India’s biggest defence project in the making, the critical joint development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) with Russia, has flown into some rough weather.
Defence ministry sources said the inking of the final design and R&D contract for the stealth fighter has been hit by a huge delay, with Russia also jacking up costs for the futuristic project. “It’s very unlikely the FGFA final design contract will be concluded in the 2013-2014 fiscal,” said a source.
This contract was to be inked in 2012 as per the then revised timeline after completion of the preliminary design contract (PD C) phase. India will eventually end up spending close to $35 billion over the next two decades to induct over 200 such “swing-role” fighters.
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.
“The time frames will now have to be revised. MoD has established a committee of specialists and finance officials to verify the rise in costs. An internal contract negotiation committee is also in progress,” said the source.
But India remains firm about rejecting the US offer for joining its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) or the F-35 ‘Lightning-II’ program. “A lot of money and time has been invested in the FGFA with Russia. India simply cannot afford two FGFAs, both financially as well as logistically” he said.
The 18-month PDC worth $295 million for the FGFA with Russia was inked in December 2010, under which Indian designers and scientists have even been stationed in Russia to work out the blueprints and documentation for the fighter.
Though 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.
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.
IAF is quite confident the T-50 will meet its future requirements. Apart from ultra-maneuverability 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 currently 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 project to acquire 126 French Rafale fighters to plug operational gaps till the FGFA becomes a reality.