India, Russia close to agreement on next generation fighter - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 4 January 2010

India, Russia close to agreement on next generation fighter

A US Air Force F-22 Raptor, the only 5th generation fighter in service today. A Russian-Indian JV will soon be formed to build a Gen5 fighter for both air forces.

(A two-part series on the 5th generation fighter)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Jan 2010

Late last year, a defence ministry delegation to Sukhoi’s flagship aircraft facility in Siberia became the first Indians to set eyes upon the next-generation fighter that is slated to form the backbone of the future Indian Air Force (IAF). In that first meeting, carefully choreographed by Sukhoi, the new fighter, standing on the tarmac waved a welcome to the Indians, moving all its control fins simultaneously.

The effect, recounts one member of that delegation, was electric. The senior IAF officer there walked silently up to the aircraft and touched it almost incredulously. This was the Sukhoi T-50, the first technology demonstrator of what India terms the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Senior MoD sources tell Business Standard that --- after five years of haggling over the FGFA’s form, capabilities and work-share --- a detailed contract on joint development is just around the corner.

The contract, which Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will sign with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), will commit to building 250 fighters for the IAF and an equal number for Russia. The option for further orders will be kept open. HAL and UAC will be equal partners in a joint venture company, much like the Brahmos JV, that will develop and manufacture the FGFA.

The cost of developing the FGFA, which would be shared between both countries, will be US $8-10 billion (Rs 37,000-45,000 crores). Over and above that, say IAF and MoD sources, each FGFA will cost Rs 400-500 crores.

Sukhoi’s FGFA prototype, which is expected to make its first flight within weeks, is a true stealth aircraft, almost invisible to enemy radar. According to an MoD official, “It is an amazing looking aircraft. It has a Radar Cross Section (RCS) of just 0.5 square metres as compared to the Su-30MKI’s RCS of about 20 square metres.”

[That means that while a Su-30MKI would be as visible to enemy radar as a metal object 5 metres X 4 metres in dimension, the FGFA’s radar signature would be just 1/40th of that.]

A key strength of the 30-35 tonne FGFA would be data fusion; the myriad inputs from the fighter’s infrared, radar, and visual sensors would be electronically combined and fed to the pilots in easy-to-read form.

The FGFA partnership was conceived a decade ago, in 2000, when Sukhoi’s celebrated chief, Mikhail Pogosyan, invited a visiting Indian Air Force officer out to dinner in Moscow. Boris Yeltsin’s disastrous presidency had just ended, and Russia’s near bankruptcy was reflected in the run-down condition of a once-famous restaurant. But, as the IAF officer recounts, the vodka was flowing and Pogosyan was in his element, a string of jokes translated by a female interpreter.

Late that evening Pogosyan turned serious, switching the conversation to a secret project that, officially, did not even exist. Sukhoi, he confided to the IAF officer, had completed the design of a 5th generation fighter, as advanced as America’s F-22 Raptor, which is still the world’s foremost fighter. Russia’s economy was in tatters, but Sukhoi would develop its new, high-tech fighter if India partnered Russia, sharing the costs of developing the fighter at Sukhoi’s plant, Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Organisation (KnAAPO).

Reaching out to India was logical for Russia. During the 1990s --- when thousands of Russian military design bureaus starved for funds, and a bankrupt Moscow cancelled 1,149 R&D projects --- India’s defence purchases had kept Russia’s defence industry alive, bankrolling the development of the Sukhoi-30 fighter; the Talwar-class stealth frigates; the Uran and Klub ship-borne missiles; and the MiG-21 upgrade.

But co-developing a 5th generation fighter is a different ball game, financially and technologically, and India’s MoD hesitated to sign up. Meanwhile enriched by hydrocarbon revenues, Moscow gave Sukhoi the green light to develop the FGFA, which Russia terms the PAK-FA, the acronym for Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (literally Prospective Aircraft Complex of Frontline Aviation).

