Saturday, 11 September 2010

India, Russia to ink Gen-5 fighter pact

Images of the PAK-FA, which first flew in Jan 10 at Sukhoi's facility in Knaapo in Russia. This fighter will be developed into the Russia-India FGFA

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Sept 10

Late on Thursday evening, in a triumph for the Russia-India defence relationship, the two countries signed off on a joint venture to co-develop a 15-20 tonne payload, 2500-kilometre range Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA), which will replace the Indian Air Force’s venerable AN-32 at the end of the next decade. But this path breaking US $600 million co-development of the MTA is likely to be dwarfed soon, when India and Russia each pledge US $6 billion to co-develop the world’s premier fighter, a step ahead of the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, which currently rules the skies.

Senior MoD sources have confirmed to Business Standard that years of tortuous negotiations have been successfully concluded in time for Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s visit to India this December. Russian and Indian negotiators have finalised the Preliminary Design Contract (PDC), a key document that will allow designers from both sides to actually begin work on the FGFA.

“The negotiators have done their job, and the Cabinet Committee for Security (CCS) will consider the PDC, probably this month”, says the MoD official. “If the CCS gives the green signal, as is likely, the contract will be signed during Medvedev’s visit.”

HAL Chairman, Ashok Nayak, had indicated to Business Standard, on a recent visit to HAL, Bangalore, that the deal was done. “It is in the system for approval”, said Nayak. “The respective work shares have been agreed to by both sides and once we sign the Preliminary Design Contract, we will finish the design in about 18 months. Developing and building the FGFA could take 8-10 years and each side will pay US $6 billion as its share.”

The Russian and Indian Air Forces each plan to build about 250 FGFAs, at an estimated cost of US $100 million per fighter. That adds up to US $25 billion for 250 fighters, over and above the development cost.

These astronomical figures have led Russia into co-development with India. The inescapability of cost sharing was reinforced last year, when the Pentagon was forced to shut down its F-22 Raptor programme. Since the technologies in the F-22 were deemed crucial to America’s technology lead, the fighter was developed and built entirely within the US. As a result, its prohibitive cost --- US $340 million per fighter --- forced the Pentagon to cap the programme at 187 fighters, just half of what it planned to buy in 2006.

“If the United States could not afford to go it alone on a fifth generation fighter, Russia clearly cannot”, points out a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer. “There was no choice but to co-opt India as a partner.”

Russia initially offered India partnership in the FGFA programme about 7-8 years ago but there was little clarity then on crucial issues like work share, i.e. what systems and components each side would develop. From 2005-07, India’s growing closeness with the US slowed down the FGFA project. Progress received a boost from the Russia-India Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) in November 07. But HAL sources recount that, even after the IGA, Russian negotiators’ concern about sharing top-secret technologies meant that a green signal from Moscow was needed for every step of the negotiation.

“This is the first time that Russia is co-developing a cutting-edge military platform with another country. Therefore, they were unclear about how to share work in a top-secret project like this”, says a senior HAL official. “Before each step, the Russian officials wanted clearances from the highest level in Moscow. Those Presidential Decrees, as they call them, took their own time.”

Consequently, says the HAL Chairman, it has taken almost three years from the IGA to negotiate a General Contract and a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). In March 2010, a “Tactical Technical Assignment” was signed, in which the work shares were agreed.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau has built a basic fifth generation fighter, which Russia terms the PAK-FA, the acronym for Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (literally Prospective Aircraft Complex of Frontline Aviation). A prototype, tailored to Russian Air Force requirements, made its first flight in January 2010.

India’s work share, according to HAL officials, will amount to about 30% of the overall design effort. This will centre on composite components and high-end electronics like the mission computer, the avionics, cockpit displays and the electronic warfare systems for the FGFA. Additionally, India will have to redesign the single-seat PAK-FA into the two-seater fighter that the IAF prefers. Like in the Sukhoi-30MKI, the IAF prefers one pilot flying and the other handling the sensors, networks and weaponry.


Mr. Ra said...

A good news again. Obviously there were no other options available to both India and Russia, except to have mutual cooperation in the technical and financial matters in this advanced cutting edge field. It is commendable that they seem to have arrived at consensus in the crucial matters of design and work shares.

Now they should make all out efforts to stick to the time schedules.

Sujith said...

Hi Ajay, nice article.

"a step ahead of the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, which currently rules the skies."- Can you please elaborate this.. While its unanimously agreed that the Pak-fa will be more maneuverable than the Raptor, matching its RCS would be hard according to most accounts I have come across. And then theres its AESA.
I ask this question only because uncle Sam has a clear lead in these two aspects and will be exceedingly tough to match IMO.

Anonymous said...

AMCA will go the LCA & Arjun way. While we have allocated only US$ 1 billion for AMCA but we are ready to spend US$ 6 Billion for Russian planes. The technology for PAKFA will ultimately end up in China. So we are funding our arch nemesis.

Note that there is no collaboration on engines, gearbox, fuel injection system, FBW, radar, IRST, ejection seats, actuators, landing gear, hydraulics etc which represent 90% of any fighter aircraft. This is same way we have been taken to the cleaners in Brahmos, T-90 deals.

Now the last point is whether US$ 6 billion will be spent in India or we will pay the Russians to augment their own R&D at our expense. I can bet my last dollar that all work will be done in Russia. Things will go over budget and our contribution will increase to US$ 10-15 Billion. AMCA will be killed like Arjun/LCA vs T-90/Su-30MKI. All the money will go to Russian labs and nothing will be setup in India.

Anonymous said...

Say that again. Is it $6 billion each!? and after the first prototype has already flown.

the terminator said...

Anon 10:31, you have put it very precisely. USD6billion is to be invested and the cost of the aircraft would be USD100 million each.

The above is notwithstanding the Russian penchant to escalate the price when an agreement has been reached. Just can't forget Gorshkov aircraft carrier fiasco and the additional 40 odd Sukhoi deal.

India's investment of USD6 billion is on a 50/50 basis but we are only getting 39% of the work share.
Are we going to do any critical, cutting-edge developmental work on areas that we are far behind?

We seem to be eager to hand out large sums of the taxpayers money to foreigners for R&D but when it comes to investment in local R&D, we come up with excuses.

Have we realized what even half the USD6 billion can do for the country if it is invested for R&D in the country? After all the first FGFA will only come into production in 8 (eight) years!

Indians at the highest level of government are either slow learners or could not care less what happens to the country so long as others speak highly about them.

Anonymous said...

Question -
The PakFA near its engines doesn't look stealthy. Will this part be redesigned later?

Anonymous said...

Remember that the F-22 cost a whopping $65 billion to develop, and the F-35 will probably cost even more. It's simply very expensive to design such planes, so in relative terms, that $12 billion is very effectively spent.

But one thing isn't clear to me currently - will Indian tech be in the Russian version too?

Anonymous said...

But india's need is expertise in engine design and development. If they don't get any work share on engine development, IMO India does not gain anything significant.

Anonymous said...

ajai sir, any update on IAC??? Long time no news.

Anonymous said...

Yes, We are lacking in engine tech, but are you really serious about giving India the engine work share and hoping to keep the schedule on time?

Better each side concentrates on what they are good at and share the overall tech/knowledge.