Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA)
India's Hindustan Aeronatics Limited (HAL) is to build the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), a derivative of the Sukhoi Su-57 / T-50, in India. In 2007 Russia and India signed an agreement on joint development of fifth generation fighter FGFA (Fifth-Generation Fighting Aircraft), based on the Russian Sukhoi PAK FA (PAK FA). It is expected that the launch customer for the aircraft will be Indian Air Force, and later it would be delivered to third countries.
In June 2001, India was offered 'joint development and production' of a new 5th generation fighter by Russia. Russia had been trying to sell this concept both to China and India for some time, but this time it was made directly to India's Defense Minister. The Russian Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsyi (PAK FA), which means 'Future Air Complex for Tactical Air Forces'.
In November 2001, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Ilya Klebanov's announced that India and Russia had agreed to jointly develop a fifth-generation strike aircraft. This was the result of a four-day visit to Russia by India's Prime Minister. It was intended to be the same size as the US JSF but have a mission profile closer to the F-22 Raptor, with air superiority being the primary mission and ground attack and reconnaissance being secondary.
The Indian fighter jet will be based on the Russian single-seat Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA fifth-generation fighter, which had four prototypes flying, but it would be designed to meet about 50 specific requirements by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
India wanted to produce some of the aircraft's computers, software, guidance systems and other systems, as it did for a similar project with Russia producing a locally-made variant of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI strike aircraft. Russia would provide the aircraft's Saturn 117S engines and some stealth technology elements for the plane.
In October 2015 Indian Air Force (IAF) boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, signalled growing IAF disenchantment with the FGFA, which had been increasingly evident from the inability of New Delhi and Moscow to agree on an R&D contract. India had concerns over the maturity of the Russian technology in certain spheres. In particular, the prototypes constructed so far featured extensive use of metal in their airframes, reflecting the gaps and shortcomings in the modern composite technology available to Sukhoi. At the same time, the homegrown Tejas had a 43-percent share of composites in its airframe.
The air chief confessed, "There are some issues which have cropped up in terms of the work share, in terms of the present technological and technical aspects of the PAK-FA (the Russian FGFA prototype, which is undergoing test flights), and of course the cost visibility. So these are the issues we are looking at and they have been taken up at the highest level."
However, the air chief believed that the AMCA's promise compensated for uncertainty over the FGFA. Says Raha, "If the FGFA comes through it is fine, otherwise the Indian FGFA - that is the AMCA, the advanced medium combat aircraft - we still have over 15 years to work on it before the MiG-29 upgraded aircraft retire, before the Mirage 2000 upgraded ones retire, as well as Jaguar upgraded ones retire in another 15 years."
Under the Russian-Indian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project, both sides would invest $4 billion each at the developmental stage, while the total cost of constructing 127 fighter jets is estimated to amount to $25 billion. In the project, the Russian side is represented by the Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer and the Indian side by Hindustan Aeronautics. The initial FGFA agreement was signed in 2007, the final agreement, which will include the project's financing conditions, was yet to be signed by 2018.
There have been serious differences between the two sides on sharing cost of developing the jet, technologies to be used in it and the number of aircraft to be produced. The Indian Air Force always questioned the technological capabilities of Su-57 or PAK FA fighter jets especially stealth capability. The project had been hanging in balance for almost a decade. India had agreed to pay $295 million (Rs 18.97 billion) towards the preliminary design of the fighter, called in India the 'Perspective Multi-role Fighter' in 2010.
HAL and Sukhoi negotiated an $8.63 billion deal to improve the PAK-FA with the IAF’s requirements of stealth (near-invisibility to radar), super-cruise (supersonic cruising speed), networking (real-time digital links with other battlefield systems) and airborne radar with world-beating range. In all, the IAF demanded some 50 improvements to the PAK-FA, including 360-degree radar and more powerful engines. In co-developing the FGFA, HAL was expected to deploy its experience in working with composite materials, which were to replace many of the metal fabricated panels on the PAK-FA.
Indian aerospace designers cited the FGFA experience as essential learning for developing the indigenous fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) was pursuing. In July 2017 an experts group headed by Air Marshal (Retired) S Varthaman, concluded that there were no conflict lines between the FGFA and AMCA.
