After India opts out, Russia orders fifth-gen Sukhoi-57 fighters - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 30 June 2018

After India opts out, Russia orders fifth-gen Sukhoi-57 fighters

FGFA would have cost the IAF $113 million each, compared to Rafale’s $162 million

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st July 18

In a reminder of what the Indian Air Force (IAF) is missing, the Russian Air Force (RAF) has placed its first order of the Sukhoi-57, the Russian fifth-generation fighter that New Delhi recently decided not to co-develop and co-manufacture with Sukhoi.

“The first contract for 12 [Sukhoi-57] aircraft will be signed soon, and the deliveries under this contract will begin shortly,” said Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexey Krivoruchko on Saturday, according to Russia’s Sputnik News. The minister was visiting Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Sukhoi’s biggest plant that will build the Sukhoi-57.

The first batch of Sukhoi-57s will enter service in 2019, stated Yuri Slyusar, chief of Russia’s umbrella United Aircraft Corporation, under which Sukhoi operates.

As Business Standard first reported (April 20, $8.63-billion advanced fighter aircraft project with Russia put on ice), National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told Russian officials in February that Russia could proceed alone in developing the Sukhoi-57, or Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), as its proposed Indian version was called. Doval said India might join the project later, or buy the Sukhoi-57 after it entered service in Russia.

The RAF plans to field about 200 Sukhoi-57s, while the IAF was planning to build 127 FGFAs in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which would also co-develop the Indo-Russian fighter with Sukhoi. But, in a turnaround last year, the IAF said the Sukhoi-57 lacked in key attributes like stealth, active scanning radar and the ability to super-cruise – or fly at supersonic speeds without using afterburners.

Russian pilots and officials hotly contest this. The further argue that the Sukhoi-57 is currently flying with an interim engine, the NPO Saturn AL-41F1 turbofan, while Russian engine maker, NPO Saturn, develops the more powerful “Izdeliye 30” engine, which is expected to be ready by 2020.

The Sukhoi-57’s prototype, called Perspektivny Aviatsionny Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii (PAK-FA) first flew in January 2010. Since then, even as New Delhi and Moscow engaged in protracted negotations, Sukhoi took the aircraft – there are currently at least 11 prototypes – through an extended flight-test programme.

Now the Russian order indicates the RAF – a demanding customer – is satisfied with the Sukhoi-57’s performance.

For India, the FGFA project was economical, if anything. HAL was to pay a half share – amounting to $4.3 billion (Rs 30,000 crore) – for 50 specified improvements to the Sukhoi-57 to meet IAF requirements of greater stealth, faster data networks and 360-degree radar. This included the cost of four Sukhoi-57 prototypes for the IAF to test-fly and the setting up of facilities to manufacture the FGFA in India.

With each Sukhoi-57 production fighter estimated to cost $70 million (the Sukhoi-30MKIs that the IAF bought from Russia cost just $43 million each), the cost of each FGFA – including the $4.3 billion development cost amortised over the 127 fighters that HAL would build – would have amounted to $113 million each.

The IAF would have obtained a fifth-generation, built-in-India fighter at a far cheaper price than the made-in-France Rafale, for which India is paying $162 million apiece, plus the additional cost of maintenance, spares and weapons.

Another argument in favour of the FGFA was that co-developing the fighter with Russia would feed into the ongoing Indian development of a fifth-generation Advanced Medium Fighter Aircraft (AMCA).

After the IAF argued that the FGFA would duplicate the AMCA project, an expert committee was set up under Air Marshal S Varthaman (Retired) to consider this. In July 2017, the committee ruled out any conflict between the FGFA and AMCA.

Officials have hinted that New Delhi dropped out of the FGFA project at Washington’s nudging. Yet, Russia-related pressure continues, with new American legislation – “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) – threatening sanctions for buying weaponry from Russia, especially the S-400 air defence system that Moscow and New Delhi have signed an agreement for.


  1. Now the Russian order indicates the RAF – a demanding customer – is satisfied with the Sukhoi-57’s performance.
    What is the basis for this conclusion? Any keen observer of defence matters will confirm that there is a lot of grand standing, subterfuge and disinformation involved with defence equipment.

  2. Small typo Ajai : ".. price than the made-in-France Rafale, for which India is paying $162 apiece. "... It should say $162 Mn a piece.

    I wish they were $162 ...

  3. I don't think it US pressure, must be something else. Look at this news:

  4. Dr. Christophoha who we know is fast surpassing Dr Kalam by way by learning the Bagwat Gita by heart said “What can Russia offer which India does not already have”.
    DRDO he promised will have an Indian Fifth Generation ready by next Wednesday provided the school holidays do not come in the way and the HAL factory is assured of 24 hours electricity.
    Thus he said, in one fell swoop India will show the world the “deep skilling and resource depth that the nation has, to built our own fifth generation flying machine and that’s where the AMCA comes in”.
    The Indian Air Force might be incredulous Dr Christophoha said, but I have already test flown a paper prototype in my bedroom.

