NEW DELHI: India is now finally moving ahead with its long-pending project to develop a fifth-generation stealth fighter, in a step that also torpedoes misplaced speculation that New Delhi may be interested in the F-35A jets showcased by the US at Aero-India in Bengaluru in February.
The full-scale engineering development case for the indigenous twin-engine advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), at a cost of around Rs 15,000 crore, will ‘soon’ be sent to the PM-led cabinet committee on security (CCS) for the final approval, sources told TOI.
“Extensive inter-ministerial consultations on cost, design and level of indigenous content are virtually complete now. The DRDO case for the AMCA is being finalized for the CCS,” a source said.
The ambitious AMCA project will involve development of five prototypes, one structural test specimen, extensive flight testing and certification for the eventual 25-tonne swing-role fighter.
As per projected timelines, the first AMCA prototype will `roll out’ four years after the CCS sanction, with the production to begin another six years after that. In effect, IAF will begin inducting AMCA only around 2035 onwards.
The only operational 5th-Gen jets currently are the American F/A-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning-II Joint Strike Fighters, with the Chinese Chengdu J-20 and Russian Sukhoi-57 also somewhat there. “The US sending two F-35s for the Aero-India was just strategic posturing. We are pursuing our own AMCA programme,” the source said.
The US, of course, is also wary of any country operating together the F-35s and the Russian S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems that India has inducted. The S-400’s powerful radars are capable of mapping or recording” data of the F-35’s stealth characteristics, electronic warfare and other capabilities, as earlier reported by TOI.
The CCS in August last year had cleared the development of the Tejas Mark-2 fighter at an overall cost of over Rs 9,000 crore, which TOI had then reported would be followed by the AMCA project.
The 36 Rafales inducted by IAF under the Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France and the planned Tejas Mark-2 are 4.5-Gen fighters. The AMCA, in turn, will be a truly 5th-Gen fighter with advanced stealth features and the capability to super- cruise as well as data fusion and multi-sensor integration with AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars.
IAF currently plans seven AMCA squadrons (126 jets). With India failing to develop its own jet engine, the first two squadrons will be powered by the American GE-414 engines in the 98 Kilonewton thrust class, like the Tejas Mark-2 jets. The next five are planned with a more powerful 110 Kilonewton engine to be developed with foreign collaboration.
IAF is currently grappling with just 31 fighter squadrons when at least 42 are required to tackle China and Pakistan. The induction plan includes 83 Tejas Mark-1A, 108 Tejas Mark-2, 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (to be manufactured in India with foreign collaboration) and finally 126 AMCA.
But the going has been excruciatingly slow. The 73 Tejas Mark-1A fighters (with GE-404 engines) and 10 trainers have to be delivered by Hindustan Aeronautics in the February 2024-February 2028 timeframe as per the Rs 46,898 crore contract inked in February 2021.
“But the first Tejas Mark-1A will probably come towards end-2024. First, every small equipment change requires extensive flight testing and certification. Moreover, HAL has to majorly upgrade its annual production capability. Tejas Mark-2, of course, is still in the design and development phase,” another source said.
Source: Times of India