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IAF decides on 144 Fifth Generation Fighters


By Gulshan Luthra Published: October 2012

New Delhi. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided the number of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFAs) at 144, down from an earlier estimate of about 200.


Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne told India Strategic in an interview on IAF’s 80th Anniversary that all these aircraft would be single seaters, the same which the Russian Air Force will have but some components like onboard computers and systems would be different as in the case of SU 30 MKIs.

Now designated PMF, or Perspective Multirole Fighter by Russia, the Indian aircraft would be made in India with Russian assistance, he said adding that discussions with the Russian Government are already on.

India's HAL, which will manufacture the Indian version of the aircraft, has already committed US $6 billion for initial expenses in joint development with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), which will provide the super cruise engines and certain stealth technologies.

India and Russia had signed an agreement in this regard 21 Dec 2011, to set up a 50:50 joint venture on the lines of BrahMos Aerospace and share development work. HAL will be aided by DRDO.

Indian scientists are keen to pool in Research and Development (R&D) effort, and the agreement calls for joint development, particularly in design, guidance systems and onboard software. That means India will also have a proprietary share on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

The exact costing is yet to be worked out but inclusive of the development costs, the figure could be around USD 30 billion, according to HAL sources.

Notably, a figure of 200-plus of two-seater version for India was considered earlier with possible induction from 2017 with an initial lot from Russia. Development in that time frame however is not happening.

To cut down on the development costs and the timelines, IAF has plans to begin their induction from 2020 onwards, Air Chief Marshal Browne said.

Discussions with Russia are on to sign the first R&D phase, and the first prototype is likely to be delivered to India in 2014 followed by two more in 2017 and 2019. The series production then “will only be ordered based on the final configuration and performance of the third prototype.”

The Air Chief observed that Speed, Reach, and Precision are the keywords for IAF's Transformation that is going on now.

He observed that various acquisition programmes of the Indian Air Force were going on as normal and so were the upgrade programmes. IAF had already spent around Rs 150,000 crores (approx $ 30 billion) in the last five years and that there was adequate budgetry support to execute its transformation programmes by 2027, when all the 42 combat squadrons sanctioned by the Government will be operational.

He reiterated that he expected the deal for 126 French Rafale Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCAs) to be finalised by March 2013. There are virtually daily meetings between the aircraft partners, Dassault, Thales and engine maker Snecma on the one side and IAF, HAL and Ministry of Defence representatives on the other.

On the legacy aircraft, he said that while the Soviet vintage IL 76 and AN 32 transport aircraft were already under upgrades to give them an extended life of 10 to 15 years, the tender to upgrade IAF’s 100 odd Jaguar aircraft with new engines was about to be issued – likely by October end – to the US Honeywell.

IAF tenders for Combat, Heavy Lift helicopters and Midair Refuelers have already been opened over three weeks beginning mid-September. While the combat helicopter deal has gone to Boeing Apache AH-64D, because Russia withdrew its Mi 28 helicopter, the winner in the other two would be decided on the basis of lifecycle costs. Calculations were being done now, and it should take a couple of months in each case to declare the winner.

Ministry sources told India Strategic that the selection process sometimes got delayed as vendors either give incomplete answers or left some columns blank. As disputes over interpretation can arise, it is better to get clarifications right in the beginning.

Notably, all the aircraft deals with Soviet Union/ Russia so far have been on government to government basis, including for the FGFA. This is the first time that Russian aircraft – Mi 26 heavy lift vs. Boeing CH 47F Chinook, and Il 78 against Airbus MRTT – are pitted in global competitions in India, involving mandatory offsets. If the Russians win, they will have to do what is required by the DPP (Defence Procurement Policy) and invest 30 percent of the deal back in Indian defence industry.

The FGFA programme began in 2006 and MTA in 2007, and both these, as well as for the Indian Navy's 45 Mig 29 shipboard fighters, are exempt from offsets. The Mig 29 programme is part of the Gorshkov aircraft carrier's acquisition programme, signed well before the DPP came in place.

  © India Strategic  
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