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India Clears the Path for Its 5th Generation Fighter

© AFP 2023 / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEVA Russian Sukhoi T-50 jet fighter performs during the MAKS-2015, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 25, 2015
A Russian Sukhoi T-50 jet fighter performs during the MAKS-2015, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 25, 2015 - Sputnik International
Almost four years after completing the primary work for fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) project, Indian defense ministry may soon clear its research and development phase.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — A high-powered expert committee examining the feasibility and benefit of the project submitted its report on July 7 this month and ruled out any conflict between the DRDO’s advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) project. The five-member expert committee was set up by former Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar in early 2017 after some concerns were raised by the ministry officials about the project.

“That the committee found no conflict between the FGFA and AMCA projects is a positive sign, though I cannot understand why this issue was not resolved years back as this project has been in the now-on-now-off mode for close to a decade. Be that as it may, it does pave the way for further movement but it cannot be a foregone conclusion that the R&D contract will be signed anytime soon,” Amit Cowshish, former financial advisor to Indian defense ministry, said.

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The Russian-Indian Sukhoi/HAL FGFA will be based on the Russian T-50 prototype jet. Russia has developed six prototypes of T-50 and is going for the second stage of trial following the completion of the first set of flight tests recently. The two countries have signed an inter-governmental agreement in October 2007 for the project and completed preliminary designed contract in June 2013.

“An amount of Rs.1535.45 Crore ($240 million) has been spent as on March 31, 2017. Any future expenditure under R&D Contract will be known once the commercial negotiation committee (CNC) submits its recommendations to the Government,” Subhas Bhamre, India’s Minister of State for Defense, informed the Lok Sabha on July 28. Bhamre said Indian pilots and engineers have no access to the aircraft and its technologies till now.

“Finding the money for the project ($3.05 billion) will also be challenging. It is not quite clear what kind of R&D will this money be spent on if the Pak-FA prototypes are already being flight tested by Russia, which has also claimed that a new uprated engine will be ready by December. The report suggests that the HAL will co-design avionics, including navigational systems, radars, and weapon aiming devices. I am not sure that it goes to the heart of design and development of the FGFA. This is not to say that the project is not worth pursuing. I have always maintained that there is a lot to be gained from cooperation with Russia in the area of R&D in defense,” Cowshish added.

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Earlier this month, Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation, had said the second stage of the project is being discussed and it will be completed in near future as documents have been signed. "The laid down procedures will have to be followed which can be time-consuming and throw up new challenges," Cowshish concluded.

“I expect the project to get a defense ministry greenlight soon and here is the reason why. The first stage of acceptance testing of the T-50 by Russian Air Force was recently completed. Second stage flight testing is now underway; it's likely to be completed by 2018, paving the way for serial production of the aircraft for induction into service starting 2019. In other words, Sukhoi would be ready to start work on the FGFA around end-2018. A MoD decision on the project by year-end would make most sense,” Vijainder K. Thakur, senior editor of Geopolitics and former IAF squadron leader, said.

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