Fifth generation fighters to plug into satellite network - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 25 October 2010

Fifth generation fighters to plug into satellite network

The Sukhoi T-50 fighter, pictured here, will be developed into the Indo-Russian Gen-5 fighter. It will be fed military data live from Russian GLONASS satellite network

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Oct 10

The Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), already planned to be loaded with top-end combat features like advanced stealth and super-cruise capability, could also be plugged, uniquely, into a network of satellites. With Moscow willing to grant India unprecedented access to military signals from Russia’s constellation of GLONASS (GLObal NAvigation Satellite System) satellites, the FGFA could access real-time details of its own and enemy positions, terrain information, and have the ability to communicate with Indian forces anywhere on the globe.

A senior Russian diplomat, speaking anonymously to Business Standard, reveals that after extended negotiations with India, Moscow has okayed the provision of military data from GLONASS, in the form of digitized signals. So far, Russia had only agreed to provide India with civilian-grade navigation signals, which permitted an accuracy of 25-30 metres. Now, the military grade signals will allow a far higher accuracy, crucial for military operations.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the New Delhi-based Russian diplomat explained, “India is the only country that Moscow is willing to supply GLONASS military data to. Russia has recently okayed an agreement which officials from both sides have been negotiating for some time. From our side, we are ready to sign, even during (Russian president Dmitry) Medvedev’s visit to India this December.”

Business Standard first reported (11th Sept 10: “India, Russia to Ink gen-5 fighter pact”) that India and Russia were set to sign a Preliminary Design Contract, to co-develop the FGFA, during Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India this December. The FGFA programme, towards which each partner will contribute an initial US $6 billion, aims to develop the world’s premier fighter. The Russian and Indian air forces each plan to buy 250-300 of these aircraft.

Providing satellite navigation and communications to the FGFA would place the aircraft at a higher technological level than even the F-35 Lightning II, the futuristic fighter that America is currently developing. The F-35 uses satellite communications, but not satellite navigation.

Says the Russian diplomat, “It is next-generation features like real-time satellite navigation that will take the FGFA technologically far beyond Sukhoi’s T-50 prototype fighter, which made its first flight in January.”

Russia’s GLONASS network will provide navigational signals worldwide through a constellation of 24 satellites, 18 of which are already operational. America already has an operational satellite navigation system, called the Global Positioning System (GPS). The European Union is implementing its own Galileo system, while India is planning its own network, called Gagan.

India and Russia had earlier agreed to cooperate on the civilian aspects of GLONASS. In January 2007, during President Putin’s visit to India, Russia’s Federal Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) signed agreements to launch GLONASS satellites on Indian booster rockets and to jointly build new-generation satellites.

With President Medvedev’s visit a month after President Obama’s, Moscow has successfully lined up a slew of high-profile signings and events that underscore the strategic nature of the Russia-India partnership. Besides the signing of the FGFA development contract and the possible GLONASS agreement, Russia is racing against time to hand over during this period an Akula-class nuclear attack submarine to the Indian Navy. The INS Chakra, as the Indian Navy will call this submarine, has been provided by Russia on a 10-year lease for an estimated US $900 million.

“All this shows the depth of the Russia-India strategic relationship”, points out the Russian diplomat. “There are other countries that might be having better technology than Russia, though I cannot say for sure. But they are not willing to part with it.”


  1. This is nice, however, are we paying russians for this feature?


  2. Until and unless India controls a non trivial portion of the space segment of the Glonass navigation system (i.e. the satellites themselves) and has at least a few ground control centers, these sort of agreements mean nothing.

  3. F35 has no sat nav! Are you sure? Even my car has GPS nav.

  4. India should contribute to the GLONASS satellites as a long term partnership with Russia and make use of it. We have to contribute by adding indian satellites in the constellation. The indian version of GPS[IRNSS] will take time and to stand on its own, and by joining GLONASS, we will have global real time navigational data [Military Class] rather than just 2000KMS around India.

  5. Hi, Gagan is GPS augmentation for civilian purposes. It not Indian navigation system. It is supposed to be GLONASS. India is supposed to launch 2 GLONASS satellites and share some cost in return for HP(High Precision/military) GLONASS signals. India never intended to have its own satellite navigation system.

  6. "“There are other countries that might be having better technology than Russia, though I cannot say for sure. But they are not willing to part with it.”

    - that is exactly the point .
    Russia needs money and market , India needs technology. theoretically a perfect marriage.

    Gagan is not a a satellite navigation system , IRNSS is . though it will cover only the subcontinent and some neighboring regions.

  7. doesn't F-22 has sat. nav. system?

