Russian Sukhoi Su-57 Felon and Su-75 Checkmate depart India

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India’s Cabinet Committee on Security has given the go-ahead for a fifth-generation fighter development project under the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft [AMCA] initiative. The estimated cost of this state-of-the-art project looms around $1.8 billion, as reported by Janes. 

Photo credit: Sukhoi

This strategic decision entrusts the fabrication of aircraft prototypes to Hindustan Aeronautics, the nation’s leading aircraft manufacturing firm. Hindustan Aeronautics will carry forth the groundwork conducted since 2008 by DRDO – the Defense Research and Development Organization. 

Notably, the timeline for the prototypes’ completion is quite compressed, with the first five set to be completed at the start of 2028-2029. To fulfill this ambitious timeline, Hindustan Aeronautics will purportedly commence tooling for a new production line and engage contractors for the entire aircraft assembly chain within the next six months. 

Emphasizing India’s decision to develop its own AMCA fifth-generation fighter jet, demonstrates a shift away from Moscow’s influence in terms of arms decisions. This springs from the Kremlin’s repeated attempts to pitch its own so-called fifth-generation aircraft to India. 

In 2010, Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics set out on a joint venture for the Su-57, then named PAK FA. The Russian firm offered a 25% stake in the venture, valuing it between $8-10 billion. However, in 2018, India pulled out, citing the aircraft’s failure to meet fifth-generation standards precisely in terms of radar capabilities, stealth characteristics, and overall onboard equipment. 

Despite unveiling its latest invention, the Su-75 Checkmate, with an intended market pitch for Africa and Asia, including India, in 2021, the Russian Federation faced disappointment as the aircraft failed to generate interest. This latest decision by India further underscores its diminishing reliance on Soviet-era weaponry, indicating a strategic pivot. 

Photo credit: Sandboxx

The development of the AMCA fifth-generation fighter jet project poses a challenging feat for India. The development of the fourth-generation Tejas fighter jet posed its own share of challenges. Despite launching the project in 1983 as a replacement for the MiG-21, the jet made its first flight in 2001 and was finally commissioned in 2015, with the full variant following four years later. While the Tejas jet was under development, technology advanced, rendering certain aspects of the jet obsolete. Currently, a comprehensive modernization of the Tejas Mk2 is underway. 

It’s worth noting that extensive experience and education are not always prerequisites in modern aircraft development. For example, Turkish Aerospace Industries had only the TAI Hürkuş training rotorcraft and the TAI Hürjet under its belt before the KAAN’s first flight in April 2023. It also participated in the F-35 project and localized the F-16 production.

About AMCA

India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft [AMCA] is a fifth-generation fighter jet currently under development by the Aeronautical Development Agency [ADA] in collaboration with the Indian Air Force [IAF]. 

The AMCA is designed with stealth features, including a serpentine intake that hides the engine blades from radar and a body design that minimizes radar reflection. It also boasts advanced avionics, a multi-mode radar, and an integrated sensor suite. The aircraft is expected to have network-centric warfare capability, allowing it to communicate and coordinate with other elements of the IAF. 

The propulsion system of the AMCA is expected to consist of a pair of Kaveri engines, each capable of producing around 110 kN of thrust. However, the Kaveri engine has faced numerous developmental challenges, and there are plans to replace it with a more powerful and reliable engine in the future. The aircraft is also designed to be supersonic at all altitudes, with a top speed of Mach 2.5. 

The operational range of the AMCA is expected to be around 2,800 kilometers without refueling. This range can be extended with mid-air refueling or by using drop tanks. The aircraft is also designed to have a service ceiling of 60,000 feet, allowing it to operate at high altitudes. 

Photo credit: HAL

In terms of armament, the AMCA is expected to carry a mix of air-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles. It will also have a gun for close combat. The aircraft is designed with internal weapons bays to maintain its stealth characteristics, but it will also have hard points on its wings for carrying additional weapons or fuel tanks when stealth is not a priority.

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