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.