  8. Surely F-35s have access to military grade GPS signals. What makes the FGFA+GLONASS system superior to them?

  9. Galilio, GPS and GLONASS are comparable to IRNASS(presently planned with regional coverage only) not to GAGAN. GAGAN is different in the sense that it is entirely a regional civil air space management system which uses reference stations and satellite aid.

  10. This article suggests much more capability than I had hitherto imagined for the FGFA / PAKFA....

    I mean stealth, supercruise, next-gen weapons, old hat.

    This article suggets ........extremely long reach / alternate reach, which will whip an enemy who just wont know where to defend from.

    Hope this materializes. And technology is absorbed into UCAVs and LCA, if it is worth it.

  11. GAGAN is not our version of GPS. GAGAN is a system to augment the GPS signals.IRNSS is our version of GPS which is being developed.

  12. Why can not connect to GAGAN

  13. The author is mistaken in saying that JSF doesn't have satellite navigation. JSF doesn't have GLOSNASS satellite navigation, but it certainly has GPS.

  14. The crux of the whole matter is:

    "All this shows the depth of the Russia-India strategic relationship”, points out the Russian diplomat. “There are other countries that might be having better technology than Russia, though I cannot say for sure. But they are not willing to part with it."

  15. Hi Ajaiji,
    Nice article..
    But i have a query.
    Why is India developing systems on its own even though its partnering on the same?
    Take for example the fifth generation aircraft and the GPS systems.If we are already contributing $6B to PAK-FA project, why develop MCA?Why not use the fund for something else, something better?
    Same case with GLONASS and GAGAN..


  16. I wonder whether Ajai has got it wrong? F-35 will definitely have access to GPS signal. IIRC Even military upgrades to indian aircraft have access to GPS signals. Further achieving satellite comm is way more difficult job compared to GPS guidance. This access to military signal of GLASNOSS is not much considering India is investing massvie money in it but is being hyped.

  17. I think the Russian diplomar would get in trouble for saying "Medvedev's".

  18. >> The F-35 uses satellite communications, but not satellite navigation.

    Ajai, if F35 does not use sat nav, it probably has such a high quality INS, that it does not need sat nav anymore.

    If an INS can provide a positioning solution that is equivalent in accuracy and availability to sat nav, its an order of magnitude more useful than just Sat Nav.

    Availability of Sat Nav during war is not a gurantee.. Enemy action can easily take out Satellites.

  19. I wonder what the unnamed Russian diplomat was smoking when he said: "The F-35 uses satellite communications, but not satellite navigation." Even the MiG-21 Bisons and Su-30MKIs use satellite navigation avionics (the former using the THALES-supplied Totem RLG-INS/GPS, and the latter using the Sigma-95). Even the Pinaka MBRL uses the Sigma-30 RLG-INS/GPS land navigation system. The F-35 uses Honeywell's RLG-INS with GPS receiver. One can access more data on this from:

    Data on the Sigma 30/95 systems can be accessed from:

    While India and Russia had earlier agreed to cooperate on the civilian aspects of GLONASS, the US has been providing civilian C/A-code accuracy-based GPS navigation services on a global level FOR FREE since late 1991! Only the higher accuracy P/Y-code signals are restricted. More data on this can be obtained from:
    Lastly, the US constellation of navigation satellites is not called the Global Positioning System (GPS), rather it is called NAVSTAR, which stands for Navigation Signal Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System. The term GLONASS stands for GLObal'naya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema.

  20. BROADSWORD can obtain additional data on the F-35 JSF's integrated navigation system from Mr Pritam Bhavnani, the President of Honeywell Aerospace in India, who is based in Gurgaon.

  21. I have it on good authority that with 5 satellites it is possible to get 10 cm accuracy with the civilian industrial signal. The military signal willl obviously have better accuracy. This is excellent news, as most if not all gps systems sold other wise to us have a kill switch in them....for just in case.

  22. Ajai, you are wrong. JSF and all US military aircraft have access to Military grade GPS.

  23. 10 year lease for 900 mil. I feel short changed. Russians do that a lot to us. I suppose it's just business, and it's not as if we are hold up our end of all the agreements we signed with them. Also it's a good thing we are working on our very own Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS). I found that piece on wikipedia :)
    Can somebody shed more light on this?

  24. Ajai sir, Satellite based navigation is very old technology, most of our fighters has this. SU-30 MKI to Tejas all have INS/GPS navigation. In case of PAK FA it will be GLONASS instead of GPS. Thats it. Am I wrong?

  25. The main point of the article is that the aircraft will be able to both >receive AND transmit< signals....unlike current aircraft



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