Russia Delays India’s 5th-Gen. Fighter Program

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Russia Delays India’s 5th-Gen. Fighter Program

Production delays and cost hikes will likely delay the delivery of India’s first fifth-generation aircraft beyond 2022.

According to news reports this week, the Indian Air Force (IAF) might have to wait longer before it can induct its first fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) after Russia, with which it is co-producing the platform, imposed delays and unexpectedly hiked development costs.

Despite the U.S. encouraging India to join the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter consortium, New Delhi committed itself to the Sukhoi/ Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) FGFA variant of the Sukhoi PAK FA PMF T-50, also known as the “perspective multi-role fighter.” The program was initiated during a visit to New Delhi by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in December 2010.

Under the two-decade, US$35 billion program — India’s largest single-item defense investment ever — the IAF was to receive three variants of the aircraft in 2014, 2017, and 2019, with the final version entering service from 2020 (since then induction has been pushed to 2022). The IAF intended to induct a total of 200 FGFAs — 166 single-seats and 44 twin-seats — but that number has since been trimmed down to 144 single seaters, ostensibly for financial considerations.

After initial joint development in Russia and the inking of a preliminary design contract, the final design and R&D contract was to be signed in 2012. However, The Times of India now reports, citing industry sources, that as a result of the additional costs and delays imposed by Moscow, there is little likelihood that the final design and R&D contract will be signed during FY 2013, or even in 2014, which will inevitably have implications for the consortium’s ability to deliver the first aircraft by 2022.

According to Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, the first Sukhoi/HAL prototype is now expected to appear sometime in 2015-2016, one to two years behind schedule.

The Russian Federation’s first T-50 prototype, which is intended to become the successor to the highly successful MiG-29 and Sukhoi-27, carried out its first test flight in early 2010, and its longest yet, covering a distance of 7,000km, in January this year. Sukhoi is also developing three other prototypes.

The IAF, which says it doesn’t have enough aircraft to meet its security requirements vis-à-vis Pakistan and China (it currently relies on 34 fighter squadrons), is also awaiting delivery of 115 Sukhoi-30MKI Flanker-H air-dominance fighters — also a co-production effort between Sukhoi and HAL — from 2015, though that program also appears to be facing production delays.

Combat aircraft were the largest single component of Russia’s defense exports in 2012, accounting for 40 percent of its sales. With US$15.2 billion in arms exports in 2012, Russia is the world’s largest arms exporter after the U.S. India and China are among the largest recipients of Russian arms exports.