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India-Russia 5th Generation Fighter Jet Program: Road to Nowhere?

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Asia Defense

India-Russia 5th Generation Fighter Jet Program: Road to Nowhere?

Contrary to recent statements by top Russian officials, the Indo-Russian stealth fighter project remains stuck.

India-Russia 5th Generation Fighter Jet Program: Road to Nowhere?
Credit: wikimedia commons/Alex Beltyukov

The co-development and production of the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), also known in India as the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF), one of the most high profile joint Indo-Russian defense projects remains stuck despite recent comments by a senior Russian official that a final contract may be signed soon.

Sergey Chemezov, the CEO of Russian state-owned Rostec Corporation, said in an interview that he expects a contract to be signed soon. “The first stage of the project is completed, now the second stage is under discussion. I think that the contract documents will be signed in the very near future,” Chemezov told IANS. “The project is very complex, but the work continues, although not so quickly.”

Russian officials have time and again expressed similar sentiments about the imminent conclusion of a final contract for the past three years with little to show.

India and Russia originally signed an inter-governmental agreement for the project in 2007, which was followed by the inking of a design contract for the co-development of the FGFA/PMF in 2010. Issues immediately arose over what technologies should to be used for the new aircraft and both sides also failed to agree to a work and cost sharing plan.

As I noted elsewhere:

Delays were caused by New Delhi and Moscow disagreeing over many fundamental aspects of the joint development project including work and cost share, aircraft technology, as well as the number of aircraft to be ordered. After evaluating the first PAK FA T-50 prototype (the Russian prototype of the PMF), the Indian Air Force (IAF) wanted more than 40 changes addressing, among other things, perceived weaknesses in the plane’s engine, stealth, and weapon-carrying capabilities.

India and Russia also failed to agree on the number of aircraft to be produced:

Russia announced in late 2015 that it would only induct a squadron (18-24 aircraft) of PAK FA fighter aircraft, and procure additional Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft instead. The original deal involved Russia procuring 250 and India 144 aircraft at a cost of around $30 billion by 2022. As a result, India threatened to abandon the project in its entirety. Russia in turn made a number of concessions including an offer to cut down its financial contribution from $6 to $ 3.7 billion for three PAK FA T-50 prototypes and substantial technology transfers.

India held out however. Nevertheless, a panel instated by the Indian Ministry of Defense, headed by retired Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, purportedly recommended in August 2017 that the project, despite its high cost, proceed. Frustrated with the delays, the IAF has repeatedly expressed its desire to end collaboration on the joint Indo-Russian stealth fighter project.