India, Russia firm up 5th generation stealth fighter project

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NEW DELHI - India and Russia Tuesday firmed up plans to jointly design and manufacture a most advanced stealth fighter by signing a preliminary design contract in the run up to the mega defence project that may touch the $30 billion mark.

The preliminary design contract for the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) “envisages joint design and development” of the jet, an official statement said.

The agreement, along with 29 other India-Russian pacts, was signed after talks here between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Dmitry Medvedev, who is here on a two-day visit.

The project will be jointly developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India and Sukhoi Design Bureau and Rosoboronexport of Russia, the statement added.

The 30-tonne aircraft will have very advanced avionics, stealth to increase survivability and enhanced lethality, according to Indian Air Force (IAF) officers. It will have the capability to launch air-to-air, air-to-surface and air-to-ship missiles.

With each FGFA costing at least $100 million, and IAF looking to induct some 300 of them from 2017-18, the deal will be worth $30 billion - the biggest biggest defence project undertaken by India.

The fighter jet whose joint production was agreed on in 2007, is intended to compete with the US F-22 Raptor, so far the world’s only operational fifth-generation fighter, and the under production F-35 Lightning II. Both aircraft are manufactured by a consortium led by Lockheed Martin.

India and Russia share a long standing defence and strategic partnership that goes back to the Cold War era.

Russia has been India’s largest defence supplier. Notching up sales worth over $40 billion since the 1960s, nearly 70 percent of India’s military hardware comes from Russia.

Amid fierce competition from the US, France, and other western countries, there have been certain concerns over delayed deliveries, shortage of spares and huge cost escalations by Russian defence firms.

For example, the ongoing refit of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov has been hit by huge delays and cost escalation. India will now get the carrier in 2013 — instead of the earlier August 2008 — by paying $2.3 billion instead of the $1.5 billion fixed in January 2004.

But that hasn’t detered the bilateral defence partnership from going further north.

A joint statement issued after the Manmohan Singh-Medvedev talks said the two sides “acknowledged that the traditionally close cooperation between the two countries in the military-technical field is a major pillar of the strategic partnership”.

“It is a reflection of the trust and confidence that has built up between the two countries over the last half century,” the joint statement added.

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