Defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Tuesday acknowledged that a multi-billion dollar Indian programme to co-develop a stealth fighter with Russia was facing some issues that needed to be resolved.
The minister’s comments came three days after HT reported that the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) project was facing an uncertain fate with the government deciding to set up a committee to examine how India would benefit from the programme.
“There are some issues to be addressed in terms of manufacturing, how it will be exported after the project is completed and what approvals will be required,” the minister said, responding to a question on the progress on the FGFA at Aero India-2017.
He said the ministry had constituted a team to look into various aspects of the FGFA and it was likely to submit its report within a month after which things would be finalised. A three-star officer is heading the panel.
The two countries have been discussing the project for several years but are yet to sign a $4-billion research and development (R&D) contract. India has already spent around $22 million on the preliminary design stage (PDS) of the FGFA project.
The Indian Air Force has flagged some concerns about the fighter’s design. It also wants the plane to have a more powerful engine as the existing one doesn’t give it super cruise capability. The ability to super cruise or sustain supersonic speeds in combat configuration without kicking in fuel-guzzling afterburners is a key Indian requirement.
A prototype called the T-50, built under the PAK-FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) project is undergoing tests in Russia. The first prototype flew its maiden sortie in January 2010.
India has a requirement for 120-130 such swing-role planes with stealth features for increased survivability, advanced avionics, smart weapons, top-end mission computers and 360-degree situational awareness.
The IAF does not have sufficient number of warplanes to tackle a combined threat from China and Pakistan. The count of IAF’s fighter squadrons has shrunk to 34 compared to a desirable strength of 42, a capability gap the air force is struggling to fill.
The IAF hopes to add more muscle with the induction of French-built Rafales, the indigenous light combat aircraft, more Sukhoi-30s, the FGFA and a medium-weight warplane to be built in India in collaboration with a foreign player.