Today, Russia is five years into the development of the FGFA. In Nov 07, India and Russia signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement on co-developing the fighter, but it has taken two more years to agree upon common specifications, work shares in development, and in resolving issues like Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

The prototype that Sukhoi has built is tailored to Russian Air Force requirements. But the IAF has different specifications and the JV will cater for both air forces, producing two different, but closely related, aircraft. For example, Russia wants a single-seat fighter; the IAF, happy with the Su-30MKI, insists upon a twin-seat fighter with one pilot flying and the other handling the sensors, networks and weaponry.

Negotiations have resolved even this fundamental conflict. India has agreed to buy a mix of about 50 single-seat and 200 twin-seat aircraft. Russia, in turn, will consider buying more twin-seat aircraft to use as trainers. But even as both countries narrow their differences, fresh challenges lie ahead: preparing India’s nascent aerospace industry for the high-tech job of developing and manufacturing a 5th-generation fighter.

(Coming up tomorrow: FGFA negotiating hardball; Russia says India brings little to the table)


  1. Good article Ajaiji. Thanks.

    But one big question, is that 0.5 m^2 RCS for PAK FA correct? I mean many 4th generation fighters like Eurofighter and Rafale have lower RCS. F-22 has a frontal RCS of 0.0001~0.0002 m^2.

  2. Can you please give an insight in to MCA w.r.t performance , timeline , etc.

  3. Ajai,
    Thanks for your news.
    Is RCS of 0.5 square meters a great deal? Even 4th gen fighters have much lesser RCS.
    BTW, awaiting your 2nd part.

  4. Sukhoi’s FGFA prototype, which is expected to make its first flight within weeks, is a true stealth aircraft, almost
    invisible to enemy radar. According to an MoD official, “It is an amazing looking aircraft. It has a Radar Cross Section
    (RCS) of just 0.5 square metres as compared to the Su-30MKI’s RCS of about 20 square metres.”

    [That means that while a Su-30MKI would be as visible to enemy radar as a metal object 5 metres X 4 metres in dimension,
    the FGFA’s radar signature would be just 1/40th of that.]

    haha! I got my wish!
    Thank You, Ajai sir!

    But sir, this has me rather disturbed because .5 m^2 is a still a very big RCS – unless the actual RCS is even less than that.
    The F-35 has a “reported” RCS of metal golf ball that is better than B-2’s which is half of 117’s; A F-22 has a RCS of a metal marble.
    Clearly, the rest of the world has a LONG way to go on the RCS front. US has been at it for nearly THREE decades now, with the F117 taking to the skies way back in 1981.

    But, I am still very happy with this development, the more we stay out of the American sphere of influence the better we will do for ourselves. JV’s are only 1 step behind actually developing the whole product ourselves.

    Thank You, for the great article.

  5. you need to check your figures on RCS of PAKFA
    u are quoting 100 times more. double check. again

  6. Excellent news. Agree with Russia that India brings little to the table other than money which the project so sorely lacks. Given the techno-benefits reaped by Su from the MKI codevelopment (which subsequently appeared in the SU-35), they can only gain over the next few projects from Indian involvement.

  7. pak-fa rcs bit strange acording to the previous speculations.

    sir, is it correct 0.5 ?

  8. Ajai sir, 4rm whatever i can make out of this plane

    Q1. PAK FA prototyped Sukhoi T-50 when fully developed is intended to replace the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker in the Russian inventory. What abt India, which aircraft will it replace in India.

    Q2. It will be a stealth aircraft with ability to supercruise, carry next generation air-to-air, air-to-surface, n air-to-ship missiles, advanced AESA radar.

    Q3. The Indian FGFA will have be similar but will have Thrust Vectoring Control (TVC)

    Q4. The Indian FGFA will carry a heavier payload and probably will have longer range with refueling.
    Q5. Ajai Sir u said
    “Sukhoi’s FGFA prototype, which is expected to make its first flight within weeks, is a true stealth aircraft, almost invisible to enemy radar. According to an MoD official, “It is an amazing looking aircraft. It has a Radar Cross Section (RCS) of just 0.5 square metres as compared to the Su-30MKI’s RCS of about 20 square metres.”

    [That means that while a Su-30MKI would be as visible to enemy radar as a metal object 5 metres X 4 metres in dimension, the FGFA’s radar signature would be just 1/40th of that.]

