NEW DELHI — The Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft under joint development and production by the two countries has taken a hit, with Russia showing reluctance to fully transfer the aircraft technology, particularly stealth capabilities, despite repeated reminders, according to a top Indian Air Force official.
After the preliminary agreement on the particulars of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) program in 2010, and with both sides having paid $295 million each, the final agreement that enables India to release more than $4 billion, is pending.
The Air Force has worked out its requirements for the FGFA, but the crucial "work sharing and technology sharing draft has yet to be finalized," the IAF official said.
"The project is likely to get delayed further unless the issue of transfer of technology is finalized," offered Daljit Singh, a defense analyst and retired Indian Air Force air marshal. India should insist on technology transfer in specified fields, he added, as "full technology transfer may not be feasible."
Another retiree from the Air Force agreed. "Full technology transfer is not possible since the aviation industrial base in India is not at par with that in Russia," said Vijainder K Thakur, a defense analyst and former squadron leader.
An Indian Ministry of Defence official said the FGFA would be a joint project and that all technologies should be worked on together. The official would not provide further information.
Konstantin Makienko, the deputy director at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said: "The joint project means that the both sides develop the technologies together and become equal owners of them. Therefore it is not about the technology transfer but a joint use of them."
The Air Force is insisting that an agreement for joint development of the FGFA be reached at the earliest, lest the production of the aircraft be delayed. Any delay "would have serious cascading effect on production of the aircraft for India," Singh said.
India has a requirement for 120-130 of such swing-role planes with stealth features for increased survivability, advanced avionics, smart weapons, top-end mission computers and 360-degree situational awareness, the Air Force official noted, adding that "the ability to supercruise or sustain supersonic speeds in combat configuration without kicking in fuel-guzzling afterburners is a key Indian requirement."
For the most part, officials and analysts share a common view that a delay the final FGFA agreement is unlikely to shelve the entire program.
"It's unlikely that an in-principle agreement between Russian and Indian heads of government would be shelved. If India is unhappy with the extent of technology transfer, it would likely resort to a straightforward, albeit limited, buy, as happened in the case of the Rafale deal [with France]. Doors would be kept open for enhancing the scope of the deal at a later date," Thakur said.
The Air Force official pointed out that India has worked out operational needs for the FGFA, which the service says could differ from those of the Russians in some aspects. Russia has already moved ahead with its own research and development of the FGFA.
Russia is doing very well with its version of the FGFA, which is called the T-50. The first flight of the T-50 took place in 2010 , and induction this year.
In addition, Russia said it will fly the T-50 with the Product 30 engine, giving it Mach 1.5 supercruise, by 2020.
The Indian Air Force wants technology transfer for the FGFA from Russia because it is facing difficulties in the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft due to no availability of spares and technology transfer. India has contracted 272 Su-30MKI aircraft and is license producing the same at state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited facilities , the level of indigenization is very low.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.