Defexpo-2014: Russian-Indian defence ties
7 February 2014, 18:14
DEFEXPO-2014 is a land, naval and internal homeland security systems exhibition in New Delhi, yet it's impossible to avoid the discussion of aircraft production on t he fringes of the exhibition, especially because the Indian media have recently launched a campaign of criticism against one of the most ambitious joint Russian-Indian programmes, that of developing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, or FGFA, a derivative project from the T-50 PAK FA Russian jet fighter.
Deputy Head of the Russian Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, told a recent news briefing that work on the project is going on in keeping with the earlier approved schedule, so the media campaign is no hindrance. But the very fact of this kind of information attack is evidence that there are quite a few people in India who are opposed to Russian-Indian cooperation in the area.
The problem is that the Indian Air Force is focused on the acquisition of chiefly Russian-made and French-made planes, hence the existence of a pro-Russian lobbying group and a pro-French group of lobbyists. The French-made Rafale fighter aircraft has recently won the Indian MMRCA tender, but the pro-French lobbyists are facing financial problems, since the cost of Rafale exceeds the approved contract ceiling. The situation compels India to look for some extra-funding, so the lobbyists are prompted to target the joint Russian-Indian project to develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
But then, there are few reasonable arguments against FGFA. Coming under criticism is mostly the cost of the plane, which will to all appearances exceed 100 million dollars per unit. But India will obviously pay more if it purchases 126 Rafale fighter aircraft for almost 20 billion euros. One should also bear in mind the generation difference. – The FGFA prototype – the T-50 fighter jet – made its maiden flight in January 2010, almost 23 and a half years after the first flight by Rafale.
Rafale can, besides, be replaced by a number of other aircraft with similar performance characteristics, but the FGFA project is unique in that no other country will supply India with heavy fifth-generation fighter jets.
But the "fight about money" is going ahead and will hardly come to a halt soon, given the current situation. Some experts believe that India may give up the Rafalejets by annulling the MMRCA tender results and redistributing funds in favour of other programmes, including FGFA.
But FGFA is not the only joint project of Russian and Indian aviation companies. Both countries pin great hopes on the MTC/MTA Multi-role Transport Aircraft project, based on the Il-214 Russian plane.
Russia and India signed an intergovernmental agreement to develop the MTA aircraft back in 2007. The future partners then agreed that each of the two would own 50% of the future production facility stock and that the headquarters would be set up in New Delhi. The aircraft would be produced both in Russia and India at an annual rate of 205 planes, of which 30% could be exported to third countries. If everything goes according to plan, the first MTA flight is due between 2016 and 2018. According to the Director-General of the ILYUSHIN aviation complex Victor Livanov, the Russian Defence Ministry plans to buy 100 MTA aircraft, while India, another 45 aircraft. This would ensure breakeven production level. The world market overall demand for MTA aircraft is estimated at 390 units, including civil transport aviation needs.
Project documents are due to be filed in February 2014 in what is seen as another important stage. The first flight should most likely be expected in 2017. The new aircraft is due to fill the niche of 12 tons to 20 tons of weight-lift ability, the niche that will be free when the Russian Air Force discards the ANTONOV An-12 transport plane.
Efforts to implement the MTC/MTA project have come across quite a few problems, of which one is the almost 7-year long break in development efforts, specifically from 2001 to 2008, but the aircraft is critically important both to the Russian and Indian Air Force, so the project must prove a success. Both nations have quite a few remotely located facilities that can only be supplied by air. But the use of Il-76 transport planes is sometimes unfeasible or inexpedient.
The implementation of the FGFA and MTA projects would provide the Indian Air Force with an up-to-date aviation industry. Russia would, for its part, use the Indian partners' funds to boost technology and increase designers' competence. The opportunity should not be neglected, given that new technological projects become increasingly expensive and complex.
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