The air force commanders of both Russia and India have this month discussed the progress and future schedule of the fifth-generation Sukhoi fighter project. They are keen to have their own pilots evaluate the design so that they can take a decision on further funding for the project.
Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev said that he expects all four flyable prototypes of the so-called PAKFA (Future Aviation Complex of Frontal Aviation) to gather at the defense ministry’s test base and firing range near Akhtubinsk in Southern Russia, for customer assessment and weapons release trials. By the year-end their number shall increase to eight. If tests are a success, the PAKFA will go into series production in late 2015 or early 2016.
In his turn, Indian air force chief of staff told journalists at the recent Aero India show that he expects arrival of three PAKFA development prototypes in India, the first in 2015, the second in 2017 and the third in 2018. Air Marshall N. A. K. Browne said that the design and development phase of what India calls the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) is proceeding well under “a small-value contract.” When it is completed later this year, India and Russia will sign a new R&D contract “which is the mother of all phases,” he added.
Should India be satisfied with flight performance of the FGFA, it will fund the next phase: creation of a customized version for the Indian air force by a joint team of Russian and Indian engineers. The Indian version would use same airframe, engines and main systems, and differ in mission hardware and software, as well as weapons nomenclature. Series airframes manufacturing would commence at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 2022, Browne added.
At Aero India, United Aircraft Corporation’s president Mikhail Pogosyan said that Russia and India would buy “over 400” aircraft and that the total market would exceed 600. He confirmed that all four prototypes built to date are now in flight test, and said that additional development aircraft will be completed “as necessary, after the two sides sign the full-scale development contract.”
Pogosyan further insisted that both Russian and Indian versions “will be based not only on the same platform, but also have identical onboard systems and avionics.” Indian air force specialists had been involved in working out specification to the aircraft “from the very beginning and through all development phases.” He continued, “It may happen that in future there will be some specific [national] requirements for onboard systems or additional missions, but these would be formally agreed by both customers.” Pogosyan expects the FGFA to follow the Su-30MKI/MKM example, in which “the Indian and Malaysian air forces use the very same platform, with the difference confined to a few avionics items.”