India for own 5th Gen combat aircraft. Foreign firms could be strategic partners



IDD Bureau

India has declared that it will focus on making its own fifth generation fighter jet for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and not rely on any foreign imports for such a platform. However, this does not foreclose the option for foreign vendors, they will have a chance to be strategic partners.

The Indian effort called the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is being designed and developed by the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), the premier research institute under the Ministry of Defence. The detail design phase (DDP) has been initiated for the AMCA with a target to complete it by 2021.

The AMCA, India has projected,  will  be a fifth generation stealth fighter jet and form the sword arm of the Indian Air Force (IAF). An initial plan is to build four prototypes and fly the first one before 2025, which is six years from now.  A feasibility study for the AMCA began in 2009 with a sum of  Rs 90 crore. In the year 2017, about Rs 400 crore were allocated for the DDP.

Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria,  the IAF chief who took over on September 30 , said  on Thursday “we are putting all efforts on AMCA and have okayed the plan”.  He was addressing a media conference where he was asked  if the option of importing a  fifth generation jet was open,  he said ” No, the priority is the AMCA”.

Foreign firms will have chance:  New Delhi was in talks with Moscow for joint development and production under the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) programme, but the Russian proposal has  been nixed after the IAF said it did not meet its requirements.

Still, India would be looking for a strategic partner for the AMCA. The foreign manufacturer, who will win the bid for making the 114 fighter jets under the strategic partnership Model could be the obvious partner for the AMCA. The Request for Information (RFI) and the Expression of Interest for the 114 jets has been issued and it mandates Transfer of Technology (ToT) to an Indian partner. The foreign company winning the tender could be the automatic choice for AMCA and will get due weightage.

The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), another  agency under the MoD, had completed  the project definition phase (PDP) and it carries the experience of designing the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas.

India is looking to power the AMCA by a US-origin GE F414 engine powering a thrust of over 90kN, however, the ideal would be a 110kN.

The DRDO has tasked various labs for doing R&D on materials, paints and structures. Separate studies are under way on flight control, avionics, aerodynamics, composite structure and general systems like brakes, hydraulics and fuels systems. A super-cruise ability which give an aircraft capability to fly at supersonic speeds without the afterburner, is being developed. It will have internal bay,  carry the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, provide 360-degree enhanced situation awareness, integrated vehicle monitoring system (IVHM), serpentine air intake, infrared search and track (IRST), missile approach warning system (MAWS) and diverterless supersonic intake (DSI) are some of the features being claimed.

The AMCA team is using geometric stealth by shaping the aircraft and designing it at such angles so as to deflect away maximum radar waves. It will use radar-absorbing materials.

IDD Comment: Good beginning by the new IAF Chief. The SP model can actually get things done. Some more speed will be needed, maybe foreign collaboration in making the planes quickly. Realistically the first AMCA should be inducted by 2028. The Chinese have already tested their ‘J-20’ and claim it to be 5th Gen. The F-22 Raptor from the US is established and truly tested 5th gen fighter while the Sukhoi-57 is yet to commence production.

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