  5. @Anonymous 12:47

    The basis for that calculation is simple: the Russian Air Force resisted the PAK-FA for several years. Now it has accepted it, after several issues have been sorted out in the plane.

    Was it grandstanding earlier? Or is it grandstanding now?

  6. @ Unknown

    Thanks. I'll correct it immediately.

  7. Perhaps the tech transfer to china is the main issue.

    The new tender maybe aimed at the Gripen ...which has advanced data and avionics

  8. SU 57 is not a fifth generation plane , it has third generation technology engine which is unreliable as Russia lacks reliable engine technology. It has a poor radar as Russia does not have third or fourth generation radar which are jamproof. It does not have 360 degree coverage , it has no sensor fusion , it cannot supercruise and so it has failed on the scorecard as it does not have stealth. There were only three fifth generation planes built , the best was FY 23 , which lost out F22 Raptor , and F35. Keep good rapport with the Israelis and see how they develop the F 35 and I feel that should be good option. The better option is 4.5 generation Tejas given all the gadgets can any day beat hands on these fat so called fifth generation fighters like SU 57 , J20 and J 31. India must develop Tejas and give everything that IAF want and have a 108-110 KN engine for MK1A , built a bigger MK 2 with 140-142 KN engine and should have the range like SU 30 with all the gadgets that are on MK1A plus must be able to carry a load of 6-7 K kg. Bombload and particularly develop the missiles for it so that it becomes extremely lethal package. Then use that money Russia demanded to develop SU 57 on AMCA and built it up in next five years and start testing. There would be shortfall of fighters and buy outright Approximately 100 F 35 and that would have the punch to take on any adversary. Keep up the upgrades of all fighters and don’t waste money on useless upgrades like F 125 engine give 40 KN dry thrust engine for jaguar.Jaguar with a new engine of 40 KN dry thrust and 62 KN wet thrust would be performant . The Mirages as well as MIG 29 must be upgraded. Spend a lot on developing electronic warfare capability allot of development is possible and new technologies are possible. This should be the roadmap to success.


  9. Thanks for your two analyses, Ajai. As always, you remain one of the few analysts with a broad picture outlook and about the only one concerned with money issues. Which, after all, are the core of defense.

    Re Su-57, the RusAF has rejected it but has been forced to buy a token amount. Pushpindar and Agnad have the details. As for naval MiG-29, it has turned out to be a disaster. I promised the person who spent time on the carrier I would not use their name.

    The basic problem, as you have brought up many times, is that there is no discipline in our defense purchasing. Ultimately it is always a political decision. Since the political side and MOD has zero clue about the military, we have the services running amok wanting this, that, and the other because "its the best".

    I like to remind people that the Germans had the best quality of equipment and they still lost. As the Russians say, "quantity creates its own quality", and as Gorshkov used to say "Better is always the enemy of good".

    Of course, in India's case there's no getting away from the raw reality that for a country faced with two major adversaries, spending 1.56% GDP on defense is a non-starter. You may recall we calculated that to get rid of the modernization backlog we need 6% GDP for at least 10-years before reducing to 4% (this latter is my calculation) as a minimum. The 3.5% as sufficient was before the rise of China.

    Still, probably if had kept up 3.5%, we'd still be in the procurement mess. As you've noted, for many years we haven't even spent all of the meagre sums allocated!

  10. I don't get it, sometimes you support the acquisition of the F-35 and at other times you ridicule the PAKFA as overpriced Su-27 and now you think we should have purchased the Su-57?


  11. NSR says ---

    Good for Russia...
    All is not lost for India...

    If they really work well, then India can test drive them and order 36 of them immediately...
    On following conditions to do the following...

    1. To build 18 Super Sukhois with SU-57 technology and engines...
    2. Agree to upgrade all SU-30MKI with SU-57 engine and technology...
    3. Agree to complete TOT without any restrictions to upgrade 272 nos...
    4. Right to build future Super Sukhois but no export to other countries..
    5. Upgrade manufacturing facilities for Super Sukhoi production...
    6. Participate in spare parts productions for SU-57 and Super Sukhois.. May be they can produce 25% spare parts and supply...

    A win-win strategy for both countries...
    I hope India and Russia takes this positive approach...

    Russia deserves to be treated like France for being a friend for so long...
    Also Russia must start respecting India too...India does not steal their technology like others...

  12. It is time we stopped this Transfer of Technology Nonsense-Nobody in the world is going to give any cutting edge technology to India-at best we will have assembly shops of kits. Either develop the technology on your own or be prepared to forke out large amounts


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