Russia revives joint fighter project with India

Russia revives joint fighter project with India

By KANISHKA SINGH | NEW DELHI | 23 April, 2016
Sergei Goreslavsky
An impetus had come from Moscow to get things moving again after the project hit a roadblock.

Work on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), which is being jointly developed by India and Russia, has picked up speed. The draft contract for design and development of the aircraft is being prepared, after the project hit a roadblock in 2015. Sources in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that an impetus has come from Moscow to get things moving again in a bid to salvage the joint project.

Deputy Directory of Russia’s arms exporting company Rosoboronexport Sergei Goreslavsky announced in Quitol, Goa, recently that the “work is on schedule and the draft design and development contract is currently being prepared”, adding that after the process is completed, “the roadmap on the plane’s production will be determined”.

Goreslavsky added that “the negotiations are conducted constantly and intensively, but “you can’t jump over your own head, because everything has to be agreed upon by the parties concerned.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to resolve the ongoing disagreement between the two countries over the future of the programme at the India-Russia summit which took place in December last year in Moscow, but an informed source in the MoD told The Sunday Guardian: “An impetus has come from Moscow this time which is keen on solving the issues surrounding this project, especially in the light of the important deals India is poised to sign, like the Rafale deal and many others in the pipeline. Russia doesn’t seem to be willing to lose ground so easily, though they have made it difficult for themselves in this deal.”

The draft contract was supposed to be signed in 2015. Rosobonexport had also announced mid last year that the FGFA demonstrator aircraft would be made “tentatively, in 2018”. According to the company, the fighter’s rough technical design process was completed by June last year.

India and Russia had inked an intergovernmental agreement in 2007 to jointly develop a fifth generation fighter — the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA, better known in India as the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF).

The aircraft was proposed to be of a multi-role, single seat, twin-engine air superiority/deep air support nature. It was also set to have stealth capabilities and was based on the Sukhoi PAK FA T-50 prototype.

The programme hit snags in both New Delhi and Moscow. Indian Air Force (IAF) is understood to be sceptical of the aircraft and unsure about its capabilities.

The aircraft was proposed to be of a multi-role, single seat, twin-engine air superiority/deep air support nature. It was also set to have stealth capabilities and was based on the Sukhoi PAK FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) T-50 prototype, which is currently going through flight tests in Russia.

Sources said that the project has been hitting snags since it was conceived on various fundamental issues. The two sides couldn’t agree on the work and cost share, aircraft technology. There were differences on the number of aircraft to be ordered. After it had carried out its scrutiny of the first PAK FA T-50 prototype, the IAF wanted at least 40 changes to be made, including perceived “vulnerabilities” in the aircraft’s engine, along with its weapons-carrying and stealth capabilities.

The two sides had inked a preliminary contract worth $295 million in 2010. However, the final design contract has not been signed yet. The design and development contract’s proposed conditions required contributions of $6 billion from both India and Russia for the design and production of the aircraft. This proposal also included a fixed order of 154 aircraft, a compromise on work sharing and a commitment on the number of single-seat and double-seat fighters to be made.

The programme hit snags in both New Delhi and Moscow. Indian Air Force (IAF) is understood to be sceptical about the aircraft and unsure about its capabilities.

The fighter was slated to be inducted by Indian Air Force by 2022. Under the proposed deal, Russia was supposed to receive 250 jets, while India reduced its initial order from 200 to 144 aircraft in 2012 at an estimated cost of $30 billion. Late last year, Russian Deputy Minister Yuri Borisov announced that Russia would only purchase a squadron (18-24) of PAK FA jets, adding that it intends to procure additional Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets instead.

“That announcement finally led to a loss of faith for us in the programme. They tried to salvage the project. They already have the jets. They made offers to us to cut down our contribution from $6 billion to around $3.7-3.8 billion for the three PAK FA T-50 prototypes, which included transfer of technology as well,” the source said. “It is too expensive at this price also and we can’t rely on them much. They have backtracked on their commitment before in this deal. It is very thin ice. The government can choose to take a leap of faith,” the source added.

The Russian Defence Ministry recently announced that it had nearly completed all flight tests for the PAK FA T-50 prototype and it will be inducted into their Air and Space Force by next year.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defence Ministry announced that the PAK FA T-50 prototype has “practically completed” flight tests and will be inducted into the Russian Air and Space Force in 2017. Till now, Sukhoi has delivered four PAK FA T-50 prototypes along with two test beds of the jet to the Russian armed forces that are carrying out extensive testing. Sukhoi will reportedly deliver three more prototypes this year.

So far, four PAK FA T-50 prototypes, along with two test beds of the fighter, have been delivered by Sukhoi to the Russian military and are currently undergoing extensive testing. Three more prototypes are expected to be delivered in early 2016.

 

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