HAL To Co-Design, Co-develop And Manufacture 200-250 FGFA Fighters


HAL would be joining Russia's Sukhoi Corporation to co-design,co-develop, and manufacture 200-250 FGFA; each separately for itsrespective air force. Joint development and production by HAL for theIndian Air Force are estimated to cost Rs 135,000 crore ($30 billion)or around Rs 500 crore each.

HAL's Chairman, Mr Ashok Nayak, told Business Line that therequirements for the Indian version were known but the work packages,that is, HAL's share in the design and development, were to bespecified. “We would like to do as much as we can of the designaspect,” he said.

Although the Russian side was testing a single-seater FGFA prototypefor its air force, he explained that the Indian version would demandlot of work in new design as well as changes for what could be atwo-seater for the IAF.

Mr Nayak said he could not say how long it would take to build the prototypes and reach them to flight certification.

Reports say a preliminary design agreement is to be signed in Decemberwhen the Russian President, Mr Dmitry Medvedev, comes to India.

Meanwhile, the defence public sector unit is creating a special teamfrom existing and fresh engineers at its design bureau — the AircraftResearch and Design Centre — according to a person familiar with theprogramme, but who did not wish to be named. It would start with 30-50engineers, and gradually take it to around 300 people.

HAL would also have to create some of the large infrastructure requiredfor the FGFA, and the lead centre could be Nashik, which has a readySukhoi platform. Other divisions would chip in.

At the prototype development stage, HAL would primarily involve themany defence and scientific labs such as National AerospaceLaboratories in Bangalore.

A highly placed HAL official conceded that the FGFA design is extremelycomplex, and no country will trade the technology; you have to be aninvesting partner.

Stealth — the feature that makes it undetectable by enemy radars — isthe main element of this futuristic aerial killer. For this it has tohave a radar-eluding shape and configuration. Its supersonic cruisingspeed, advanced fire power and manoeuvring, modern avionics, and a360-degree view set it apart from the fighter products of the 1990s.

The first versions have to make a few thousand flights before they arecertified for operation. “Even after 25 years, the LCA (light combataircraft) is still to be certified for operations,” the officialobserved.

Design alone takes 30-50 per cent of the cost of an aircraft. Buildingprototypes could be at least 10 per cent of the cost. The two partnersare to equally share the costs from this stage onwards. The HAL versionwill also be jointly marketed to other countries, but may be made byeither partner.

The Chief of Air Staff recently said FGFAs would be inducted by 2018,and would be the main part of a four-brand future air fleet. Itincludes the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft, currently beingevaluated for purchase); the home-made LCA and the Sukhoi-30MkI that isalready in use.

In January this year, Russia flew the first single-seater prototype(PAK FA) that its own air force will use. India joined the Russianprogramme (Sukhoi PAK/FA) in 2007 after a long consideration, whileSukhoi has been at it for at least five years.

Only two other FGFA dreams have taken off: US major Lockheed Martin isleading a pack of European nations in the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35);Lockheed Martin and Boeing are developing the F-22 Raptor. Japan andChina are also said to be opening their separate fifth-generationaccounts.

The Sukhoi/HAL FGFA will be far superior to the most advanced onesavailable today: among them the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; LockheedMartin F-16; the Dassault's Rafale that is still being developed;Russian MiG-35; Eurofighter Typhoon, or Sweden's Saab 39 Gripen;interestingly, all these are in the race for the IAF's Rs 40,000-crorepurchase tender for 126 MMRCAs.

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