    This means that the Sukhoi-30 MKI built by India will be at a distinct disadvantage, and in case of combat when both Sukhoi-30 MKI and India’s FGFA will fly, the Sukhoi-30 MKI will be like easy target. Wont it?
    Q6. Will it have thrust vectoring
    Q7. Ajai sir u r saying
    Russia says India brings little to the table
    In that case, India’s complaint that Russia does not share design holds pretty good, isn’t it?
    Q8. What is the % of carbon composite?
    Q9. How many parts will be made in India, after all?

    can u pls update me on anyrhing extra

  9. Sukhoi, he confided to the IAF officer, had completed the design of a 5th generation fighter, as advanced as America’s F-22 Raptor

    With a RCS of 0.5 sq m? Let's face it; the Raptorski is no Raptor Killer.

  10. Excellent Article Ajai ji.

    Request you to kindly explain the RCS part a bit more.

  11. Dear Mr. Shukla

    This is the first time im blogging on ur site. I am very excited by the way ur article explains about the T 50. In fact i couldnt wait till the end of article to comment and congratulate you for giving us the inside story.

    Thank you

  12. The RCS figures for a F-22 are not provided in a fashion that might help anyone understand them.

    To assume anyone (russians, english, french, Swedish, Chinese) can match the experience US firms have developed over the last several decades is a bit optimistic.

    Lets just wait for the bird to come out, one could make up the amount of work done to reduce the cross section.

  13. Anonymous 07:46

    There are no AUTHENTIC figures that I have come across for the RCS of the Rafale and the Eurofighter, only unattributed speculation. But I hear, from people who ought to know, that their RCS is not below 0.5.

    This talk about metal golf balls and metal marbles does not impress me. It could be disinformation, sales talk, vendor propaganda, or a mixture of all of them. A platform's real RCS is seldom revealed.

    The figure that I have is from an MoD source, who has, in turn, heard it from a Sukhoi designer at KnAAPO. I would not bet my life that the figure is entirely accurate.

    Anonymous 08:40
    "you need to check your figures on RCS of PAKFA
    u are quoting 100 times more. double check. again"

    The figure of 0.5 is certainly not that far off the mark.

    Nitish, welcome to Broadsword! I agree with you. This bird has a great deal of design change ahead of it and the RCS will almost certainly get a lot better in the future.

    APPEAL: Can one of our engineer readers please explain IN SIMPLE, UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE, the nuances of RCS?

  14. hi ajai
    i've been following ur blog for quiet some time now and i m very pleased with ur info.
    i have a few questions for u-
    DNA reported on 3 jan that taxi trials of PAK-FA are on, r u aware of that?
    can u clarify that is FGFA as same as PAK-FA or PAK-FA will be used as a base for FGFA like su 27 for su 30mki, if latter then how much time will it take to develop first prototype of FGFA?
    wikipedia states that kaveri engine produces an afterburning thrust of 81 kN is it true?
    does RAFALE stand any chance of winning the M-MRCA contest?
    what will be the displacement of IAC-2? (if u are aware of it)
    would appreciate if u could answer my questions?

  15. well .5m2 rcs on prototype is good but i really hope they can get that down to around .001m2 or so. Because as of now the F-22 with Aim-120D will still kill anything it detects at ranges well over 200km. The Supercruising raptor can launch the Aim-120D at ranges over 200km while cruising at mach 1.5 and kill any threat. One F-22 pilot claims the Raptor has situational awareness of over a 1000km.

    As of now even the Super hornet claims a rcs of around 0.1m2 with a good weapons load.

    Though the PAKFA might be able to carry more missiles, i still think the F-22 will remain the deadliest. by the time the PAKFA reaches full A-A, A-G and A-S capability the F-22 will reach over Block 30 and F-22B Bomber might also come up. I still doubt if the PAKFA can reach supercruise speeds of over mach 1.5. The Raptor can easily cross speeds of mach 1.7+ without reheat. The F-22 can also hit upto 12Gs in a tight turn, F-22 pilots have to cope with 12G sustained turns.

    Though the F-22 may remain undefeated, i am glad we'll have about 250 aircraft and will make us even deadlier than ever before. The IN seems to be keen on F-35 B/C hopefully they get it in good numbers, both f-35 C and B would fit in well and fullfill needs for both Army and Navy. MCA will come soon. hence by 2020 we might have 3 types of 5th gen aircraft, more than US, Russia and China. Nice deal.

