American F-35, Russian PAK-FA Are India’s Fifth Generation Fighter Options

  • Pinaki Bharracharya with bureau inputs
  • 09:30 AM, October 13, 2015
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India may have delayed participating in the Russian Fifth generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project to explore other options, namely the Lockheed Martin built F-35.

A talk in the corridors of South Block, headquarters of the ministry of defence (MoD) goes that the reason the IAF and the MoD is seeking to reduce the numbers of the Russian FGFAs is to have an option of purchasing another variety of fifth generation aircraft.

A former senior air force officer told, “they have made the offer indirectly,” referring to the American F-35. He refused to elaborate on what that ‘indirect offer’ was. Some other sources opined that ever since the US lost out on the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract, it had been trying to get India interested in the F-35.

The ministry’s response to the American feelers is not yet known.  But the fact remains that the prototype development contract for the Russian FGFA, PAK-FA or T-50, has not yet been concluded despite pressure from Russia to sign the contract. In December 2010, India had earmarked $295 million for getting the project started. The prototype development contract entails an investment of US$350 million.

India slowed down its participation in the prototype development and reduced its original order for 166 single-seater and 48 two-seater fighters to 127 single-seater PAK FA which was further bought down to about 35-55 units.

The latest information is that India might order the PAK-FA in a fly away condition after Russia completes its development schedule of the aircraft putting in all the technologies and weapons it originally promised including super-cruise and a high degree of radar immunity.

Recently, reported that the IAF has expressed the desire to have some of its pilots flying the aircraft in Russia. This is to familiarise them with the aircraft and discover what would be the elements needed for the Indian variety.

The former IAF officer opined that having already sunk money in the PAK-FA project, India would not want to opt out of the project, however given that China has forged ahead with its own fifth generation fighter project, India may like to have more than one FGFA option in the interest of speedy aircraft acquisition.

The US government is busy fulfilling orders from F-35 partner countries and may look at new customers a few years from now by which time India might be ready to look this futuristic aircraft.