NEW DELHI: India’s quest for a futuristic stealth fifth-generation fighter, which will see the country spend around $35 billion over the next 20 years in its biggest-ever defence project, has zoomed into the decisive phase now.
India and Russia are getting all set to ink the full and final design or R&D phase contract for the 5th Gen fighter by this year-end or early-2013, say sources. It will again underline India’s firm rejection of the US offer of its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) or the F-35 ‘Lightning-II’.
Ahead of the R&D contract, under which India wants to induct over 200 stealth fighters from 2022 onwards, a senior team of Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) engineers and IAF experts is going to Russia within a fortnight to ensure that the “full documentation and other work” of the earlier preliminary design contract (PDC) has been completed.
While the Indian fighter will primarily be based on the T-50, it will be tweaked to IAF requirements.
India had inked the $295 million PDC with Russia in December, 2010. The R&D contract on the anvil is pegged at $11 billion, with India and Russia chipping in with $5.5 billion each.
“The three Russian T-50 prototypes have flown around 180 sorties till now. HAL’s Ozar facility at Nashik will get three prototypes in 2014, 2017 and 2019…they will be flown by IAF test pilots,” said a source.
“Russia has already given the draft R&D contract to us. It will include the cost of designing, infrastructure build-up at Ozar, prototype development and flight testing. So, India will have scientists and test pilots based both in Russia and Ozar during the R&D phase up to 2019. HAL will subsequently begin manufacturing the fighters,” he added.
Interestingly, after first specifying the requirement for at least 166 single-seat and 48 twin-seat of these 5th Gen fighters, India is veering around to the view that it will go in for only single-cockpit jets now.
“Both F-35 and T-50 are single-seaters. A second cockpit will compromise the stealth capabilities by at least 15% apart from adding to the weight and reducing fuel capacity. Moreover, R&D costs could go up by another $2 billion for the twin-seater,” he said.
IAF is confident the swing-role fighter will meet its future operational needs.
As a critical interim measure and confronted with a declining number of fighter squadrons, IAF also wants the almost $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 French Rafale fighters to be sealed within this fiscal.