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.