  16. >But one big question, is that 0.5 m^2 RCS for PAK FA correct?

    Not a fact

    >I mean many 4th generation fighters like Eurofighter and Rafale have lower RCS.

    What 4th generation fighter has RCS lower than 0.5m^2 ???Eurocanards? With their external weapon pylons? No. Impossible!!

    >F-22 has a frontal RCS of 0.0001~0.0002 m^2.

    I believe that average F-22's RCS (from different angles) is much more higher.
    0.0001 data is ADVERTISING BULLSHIT from Lockheed

  17. "
    APPEAL: Can one of our engineer readers please explain IN SIMPLE, UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE, the nuances of RCS?"

    Sir, I would highly recommend that you download and read the following pdf file.

    If the above link does not work for some reason, download "Airborne stealth in a nutshell-part 1" from the following page:
    It is the same file.

  18. @Annon 11:10

    "Let's face it"

    OK so lets face it.

    So what if F-22 has a lesser RCS than PAKFA, do Indians and Russians start jumping into sea?? Or for that matter stop building Fighter Planes.??

    No, you will develop to the extent possible and keep on improving.(Also hoping for the best).

    Defending the country in not a one time task, it is a continuous race over a very long time period. Some time one will be ahead and at other point of time someone else will be(or can be).

  19. "Radar Cross Section (RCS) of just 0.5 square metres "

    RCS of any platform is always confidential, I doubt if anyone will just throw that away so easily.

    Wish India had joined this program a little earlier to pick the entire R&D knowledge. It seems we will end up doing just license manufacture again.

    If we have nascent aerospace industrial base even after 20 years of building LCA, sending Chandrayaan to Moon and license producing Su30 then I am not sure what it will take to get it any better. Does HAL have the R&D mindset or the engineering skills to take up such challenging assignment? They have only license manufacturer written all over them.

    We need more private participation.

  20. Radar cross section of B2 stealth bomber is 0.72 square meters.

    Radar cross section of a bird is .01 square meters

    F22 RCS is top secret.

    Yes, 0.5 Square meters is too high.


  21. Gaur, thanks for that link. Very useful.

  22. The PAKFA is a potential game changer in the context of the Indian subcontinent. It could raise India to the 1st rank of air powers.

  23. The claim of 0.5 square meters is not right.
    According to Suhoi they claimed in 2002 that the RCS of a Su47 is 0.3m².
    That would be very suprising if the RCS of the Pak-Fa is higher.
    Moreover according to
    * F-15C & Su-27 (RCS = 10~15m2)
    * Tornado (RCS = 8 m2)
    * MIG-29 (RCS = 5 m2)
    * F/A-18C (RCS = 3 m2)
    * F-16C (RCS = 1.2 m2)
    * JAS39 (RCS = 0.5 m2)
    * Su-47 (RCS = 0.3 m2)
    * Rafale (RCS = 0.1~0.2 m2)
    * F-18E (RCS = 0.1 m2)
    * MIG-42 (RCS = 0.1 m2)
    * EF2K (RCS = 0.05~0.1 m2)
    * F-35A (RCS = 0.0015 m2)
    * F/A-22 (RCS < or = 0.0002~0.0005 m2)

    So the number can't be true.
    Also there was NO OFFICIAL claim about the number.
    The number is NO OFFCIAL!

  24. 0.00001m2 is no advertising bullshit. F-22 remains invisible, even long range Ground based US radars like TPS-77 cant detect it. When flying a clean config the Raptor takes off and the only way to know its exact position is through radio chatter. Once radio silent and after burners out, the Raptor becomes a ghost. Even its infra red signature is so dim, it can travel from Langley to Hawaii without ever being detected no matter how many radars try detecting it. It just flies around them if needed. Secondly new Raptors are getting even steathier their RCS could be below that of 0.000001m2. The radar has been improved as well allowing it to have 360 degree coverage out to well over 1100km.

