Russia can't deliver on Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft: IAF says - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 20 January 2014

Russia can't deliver on Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft: IAF says

The Indian Air Force alleges Russians reluctant to share critical design information, besides technical and cost issues

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Jan 14

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has done a stunning about-turn, sharply criticizing the showpiece Indo-Russian project to co-develop a futuristic Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Even as New Delhi and Moscow finalise a $6 billion deal to co-develop an FGFA that will have capabilities tailor-made for India, the IAF has alleged that the Russians would be unable to meet their promises about the FGFA’s performance.

So vital is the FGFA to the IAF’s future that Defence Minister AK Antony has publicly rejected any prospect of buying the American fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, declaring that the FGFA would suffice for India. In 2007, New Delhi and Moscow highlighted the fighter’s criticality in an Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the project. Indian scientists say the expertise gained from the FGFA will provide crucial momentum for developing an all-Indian fifth generation fighter, designated the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Yet, with so much riding on the FGFA, the IAF has taken aback the MoD with its complaint that it would not be good enough. On December 24, in a high-level meeting in New Delhi that was chaired by Gokul Chandra Pati, the Secretary of Defence Production, top IAF officials argued that the FGFA has “shortfalls… in terms of performance and other technical features.”

Business Standard has reviewed the minutes of that meeting. The IAF’s three top objections to the FGFA were: (a) The Russians are reluctant to share critical design information with India; (b) The fighter’s current AL-41F1 engines are inadequate, being mere upgrades of the Sukhoi-30MKI’s AL-31 engines; and (c) It is too expensive. With India paying $6 billion to co-develop the FGFA, “a large percentage of IAF’s capital budget will be locked up.”

Top MoD sources worry that the IAF is deliberately undermining the FGFA in order to create the financial space for buying 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for an estimated $18 billion, an acquisition that has run into financial headwinds because of budgetary constraints. In Oct 2012, then IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, announced that the IAF would buy only 144 FGFAs instead of the 214 fighters that were originally planned.

On January 15, the IAF renewed the attack in New Delhi, at a MoD meeting to review progress on the FGFA. The IAF’s deputy chief of air staff (DCAS), its top procurement official, declared that the FGFA’s engine was unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered, India’s work share too low, and that the fighter’s price would be exorbitant by the time it enters service.

The MoD and HAL have been addressing the IAF’s objections about the FGFA. Russian officials have already clarified that the Sukhoi T-50’s current engine, the AL-41F1, is a temporary solution to allow the flight-test programme to continue. A new engine that is currently being developed in Russia will eventually power both the FGFA and PAK-FA.

Officials also point out that the FGFA will eventually field radar far superior to the one that the T-50 prototypes currently sport. The Russian Air Force wanted a conventional radar for their PAK-FA fighter, which looks only towards the front. The IAF, however, demanded two additional radars that look side-wards, allowing the pilot all-round vision, and greater awareness of the airspace around him. Now the Russians too are veering around to a similar requirement.

Asked for comments, the IAF has not responded. The MoD and HAL, who were requested for comments via email, have also remained silent.

While the MoD, HAL and the IAF continue discussions; Russia is going ahead with developing a fifth generation fighter. The Sukhoi Design Bureau has already designed and done 300 test-flights of the T-50, the stealth fighter that Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) plan to refine into the FGFA within 8 years from the time the deal is signed. The Russian Air Force, which has less ambitious specifications than the IAF, hopes to induct into service its own version of the T-50, the PAK-FA (Perspektivny Aviatsionny Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii, or “Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation”) by 2017-18.

After the IGA of October 2007, a General Contract was signed in December 2008 between HAL and Rosoboronexport, Russia’s defence exports agency. This umbrella contract described general principles of cooperation, such as work share, cost sharing, and whether the FGFA could be sold to third countries. In December 2010, a Preliminary Design Contract (PDC) was signed. This allowed the two countries to draw up the FGFA’s basic configuration, select the systems and equipment that would go into it, and do wind tunnel studies. The PDC phase was completed in June 2013, and now the crucial R&D phase is being negotiated. This will encompass the actual design and development of the FGFA. 


  1. what the chances... russians... stuffing pockets... with green bucks... compared to... anglo-saxson deals...

  2. can india backtrack from m-mrca?
    won't there be any financial "punishment" ?

  3. Hi Ajai,

    I was reading Ravi Rikhye's book on retaking Kashmir, and based on the issues he raises, I wonder if it matters whether the PAKFA does or does not have the required capabilities as clearly the nation does not have the required ability to conduct a war. It does not have reserves in material, the required mobility, and in some cases it does not even have enough of fundamental equipment like arty, APFSDS, etc. We are happy negotiating with nations that we claim have occupied our territory, even as they keep kicking us around. Pakistan keeps kicking us around by encouraging secession in Kashmir and terrorism everywhere. China kicks us around in just about every way imaginable. In this context, should we be worried about whether the PAKFA is 95% of claimed capability or 75% of claimed capability? Would IAF's war fighting strategies need to be changed because the PAKFA offers only 75% of expected capabilities? The people in charge of procurement would definitely want to do the best they can and are right to raise these red flags in terms of shortfall in capabilities, and full marks to them for doing their job diligently and honestly. My disappointment comes from our nation's inability to effectively leverage its massive military capability to prevent two significantly smaller powers (Pakistan and China) from kicking us around. Please do not dismiss my argument because I list China as a smaller power, I was talking about China as a smaller power purely based on their existing capabilities on our borders in terms of men and material.

