Landmark R&D Deal Between India and Russia Negotiated for 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft

The wait seems to be finally over for the much-awaited collaboration between India and Russia for a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). India and Russia have negotiated a draft R&D contract for a total spending of $6.1 billion with both sides committing half of it.

MoD bureaucrats had objected to this project claiming that it might duplicate or hinder, the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). To ponder this question, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar had set up a five-person Experts Committee.

After six months of deliberation, the Experts Committee ruled that there was no conflict between the FGFA and AMCA. On the contrary, it said that Indian engineers and designers would gain technological expertise from the Russians that would benefit the AMCA project as well.

The delay in this project was excruciating. An Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) was signed between Delhi and Moscow 10 years ago to develop and manufacture the FGFA. Between 2010-23, HAL and Sukhoi spent $295 million each on a ‘Preliminary Design’ phase.

The two sides were then required to sign an R&D contract which was informed to the Parliament by MoD on July 5, 2013. The lethargy on the part of India under the UPA is evident in the fact that India dragged its heels for a decade since signing the IGAwhile Sukhoi Design Bureau had already designed the basic flying platform, named ‘Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation’ (PAK-FA). As is expected, if the R&D contract is signed this year, then IAF pilots could be testing FGFA prototypes in Indian skies by 2020.

The FGFA project will lead to development of heavy fighters that will succeed the Sukhoi-30MKI. In the medium fighter category, the IAF will have two Rafale squadrons, maybe even three if another contract is signed, and three upgraded Mirage-2000 squadrons. In the light fighter category, there will be four squadrons of Tejas Mark 1A, and another light fighter for which procurement has been initiated, the contenders for which are the Swedish Saab Gripen E and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70.

This move suggests that India-Russia military ties aren’t disintegrating as some say. Russia isn’t the top exporter of military hardware to India because the collaboration between the two nations is deeper than simply selling and purchasing arms and ammunition. India-Russia ties are about technology transfer, leasing of nuclear submarines, and getting together to produce some of the most advanced weapons – the BrahMos missile being a prime example.

Vinayak Jain