Russia, India Forge Ahead on Fifth-Gen Fighter

 - April 12, 2013, 12:02 PM
This model of the Prospective Multirole Fighter (PMF) in Indian Air Force markings was displayed at the recent Aero India show in Bangalore. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Sukhoi announced this week that the “design and development” (D&D) phase of the Russo-Indian prospective multifunctional fighter (PMF), also known as the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), has been completed. The aircraft is a joint development with India of the T-50 that Sukhoi has already designed and flown for the Russian Air Force. “The airplane has been shaped completely,” the manufacturer stated.

According to Sukhoi, the Russian and Indian sides have agreed, specified and allocated the further work that they will accomplish in the next “research and development” (R&D) phase. A contract for this phase is expected later this year, “upon completion of preparatory work.” In practical terms, placing the R&D contract is the “make or break” point for the Indian government.

India and Russia signed a government-to-government framework agreement for the FGFA in October 2007. The next move followed in December 2010, when Russian arms import/export organization Rosoboronexport, and its contractors Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), signed the D&D contract, under which Sukhoi trained a number of HAL specialists and provided “input data and software packages” so that the joint Russo-Indian team could work together “in a common environment.” Since January last year, Indian specialists have been working in Russia and Russians in India.

“The prospective multifunctional fighter being developed will have some differences from the prototype [T-50] aircraft so as to address the specific requirements of the Indian air force,” Sukhoi said. Earlier this year Indian air force commander ACM N.A.K. Browne said the Indian version will use the same airframe, engines and main systems, but differ in mission hardware and software, as well as weapons nomenclature. The aircraft for the Indian air force will be built locally, starting in 2022.

In the meantime, Sukhoi reported last month that the four T-50 prototypes have logged approximately 200 test flights in addition to 250 flights carried out by testbed aircraft and flying laboratories dedicated to the development of the stealthy new combat aircraft. Ground testing continues on a pair of specially built airframes. The T-50 is also known by its Russian acronym, PAKFA. The Russian air force is due to perform its own evaluation of the T-50 shortly, and expects first deliveries in 2016.

At the recent LIMA 2013 in Langkawi, Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev said that Malaysian prime minister Najib Tun Abd Razak “took notice of the large PAKFA model on display and expressed interest in this program” when visiting the Russian exposition on opening day. Although the Malaysians were briefed on the PAKFA program, the aircraft is not on offer to meet that country’s multirole combat aircraft requirement, but it could be if Malaysia were to make an official request.