  4. Clearly a very short sighted move by the IAF. And this is where the MoD will have to take in the bigger picture. I would have done a point by point rebuttal of every IAF argument, but the fact remains that Su30 MKI is a testimony to Russian designs in fighter design and the IAF should stop acting like a prima-donna, and start supporting local industry and local industry building initiatives.

    I would in fact go as far as to put a moratorium on foreign fighter purchases, and this would force India to produce fighters of its own and IAF to adapt to use them. If this seems too drastic, let us put up a date, after which India will not purchase any foreign aircraft.

  5. People supporting stealth Fighter Aircraft must watch this video

  6. If anyone think F-35 is a good fighter than all other fighters, please watch this video

    IT IS JUNK!!!!!!!!!!

  7. @Rohit Razdan - I beg to differ on your prima donna categorization of the IAF's behavior. The IAF and its pilots will have to fly the aircraft finally, not you or I.

    The IAF has been successful in defending India's Airspace and in the process sometimes delivering the un deliverable for India so I would heed their opinion over any other Air force in the world be it Russian, American or Chinese.

    When it comes to engines we all know what happened in the case of Kaveri and the LCA. So once bitten twice shy, the IF is well within its rights to make certain that it has the right engine READY before anything else.

    I we operate at the speed of blind trust with Russia or perhaps any country we will receive another Gorshkov like delay.

    May be the bureaucracy and Military industrial complex has a hold of the Airforce in Russia or maybe their chief is a corrupt yes man ..we dont know. But if they have also started asking for a better radar system, it shows the IAF is doing its research in asking for cutting edge weaponry.

    In our most capable aircraft we must invest in quality. while numerical superiority can be provided in the form of LCA or Rafales, or even Mirages. Russian Airforce requirements, assets and even Radar systems may be different from ours so we dont have to have a meek "whats good enough for you is good enough for me" attitude.

    If the IAF wants to be a whistle blower let it be and bring out each and every point of ambiguity in the contract so it can be addressed , so later Sukhoi does not commit highway robbery later or worse... fails to deliver.

    Dont be so subservient that you attack a man who is standing up. It may be for your own benefit. We are paying for all of this BTW, Russia is not gifting us the equipment. They may not have PLAAF as a prime threat in their perception 20 years from now, we do.

  8. F-35! F-35! F-35! F-35! F-35!



    BUY F-35!!

  9. I think it is the best interest of nation to cancel this contract as we dont know what we are getting into. Russians will milk us like they did for Vikramaditya. Start a indigenious FGFA project, have DRDO design the fighter, but let the pvt companies build it. Pay $1 billion to a co-development partner and build a powerful engine. We can get all these done in half the cost with in 10 years. We can also sell the aircraft to other nations and recover some development cost. Russia do not have threat a big threat like us from the neighbors and they can build something for name sake and call it FGFA and milk other countries. We have been to their traps multiple times and its time to get out. Cancel the Rafael deal also and build LCA MKII quick and more important build a engine project.

  10. Let us not forget that Su-30 MKI would not have been Su-30 MKI had it not been for IAF demanding what was not on the table at that time.

  11. MOD needs tell IAF if they do not want PAKFa, they will 1000 155 mm guns and 100 Pinaka launchers for Army

    We are paying through our nose for Mirage upgrade while buying Rafales.

  12. There has been not enough response on this blog or in other media, commensurate to the significance of this article.

    Prima facei, it does make sense though, to cancel FGFA and back the AMCA project instead. It will free up much needed funds for sure. But are ADA and HAL up to the task to go it alone?? That's a question to be answered.

    Another question to be addressed, is the fallout of cancelling such a important "mother of all mothers" contract. That too right after we cancelled the VVIP chopper deal.

    Over simplification from laymen like us, will never give the correct answers. So we need to hear more from the experts - IAF, MOD, HAL, Shukla.

    But everyone is silent. What gives?

  13. Hi Ajay !
    Have you found time to read the response by Indo-russain site to the article you wrote on IAF slamming the FGFA project

    The writer is well we could say "defending" the project with excuses or reasons that are shown as possible "explanations"

    Do let us know your thoughts about the same.




  15. It seasy to trash others. let me ask indians, do they seriously think they can master stealth and engine tech for a 5th gen fighter, let alone the advance avionics , radars that will be required. Not a chance in million years. moreover F35s software development is only 10% through. Without sensor fusion software development, F35 is a dead duck not to mention the limitation of single engine design and americans refusing to share source codes . it is best to have more 4.9 gen aircrafts like PAK FA than 4.5gens like rafale. Reduce rafale order to 60-80

  16. Dear Ajai,

    That's great news! I SEE A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO BUILD THE 5TH GEN FIGHTER JET IN INDIA. We built 4+ generation in a single quantum leap in technology, if HAL tightens its belt I believe we can now build FGFA in India.

    We have highly skilled manpower, we have access to and can design most advanced software, we have the manufacturing base in machinery and in electronics.

    I believe IAF not liking Russian planes is good for India.

    In the near future the strategic groupings in World War III would be China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey on one side, and I couldn't muster any belief that India would be in the same grouping.


  17. China has Russian aircrafts and Pakistani why we are trying to get same why not american coz america and china are not friends and our main enemy is china not pakis.

  18. Jet engines are the major technology which is used in aircraft's.This jet engines includes turbojets,turbofans,rockets and pulse jets.Here found some of the top most powerful jet engines in the world.


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