Indian Air Force Chief Outlines Fighter Jet Plans

 - September 21, 2012, 11:40 AM
The second prototype of the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA lands at Zhukovsky airbase during the recent Russian Air Force 100th anniversary airshow. India is negotiating development of its own version, the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

An Indian negotiating team is heading for Russia to finalize details of the country’s participation in development of the Sukhoi T-50, also known by the Russian acronym PAK FA and by India as the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). India is providing half of the expected $11 billion cost to develop the aircraft, and earlier signed a preliminary design contract worth $295 million. The Indian development contract is expected to take six months to conclude, AIN has learned.

In an exclusive interview, Indian air force chief of staff Norman Anil Kumar Browne told AIN, “The contract incorporates our specifications, which are very demanding.” Browne drew a distinction between the FGFA version and the original PAK FA, three prototypes of which are already flying. “We still do not know what [our] final version will be like until we finish. What I can say is that it will be very different from the Russian version, including weapons, avionics and sensors.”

The PAK FA development program needs to complete 5,000 sorties, Browne said. “So we have work to do. The fourth prototype will fly soon,” he predicted. Government defense contractor Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) will be participating in design and development. Following signature of the contract, HAL officials and Indian Air Force (IAF) test pilots will be based in Russia for seven years during the R&D phase.

“[The IAF] will get three prototypes for testing–the first in 2014/15, the second in 2017 and in 2019 the final one, which will be the version we order,” said Browne. Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev said recently that his service would receive production aircraft in 2015.

The IAF had “preliminary thoughts” about acquiring the Lockheed Martin F-35 in 2004/2005, but signed the MoU with Russia for the FGFA in 2007. “I am confident the F-35 will be a good machine. But now we have a concrete plan. We have crossed the time [line] and cannot commit to more than one project,” said Browne when asked whether India could still consider the F-35.

India initially planned to have 166 single-seat and 48 two-seat FGFAs, but recently it decided to take all 214 as single-seaters. AIN understands that the decision was driven by the fidelity of modern simulation, as well as the additional cost of building two-seaters.