    While PAKFA is still taking baby steps. By the time it can reach half the ability of the F-22, the Raptor will become even deadlier with newer weapons, jammers, EW suite. I'll be surprised if PAKFA can hit mach 1.5 in supercruise mode. Raptor's record stands at well over mach 1.8+

  25. 'APPEAL: Can one of our engineer readers please explain IN SIMPLE, UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE, the nuances of RCS?'

    As an Aerospace Engineering student, I accept the challenge.

    I will try to,'IN SIMPLE UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE' tell you 'nuances' of RCS which took me 30 pages worth of reading and maths. Here goes,


    1. What is RCS? - A complicated function of target orientation and radar wavelength. It is quoted in terms of decibels relative to 1 m^2 or 1 dBsm. Complexity arises since the dimensions of airborne targets is usually similar to wavelengths used by modern radars.

    2. Some typical RCS figures- It is extremely difficult to obtain accurate RCS figures for 2 reasons:-

    a. RCS is extremely difficult to compute using RCS equations. These equations are accurate for simple shapes like spheres and cubes.

    b. All RCS data related to modern fighters is classified. Never mind the sales talk and fan sites. An RCS example of, say, a T33 jet trainer however can be found publicly.

    Certain 'estimates' are given below. (Brassey's Modern Fighters)

    F-15 26 dBsm
    Su-27/30/35 12 dBsm
    F-16 7 dBsm
    Rafale 0 dBsm
    Typhoon -3 dBsm
    F-117 -25 dBsm
    Insects -40 dBsm
    Birds -20 dBsm

    3. Radar wave scattering differs with orientation of target(unless the target is a sphere) and radar wavelength.

    Part - 2: Stealth, contributors to RCS and RCS reduction measures.

  26. Part - 2
    Stealth - minimization of emissions that lead to detection.

    Contributors to emissions

    1.Radar, radio, communications, navigation etc. antennas are reflectors. They are either removed, covered with FSS or made retractable.

    2.Thermal, acoustic and other emissions are minimized.

    3. Structural contributors to RCS

    These only apply in the resonant frequency range on which most radars operate. This is when the radar wavelength is somewhat equal to target dimensions.

    a. Direct reflection - Most common. Waves are reflected of surfaces as a tennis ball bounces of walls. It can be minimized using angled surfaces in certain directions but not cancelled out. Because in order to deflect something away from a certain direction, you leave yourself open in another direction.

    This is why an F-22/B-2 can be detected by radar, it just can not be tracked.

    b. Multiple reflections - In complex structures(non stealthy), waves may reflect away from radar receiver but then again reflected back from another part of the plane. These are minimized using parallel lines in the design like you see in F-22.

    c. Edge diffraction - Any discontinuity causes diffraction. For example:-

    Leading and trailing edges of wings

    Electrical discontinuities in skin like change in conductive property. This is why special coatings are used.

    Pitot tubes, probes etc. sticking out of fuselage.

    d. Surface waves- Airframe(lump of metal) is conductive, radar waves generate current in the skin. These currents sustain waves propagating along the surface. Some of these are directed back to radar

    e. Ducting - This is a tricky one.

    An electrically conductive cavity will have certain frequencies, corresponding to em modes at which it will resonate. This is how waveguides propogate signals eg. Bose speakers. Google waveguide for more info.

    When there is resonance between radar and a cavity or duct, the duct acts like a wave guide and increases the RCS.

    In some cases, the jet intake duct carries radar waves down towards the engine turbines and out again. This enables a radar to actually identify an aircraft from it's engine properties.

  27. ho hum.. your two part series tells us nothing of what we didnt already know ajai!

  28. RCS?

    Theoretically speaking, the lower the Radar Cross Section (RCS) (of a fighter) the lower the range at which an enemy radar could detect the fighter.

    But RCS and radar range are not directly related. If a radar could detect a fighter (with a frontal RCS of 5m^2) at a distance of 100km, then the the same radar would detect a fighter (with a frontal RCS of approximately 0.3m^2) at approximately 50km and detect another one (with a frontal RCS of approximately 0.02m^2) at approximately 25km. In other words, for an enemy radar range to be halved, the RCS of the fighter has to be reduced by a factor of approximately 16. Hope you get the basic picture.

