India may opt for off-the-shelf purchase of three squadrons of the Russian T-50 fifth generation stealth fighters, instead of taking the earlier Joint R & D route to manufacture 127 fighters in India.
Just as the Indian MoD abandoned discussions for licence-manufacture of the Rafale in India and went in for direct procurement of three squadrons, it may do the same in case of the T-50 for speedier procurement.
The T-50 aircraft, also called the PAK-FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) is currently in advanced development in Russia with five prototypes undergoing tests. The Russian air force plans to induct 12 aircraft from 2016 onwards.
Russian Deputy Defence Minister in charge of Armaments, Yuri Borisov, has said in May this year after visiting the Sukhoi T-50 production plant, “the company is ready to start mass production of the fifth generation fighter starting in 2016”.
The Tribune newspaper reported quoting unnamed sources that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has scaled down its needs in view of budgetary constraints and may now buy three squadrons (around 18 planes in each), besides a few more for pilot training.
Another reason could be long gestation period; it will take about 8 years for the first aircraft to be delivered to the IAF in case India opts for the R&D contract route. India is faced with a severe shortage of aircraft and with China developing its own stealth fighter, India need to come up with its own sooner than later.
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had told parliament last week that the preliminary design stage of the fifth generation fighter aircraft programme completed in June 2013 incurring an expenditure of Rs 1,483.15 crore (US$240 million). The next stage will commence after signing of the R&D contract, he had said.
The R & D contract is expected to cost US$ 350 million. India has not yet responded to Russian request for starting discussion on the R & D contract, perhaps in view of the new thinking of procuring the planes off-the-shelf.