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Thursday 19 February 2015

Top officials at Aero India provide glimpse of future air force

By Ajai Shukla
Yelahanka, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 20th Feb 15

The first two days of each Aero India show are normally packed with press conferences by key government and military officials. At Aero India 2015 in Bengaluru today, the heads of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), and the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) aerospace chief talked about the air force of the future.

IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, stated that, even in the best case, the air force would take 16-17 years to achieve its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons. This too only if the contract for 126 Rafale fighters was quickly inked, the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) developed without further delay, and the smooth development of DRDO’s fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

“It is very difficult to give an exact time-line for these aircraft, but it should take four-five years beyond the 14th Plan [2022-2027] to build up the strength of the IAF to the authorized level of 42 squadrons”, said the IAF chief.

The IAF currently has 35 operational fighter squadrons, and another 11 would retire by 2018. Neither the AMCA nor the FGFA are likely to appear in squadron service before the mid-2020s, and the Tejas Mark II would also be operationalized only by the start of the next decade, Raha explained.

Significantly, given the dark clouds that Business Standard has reported over the proposed purchase of the Dassault Rafale (February 15, Rafale proposal “effectively dead” as MoD discovers Dassault bid not cheapest) Raha declared for the first time that it did not matter which MMRCA was procured.

Besides the French Rafale, built by Dassault, the other MMRCA that the IAF had found suitable for procurement is the Typhoon, built by European consortium, Eurofighter GmbH.

The DRDO’s aeronautics chief, Dr K Tamilmani, described the AMCA programme, which the DRDO will spearhead after guiding the Tejas Mark I to squadron service.

Revealing that the basic design of the AMCA had already been frozen, Tamilmani claimed the DRDO already had the basic technologies needed, but these needed to be adapted to higher performance requirements.

“We have to introduce three technologies on AMCA that are not there on LCA: stealth; thrust vectoring engines; and supercruise (the capability to fly at supersonic speeds without engine afterburners. We are working on all three areas already.”

Two of these three capabilities --- thrust vectoring and supercruise --- depend upon high-performance engines, and the DRDO will import the AMCA’s engine.

Says Tamilmani: “By late-2019, I will need an engine to be integrated onto the AMCA. We are discussing with multiple engine vendors --- Rolls-Royce, GE, Snecma. We could by an upgraded version of an existing engine, with its output enhanced to 110KiloNewtons. The vendors need three years to develop that.”

Current engines --- including the American GE F-414, which India is already buying for the Tejas Mark II fighter --- have thrust ratings of 90-95 KiloNewtons. That means the AMCA engines would require significant uprating.

Tamilmani opines that buying an American engine provides a trouble-free route, given the experience of the Tejas project.

“With the government-to-government route with the US now open, we would be happy to use the GE F-414 engine. We have been working with the smaller GE F-404 on the Tejas for a long time and have seen no problems”, he said.

The DRDO aerospace chief spelt out detailed time lines for the AMCA. By next year, he would arrive at a budgetary requirement. This is being formulated with care, “because we cannot keep going back for funding again and again”, he said.

By late-2019, the aircraft would require to be mated with an engine, and the first flight planned for early 2020.

“I will need four years from that date for flight testing, with four prototypes testing the new technologies we have developed. In 2024, I should be able to develop and freeze the AMCA design, and then we can start production,” said Tamilmani.

Meanwhile HAL would co-develop the FGFA with Sukhoi of Russia, in a partnership that is bogged down in foot-dragging by India. Meanwhile Russia is going ahead with the project alone, and is already test flying the fighter.

For the first time, the IAF chief revealed delays in the Russian programme, stating: “The FGFA was supposed to start production in 2018-19, but there are some delays.”

HAL has argued that the skills obtained in the FGFA co-development would help in building the AMCA, but Tamilmani downplayed that benefit. Illustrating the gulf between development agencies, he said, “DRDO is playing a minimal role in the FGFA project”.


  1. The Raha guy should be given a kick in the aft section.Rather than whining about dwindlng squadrons he should order more squadrons of Tejas mk 1.The Tejas mk 1 is still far better than the Migs he currently has.It is the fault of the air force planners who r refusing to think out of the box.

  2. Please inform about business deals signed by Indian companies. Could we sell any helicopter.
    Any support for utilizing the Kaveri engine in LCA Mark II. LCA can never be fully successful unless it flies with an Indian engines.

  3. This is not a future vision of the Air force but more of tactical planning at best.

    What we need urgently is the ability to launch punitive strikes against terrorist camps in Pakistan like the US does in the Af-Pak area and Israel can do in ME. Essentially we need to be able to do this without the fear of our aircraft getting shot down which is NOT the case for any aircraft in our inventory or maybe none of the MRCA candidates!! So what are we buying here?

    This is the only requirement right now and the Air Force chief needs to spell out what he needs to achieve it. Once he spells it out we need to move all our budget from the hyper stupid LCA, the idiotic FGFA and the moronic MRCA programs towards buying this hardware whether it is a ton load of drones or F35s or cruise missiles or whatever is needed!!

  4. I disagree with your last para.

    The DRDO was never involved in the PAK-FA or FGFA or whatever its named. That was always an HAL-Sukhoi discussion (now a disagreement).

    If anything, Tamilmani's statement is resounding proof that India has absolutely no R&D to contribute in the FGFA. That's because DRDO is a research lab, whereas HAL is a licence manufacturer for the most part !!

  5. So according to Mr Tamilmani FGFA is redundant as MCA will be ready for production after just 4 years of flight testing(2021-2024) while the 15 years LCA has taken flight testing is in tune with international experiences.
    Its time DRDO stops BS-ing the country.

  6. Anonymous, please don't twist the truth.

    That the Tejas has taken 25 years from start to end i.e. 1987 to 2015, is in line with international projects of similar stature, like Gripen and Eurofighter. India took maybe half a decade more due to sanctions and tech. denials (something with Swedish Gripen never endured). Besides, it was India's first attempt, unlike the half century of experience (since WW2) that Sweden and Euro consortium already had under their belts.


    Let's abandon the PAK-FA. Russia will find other money-bags across the world. Let's throw our weight behind the AMCA. Marshall the Indian private sector if necessary.

  7. The IAF should go for more Tejas Mk 1 to replace the retiring Mig fleet. It should order a total of 360 jets (24 per squadron) which should be manufactured by HAL by 2020. DRDO should complete the development of Tejas Mk 2 by 2020. By 2021 the HAL should start manufacturing Tejas Mk II. IAF should induct 840 Tejas Mk II by 2030. The HAL manufacturing capacity should be increased to 120 per year in order to induct the jets by 2030. This will take the light fighter jets numbers to 1200 or 50 squadrons of 24 jets/sq by 2030. AMCA induction should start by 2025 and 600 should be inducted by 2030. In order to counter China's J-31, India should induct 600 F-35 by 2025. This will also take the medium category jets to 1200 by 2030. In the heavy category India should go for upto 300 Su-30MKI's by 2020 & 300 T-50 (Russian version). Alternatively 600 Su-30MKI should be inducted by 2020. Once the FGGA is developed as per IAF requirement, 600 of these jets should be inducted. This will take the total fighter jet strength to 3600 or 50 squadrons of 24 jets each by 2030.

    1. While they're at it, they should add a squadron of star destroyers and at least one death star.


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