33 billion refurbished Admiral Gorshkov, after a long delay and huge cost escalation.

 India and Russia on Monday also decided to hold their first-ever joint air combat exercise in the Peter the Great Bay - the largest gulf of the Sea of Japan adjoining Russia's coast - next year. A joint naval exercise will also be held there in 2014.

 While Russia has been India's largest defence supplier for long, notching up military sales worth over $40 billion since the 1960s, coupled with several mega projects like the FGFA still in the pipeline, their armed forces have not exercised much together. In contrast, Indian and US forces have held around 80 combat exercises over the last decade after the post Pokhran-II thaw.

 As first reported by TOI earlier, the inking of the final design and R&D contract for the FGFA has been hit by a huge delay, with Russia also jacking up costs for the futuristic project. The final design contract for the FGFA was to be inked last year, as per the then revised timeline, after completion of the preliminary design contract (PD C) phase but squabbles over the work-share have delayed its finalization.

 The 18-month PDC worth $295 million inked in December 2010, under which Indian designers and scientists were even stationed in Russia to work out the blueprints and documentation for the fighter.

 The plan till last year was that India would begin inducting the FGFA from 2022 onwards, with IAF test pilots getting three prototypes in 2014, 2017 and 2019 for trials at the Hindustan Aeronautics manufacturing facility at Ozar.

 But the timeframes will now have to be revised. The final design contract now being negotiated was pegged at $11 billion, with India and Russia sharing $5.5 billion each towards the cost of designing, infrastructure build-up at Ozar, prototype development and flight testing. Each fighter was to cost over $100 million.

 While the Indian "perspective multi-role fighter" will be based on the Russian single-seat FGFA called Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA, which now has four prototypes flying, it will be tweaked to IAF requirements. IAF had initially pitched for 166 single-seat and 48 twin-seat fighters but will go for only single-cockpit jets now to reduce costs as well as protect stealth features.

 IAF is quite confident the T-50 will meet its future requirements. Apart from ultra-manoeuvrability and supersonic cruising ability, the FGFA will carry its weapons inside the fuselage to lower its radar signature. With a cruising speed of Mach 1.7 to 1.8, it has both long-range strike and high-endurance air defence capabilities.

 IAF is making do with just 34 fighter squadrons (each has 14 to 18 jets) despite needing at least 44 to keep both Pakistan and China at bay. It's banking upon the ongoing induction of 270 Russian Sukhoi-30MKIs for around $12 billion as well as the early inking of the almost $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 French Rafale fighters to plug operational gaps till the FGFA becomes a reality.

With the ongoing fiasco over the Russian built submarine that the Indian Navy managed to destroy, I think the last thing the Russians want to do is equip India with even more high tech military gear they are incredibly incompetent to handle in any way.


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