Despite being involved in the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) joint program with Russia, India is developing a next-generation fighter of its own–the advanced multirole combat aircraft (AMCA).
The Indian defense ministry’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) showed a large-scale model of the AMCA at Aero India 2013 in February, in Bengaluru. The aerodynamic shape has been considerably refined in comparison to an earlier model exhibited at Aero India 2011, and even more so when compared to a model for wind-tunnel testing shown at Aero India 2009, at which time it was “MCA” without being “Advanced.” This provides evidence that AMCA is being developed in parallel with FGFA. DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Establishment is leading the AMCA program.
Addressing the next-generation fighter issue, Air Marshall Norman Anil Kumar Browne, the Indian air force chief of staff, declined to compare the AMCA and FGFA, but insisted that “homegrown” projects shall be continued, especially in the area of mission equipment and fighter engines, since “nobody will give us these technologies.”
Browne also spoke in support of the light combat aircraft “Tejas,” despite the continuing slow progress of this indigenous fighter project, which has been delayed by some 20 years. He said the Tejas would attain initial operational clearance (IOC) at the end of this year and would be through final operational clearance in 2015, with the rider that the air force does not expect this airplane to fully meet specification until the advent of the Tejas Mk.2, with its entry-into-service planned for 2024.
The AMCA is likely to be powered by the Kaveri motor, also developed in-country. This engine had been conceived for the Tejas, but ran slower than expected and was eventually “detached” from the airframe effort. Instead, experimental and series production Tejas aircraft received the General Electric F404 turbine engine and later will get the more advanced F414.
The very fact that India continues with the AMCA is an indication that New Delhi has some concerns about the FGFA. Browne hinted that because of India’s late decision to join the Russian project, the FGFA is difficult to arrange as a 50/50 program, as the baseline airframe is too advanced for that. There are also some other fears, such as maturity of the Russian technology in certain spheres. In particular, the prototypes constructed so far feature extensive use of metal in their airframes, reflecting the gaps and shortcomings in the modern composite technology available to Sukhoi. At the same time, the homegrown Tejas has a 43-percent share of composites in its airframe.
Official information on the AMCA at Aero India 2013 was limited to a one-page leaflet with three views and key marketing terms, such as net-centric warfare, vehicle management (including weapons), data fusion, decision aids, integrated modular avionics, internal carriage of weapons, signature control with sharpening for low observability, AESA radar, IR search-and-track, supersonic persistence, high-speed weapon release and thrust vectoring. It was stated that the aircraft would be able to “swing roles” variously between long/short-range and air-to-air/ground strike.
According to press reports, scientist Dr. A.K. Ghosh heads the AMCA development effort. Some observers have suggested that, unlike the FGFA, the AMCA’s primary role will be ground attack, and so it will be a direct replacement to the MiG-27M and the Jaguar. Also, there are reports about a “revolutionary” pilot station employing a panoramic active-matrix display (or displays) with touch-screen interface and voice commands, and a helmet-mounted sight replacing, rather than supplementing, a head-up display.
The AMCA is likely to be an “electronically” actuated airplane rather than hydraulically operated. Instead of the digital flight-control computer, as used on the Tejas, the AMCA is to have a distributed processing system employing fast processors and smart subsystems that can pass over and combine the processing power available in them. This requires the employment of the IEEE-1394B-STD rather than MIL-STD-1553B databus standard. The new airplane is also planned to have a “central computational system connected internally and externally on an optic-fiber channel by means of a multiport connectivity switching modules.” Also mentioned are fly-by-light, electro-optic architecture with fiberoptic links for signal and data communications.