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Indo-Russian Air Transport Project Falters

January 8, 2016 (Photo Credit: Indian Air Force)

NEW DELHI — The proposed Indo-Russian Multi Transport Aircraft (MTA) program, awaiting final agreement since 2007, is "almost shelved" said an Indian Defence Ministry source.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's talks on Dec. 25 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow failed to pull the MTA out of the "stalemate," the source added.

The Russians are demanding a steep increase in cost for joint development of the transport aircraft and the Indian Air Force is not satisfied with some of the technical parameters of the MTA, especially the PD-14M turbofan engines, which the Russians propose to power the aircraft, the MoD source added.

"The transport aircraft [project] may be shelved because of three reasons. One is engine and secondly there are some internal conflicts in Russia between various stakeholders which is not allowing the desired progress. Thirdly, life of the AN-32 has been extended and the aircraft (upgraded)," said a senior Indian Air Force official who declined to be named.

A Russian diplomat here said, "We are awaiting finalization of the MTA," but refused to comment on the status of the project.

"The MTA program is as good as dead, and a global tendering will take place," said a senior Indian Air Force official.

Conceived in 2007, the MTA, in the 20-30 ton category, would have replaced the AN-32 military transport aircraft and was intended as a derivative of the Russian IL-214 aircraft for use by India and Russia. Though the first test flight of MTA was planned in 2013, a final agreement has not been reached despite several meetings between the two countries.

While a preliminary design of the MTA was worked out in 2013, India wants the transport to be able to operate from higher altitudes as opposed to the sea-level operations envisioned for the original IL-214. Even the detailed design phase has not been worked out.

In May 2012, already delayed by more than five years, India's state-owned military aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) signed a tripartite general contract with United Aircraft Corp.-Transport Aircraft (UAC-TA), the Russian partner, and their joint venture, the Multirole Transport Aircraft Ltd. (MTAL) for joint development of the MTA.

In November 2012, an office was opened for MTA Ltd. in Bangalore. United Aircraft Corp. has a 25 equity share, Rosoboronexport of Russia has 25 percent while HAL has 50 percent.

Initially, it was planned to produce 100 aircraft for the Russian Air Force, 45 for the Indian Air Force and 60 for export. 

Meanwhile, the MoD is re-evaluating the mix of transport aircraft needed.

No Agreement on FGFA 

A long-awaited final agreement on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft [FGFA] also did not materialize during Modi's December visit to Moscow.

In 2010, India signed a preliminary agreement with Russia for joint development of FGFA, also called the T-50 by the Russians. However, the final agreement, which will help release nearly $6 billion as India's share in development of FGFA, has been delayed because India wants a greater production work share and also wants a specific single-seater for its Air Force, as opposed to the two-seater prototype the Russians are currently flying and hope to induct by 2016-2017.

"Failure to ink a long-pending final agreement on both the MTA and the FGFA indicates that the Indo-Russian defense ties are beginning to plateau out," said Nitin Mehta, a New Delhi-based defense analyst.


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