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While the bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin was subtle, what wasn’t so was India’s displeasure over the Russian response to the much-talked about fifth generation fighter aircraft project – a joint development agreed upon in 2007. If Russian defence ministry’s latest move is anything to go by, India’s effort to arm itself with a stealth fighter plane has all but been stymied.
Official accounts emerging from Moscow suggest that citing ‘economic’ reasons, the Russian air force has decided to keep at arm’s length what India refers to as Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Earlier this month, Russia’s official news agency TASS reported the decision of their Defence Ministry to not purchase more than one squadron i.e 18 planes of T50 planes for its air force. It quoted the Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov as saying that the shortfall would be met by inducting more Sukhoi 35 which do not posses fifth generation capabilities.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) in New Delhi meanwhile in its latest public positioning, ‘Year End Review’ has stated that India’s FGFA requirement stood at 200 twin seat and 50 single seat T50 planes and that the project was progressing in a ‘satisfactory’ fashion. The T50 is the plane from which the FGFA is to emerge. The initial Inter Government Agreement (IGA) between India and Russia was signed in October 2007. Following that, the preliminary design phase was completed over two years ago in June 2013, after spending Rs 1418.91 crore. However the next step, which would cement the deal and productionise the plane will be achieved once the Research and Development contract is signed. In that document will emerge the role of both the countries, scope of work, cost and other details.
The T50 undertook its first flight in January of 2010.
When asked, the IAF said it was yet to hear about Russia’s decision officially.
However, in recent times, the IAF has hardly shown much excitement towards the project. Serious questions have been repeatedly raised towards what a senior officer termed ‘unproven fifth generational capabilities’ and the lack of participation being allowed by the Russians in what was supposed to be a co-development project.
Echoing those sentiments, former chief of the New Delhi-based Western Air Command, Air Marshal PS Ahluwalia (Retd) said, “Talk about the engine, the stealth features, design, material, weapons, radar cross section and in all of these aspects, the T50 has not yet demonstrated what was required of it. My advice to the air force will be purely look at it as a research project, nothing more.”
To make up for the rapidly dwindling number of fighter plane squadrons, the IAF is enhancing the serviceability of the existing fleet as well as attempting to push for newer inductions at the earliest. The deal for 36 French Rafale fighters is under negotiations currently whereas the purchase of 20 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has come and so has the approval for 100 more, in improved configuration.