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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Monday, January 15, 2007

India, Russia may join hands for stealth fighter

NEW DELHI (Times of India): India is finalising plans for a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, which will have a lethal mix of beyond-visual range combat capabilities, reduced radar tracking signature, super-manoeuvrability and supersonic cruising ability.

A detailed presentation on the futuristic fifth-generation fighter project was made to defence minister A K Antony on Friday by a high-level team of officials from defence ministry, Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), said sources.

India is likely to collaborate with Russia in this multi-billion dollar programme since it's still to completely master the technology behind the manufacture of advanced fighter jets despite the ongoing indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft project.

The presentation to Antony, which was led by secretary (defence production) K P Singh and included HAL chairman Ashok Baweja, comes barely a month before Russian President Vladimir Putin comes to India. Russia has been hard-selling its fifth-generation fighter project to India for some years now since it desperately needs some infusion of funds in its programme touted to be a rival to the American F-35 Lighting-II Joint Strike Fighter project.

The two main Russian aviation majors, MIG Corporation and Sukhoi Design Bureau, submitted their plans for joint development of the fifth-generation fighter with HAL in end-November.

"Both presented their concept papers and blueprints about the aircraft configuration, workshare in co-development and cost of development. India might make the choice of its partner public during Putin's visit," said a source.

The most potent fighters in India's combat fleet at present are the Sukhoi-30MKI "air dominance" fighters, being manufactured indigenously by HAL now under transfer of technology from Russia, which can be placed a little over fourth-generation fighters.

Incidentally, HAL has been directed by Cabinet Committee on Security to "compress" the manufacture of 140 Sukhoi-30MKIs by three years to finish the project by 2013-2014, instead of the original 2017-2018.

Sources said the fifth-generation fighter, likely to be developed with Russia, will be "50% to 100% superior" to Sukhoi-30MKI in terms of "avionics, radius of turn, accuracy of weapon delivery and other combat capabilities".

The only operational fifth-generation fighter in the world as of now is the new American F/A-22 Raptor, the most expensive combat jet in history, priced as it is at $258 million apiece.

Fourth-generation fighters like MiG-29s, F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F\A-18 Hornets and Mirage-2000s were developed from 1970 onwards, with superior avionics for multi-role capabilities than previous jets. The intermediate stage between them and the fifth-generation fighters is represented by Sukhoi-30MKIs, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, F-16F Desert Falcons, Eurofighter Typhoons, Rafales and the like.

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