But since then, very little progress was made in the project. A high level committee, comprised of officials from the Indian Air Force and defence ministry, submitted its project after examining multiple aspects of the project in 2017. The IAF was divided over the FGFA. Those flying branch officers of the “French school”– whose careers had centered on Mirage and Jaguar fighters – tended to oppose the FGFA. But officers from the “Russian school”, with careers in the MiG and Sukhoi fleet, supported the FGFA.
The proposal for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) was formally terminated when National Security Advisor Ajit Doval conveyed the decision to a Russian ministerial delegation at a “Defence Acquisition Meeting” in end-February 2018. Doval and Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, who attended the meeting, asked the Russians to proceed alone with developing their fifth-generation fighter. They said India might possibly join the project later, or buy the fully developed fighter outright, after it entered service with the Russian Air Force.
Defense Minister of India Nirmala Sitharaman traveled to Moscow on 03 April 2018 on her first ever visit to India's biggest arms supplier, Russia. The FGFA project was stuck for years, but only in February 2017, talks were revived during Manohar Parrikar's visit to Moscow. India was eyeing an advanced version of Russian PAK-FA T-50 aircraft and the visit by the defence minister was intended to give further impetus to the project. But Sitharaman did not talk about FGFA program with the Russian counterpart during her visit to Moscow in early April 2018.
In April 2018, Director for International Cooperation at Russia's Rostec Viktor Kladov told Sputnik that Moscow had not received any notification from India on New Delhi's alleged withdrawal from FGFA, thus denying media reports about India's intention to leave the project. The project implies that India will not only acquire new generation fighter jets, but will also launch their licensed production, according to the executive. Slyusar expressed his hope that the sides would switch to the design stage soon.
India gently withdrew from the PAK-FA program, with Defense Minister of India Nirmala Sitharaman couching the cancellation in diplomatese. It was conveyed to Russia that they can go ahead with the program and India can join later, she told the media in New Delhi 13 July 2018. India conveyed to Russia that it will not be part of the project now to develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and may join the program at a later stage, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said. "We informed Russia that India is no longer a participant in this project, but at the same time we told the Russians that they could continue developing it on their own, and we could rejoin them at a later stage," she said.
The Indian Air Force released a special report on the topic: "Having studied all aspects of this project, we came to conclusion that it does not meet our requirements, since the FGFA will not be able to create an aircraft that will be able to demonstrate the performance close to that of American fighters US F-22 and F-35," the report in particular said. The IAF believed that the Sukhoi Su-57 (T-50 PAK-FA) fighter, which India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) designated the Perspective Multi-Role Fighter, did not meet its requirements for stealth, combat avionics, radars and sensors. Seven FGFA prototypes were currently undergoing flight-testing in Russia, but there was no indication as to when the platform was likely to enter series production.
Moscow and New Delhi are going ahead with discussions on the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) project despite media reports on India’s withdrawal, Yury Slyusar, the president of the Russian United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), said on 19 August 2018. "We have not closed the topic, we continue to discuss with India the joint development of the fifth generation [aircraft]. The topic is not closed. It was reported quite intensely that the Indians are exiting this project – they are not withdrawing from it, they just ask a really large number of questions, to which, in our opinion, we give exhaustive answers. As before, we proceed from the premise that the amount of technology that we are ready to transmit to India, no other country is not ready to transfer," Slyusar told the Rossyia 1 broadcaster.
Russian Ambassador to India Kudashev asserted that the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project is still on the agenda. But India's priority at present is S-400, frigates, helicopters and assault rifles. "But FGFA deal will be back very shortly," Nikolay Kudashev added 11 October 2018.
New Delhi is ready to reconsider its cooperation with Moscow for the joint manufacture or purchase of the fifth generation Russian Su-57 fighter jet after the aircraft is commissioned and tested by the Russian military, Birender Singh Dhanoa, the chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force, said in Juy 2019. Dhanoa said in an interview with the Russian Armed Forces' official newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, that India would make a decision on the Su-57 jet after seeing it in action in Russia, and after Moscow presents the new aircraft in New Delhi.
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