India’s co-development of a fifth-generation fighter with Russia has not progressed quite as smoothly as the top brass in the Indian Air Force (IAF) had hoped.
The Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) was meant to radically upgrade India’s air strength through the combination of Russian expertise and Indian financing.
Instead, the IAF has been publicly slamming the development of the next-generation fighter. According to the Business Standard, the IAF has been lambasting the FGFA since at least last December over a series of design flaws. India’s also not happy about a perceived unequal split of work between the two countries, in addition to mushrooming expenses, and inadequate engines for the plane.
In January, the IAF took criticism of the FGFA a step further when the deputy chief of air staff complained that its engines and stealth capabilities — key components of a fifth-generation fighter — were far from adequate.
The IAF’s complaints may have less to do with the plane itself than with India’s internal politics.
India’s Air Force cannot dictate military procurement. Under India’s system, the Air Force relies on the Ministry of Defence’s civilian bureaucracy to dictate policy. So, the IAF’s public criticism of the fighter could be a way to pressure the Ministry into formulating a more equitable and efficient procurement policy, at least when Russia’s involved.
Likewise, India also has plans to purchase French Rafale fighters. The Air Force could also be trying to secure a better financial deal with Russia over the next-generation fighters while still having money left over to purchase jets from France.
Regardless of the IAF’s actual views on the FGFA, military cooperation between Russia and India is likely to continue — Russia currently supplies India with 75% of its arms imports.
As Mark Kronenberg, a vice president of international business development for Boeing Defence, told Aviation Week: “if you look at the India-Russia relationship, it goes back to 1962. I don’t think that relationship will ever go [in] reverse.”
The co-venture between Russia and India to develop a fifth-generation fighter has been in the works since 2010. The Russian T-50 variant of the FGFA has had some success, while the Indian variant is expected to begin extensive flight testing in India in 2014.
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