    USAF equated the F-22's RCS to that of a marble and so on. Those who are more learned amongst aviation enthusiasts deduced the approximate RCS of F-22 to be around 0.0001-0.0002m^2 from such hints. Although, it is hard to say anything about the accuracy of such figures, assuming these figures to be relevant for the sake of argument, such a difference between PAK-FA (0.5m^2) and F-22's RCS (even at 0.001m^2) would (in theory) give a distinct advantage to F-22 in any aerial combat. Reason being that F-22's radar (assuming the radars on two have similar range and capabilities) would be able to detect/lock PAK-FA a lot earlier ( the F-22 would fire the AMRAAM, and turn tial) before PAK-FA could even detect F-22.

    Finally, considering the low RCS values (0.1-1m^2) that we have been seeing associated with modern 4++ generation fighters for years now, the figure of 0.5m^2 appears to be huge for a 5th generation fighter such as PAK-FA (and hence so much surprise & doubt about this figure), since stealth or Low Observability is probably the most fundamental requirement to join the 5th generation club. I would be surprised if most western experts consider RCS value of 0.5m^2 to be good enough for the elite stealth club.

    Frankly speaking, some have questioned the logic behind such open declaration of RCS for such a project (a very closely guarded secret usually), and in turn have questioned Indian/Russian intentions-read causing ambiguity. But one hopes that Mr Shukla would be able to to give us a clearer picture at some timepoint in future.

  29. Wooooooooow..
    The commentators must need to know the definition of stealth first of all before jumping into conclusions like F-22 has .0002M2 blah blah...

    If we are talking about radar stealth: so many things comes into consideration.
    Like which band?
    At what distance?
    Which configuration?
    What angle?,........

    F-22 which many people here boasting about? doesnt have an all aspect stealth.
    A MKI type fighter with a russian L band radar can kill the bird before F-22 pilot locks on MKI.
    Get real guys.Learn before you comment.
    Shukla confirmed that the .5 m2 is no authentic definition for PAKFA RCS.

    If 4.5 gen fighter like su-35 can lock on F-22 with the provided suit,definitely a much later version like PAKFA will be a over kill.
    Probably you online bloggers might never came across the challenges faced by the USAF to keep F-22 flying against the russian odds.You guys better need some inside knowledge.
    An F-22 is definitely a best fighter compared to all the present day ones except the latest russian fighters.
    F-22 can take on typhoon/rafale,....Mig-35..... but not Su-35

    If an 4.5 gen Su-35 can give stiff competition to f-22, PAKFA will be an over kill.

    Both Indians and Russians wanted all aspect stealth rather than having a stealth directed at some particular bands.

  30. Good article.

    there are very good reasons NOT to build a F-22 type aircraft:

    please see here:


    Olaf Brescia / The Boresight

  31. reply to the last post:

    An Mki has rcs of around 20m2 the F-22 will detect this at ranges over 400km, secondly the X-band radar on the f-22 is by far the most advanced fighter borne radar ever made with over 2200 T/R modules and has jamming properties, no known 4.5 gen aircraft except that Super hornet has ever locked the f-22 and that too at very close visual range. the F-22 supercrusing at over mach 1.5 can launch the Aim-120D at ranges over 100NM or 180km, the Aim-120 A/B/C have proven themselves and have an over 80% hit rate, the Aim-120D has better seekers, gps and two way datalinks and its hit rate is well over 90%. The Mki's massive rcs betrays. the Super hornet can confidently take on the MKI as well because the aim-120D is also being deployed on the super hornet. the Super hornet's instrumented detection range is well over 500km and allows it to play awacs roles. in BVR the SH ill kill the mki. plus the SH can take multiple shots, the SH can deploy 12 Aim-120s + 2 Aim-9x block2 in a single mission. Even if the f-22 is detected there are no current weapons that can be fired from standoff ranges to take on the f-22. most of the BVR missiles in Indian are of piss poor quality and the infamous r-77 is as reliable as Paki talks of peace. F-22 is still a gen ahead of anything the Ruskis have on the table.

  32. Olaf: I enjoyed your blog... but why don't you do a consolidated piece on "Reasons for not buying a F-22 type aircraft".

  33. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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