Monday, December 20, 2010

Fifth-gen jets in IAF arsenal in a decade

It will take a decade for India to begin inducting the first lot of the 250-300 advanced stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) it is going to jointly develop and manufacture with Russia.
As per the detailed roadmap finalised between India and Russia, the “series production” of FGFA will be launched in 2019, with the actual deliveries to begin in 2020, sources said.
The stage for the entire FGFA programme, which will see India spending upwards of $35 billion over the next two decades in its biggest-ever defence project, will finally be set this week.
With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in town, New Delhi and Moscow will ink the $295 million preliminary design contract (PDC) for FGFA on Tuesday. Then, over the next 18 months, the two sides will work out the detailed design and other agreements to kickstart the actual building of FGFA.
“Forty Indian designers and scientists will be stationed in Russia, with a similar number of Russians here. A secure data link will also be set up to ensure both sides are fully in the picture all the time,” said a source.
The total cost of designing, infrastructure build-up, prototype development, flight testing and the like has been pegged at around $11 billion, with both sides chipping in with $5.50 billion each in the “50-50% partnership”.
India, for instance, will spend $2.50 billion of its $5.50 billion share in setting up infrastructure for manufacturing plants, tooling facilities and hangars.
Each “swing role” FGFA, with a deadly mix of super-manoeuvrability and supersonic cruising ability, long-range strike and high-endurance air defence capabilities, will cost an additional $100 million or so.
Cash-strapped Russia is already flying the prototype of its single-seater FGFA called Sukhoi T-50. While the Indian FGFA will basically be based on this fighter, it will “be tweaked to meet IAF requirements”.
For one,  IAF wants a twin-seater FGFA, with one pilot actually flying the jet and the other handling sensors and weapon systems. Russia, however, feels adding a second cockpit will “adversely impact” the stealth.
For another, IAF is keen on a new engine with “a greater thrust” than the one Russia is currently using for its FGFA. “All these things will take time and money… Six to seven prototypes should be flying by 2017. It will take about 2,500 hours of flying to get the final flight certification,” he said.
With IPR (intellectual property rights) being “equally and jointly vested”, India and Russia may also decide to sell the FGFA to “third countries” by mutual consent.
Till FGFA becomes a reality, India’s combat fleet will mainly revolve around the 270 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted from Russia for around $12 billion, the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft to be acquired in the $10.4 billion project and 120 indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, apart from upgraded MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s.

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