Japan’s indigenously developed stealth fighter X-2 has took off successfully on its maiden flight on April 22, adding Japan to the elite club of global military powers having radar evading technology. Till now the only fully operational fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) was the US F-22 in service since 2005. However, in July 2015 the first squadron of the US F-35 ‘Lightning II’ multirole stealth strike fighter was also declared operational. Russia’s Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA took its first flight in January 2010 and is likely to go operational in 2017.
China’s under development Shenyang J-31 (also referred as F-60 or J-21 Snowy Owl) made its first flight on 31 October 2012 accompanied by two J-11 fighters in a ten-minute test flight with its landing gear lowered. With this, China became the second nation after the 1991 Advanced Tactical Fighter fly off, to have two stealth fighter designs in field-testing at the same time. China’s stealth fighter is likely to be operational in 2018. South Korea, India and Turkey too are working on FGFA projects.
The Japanese X-2 stealth fighter completed its 25 minute maiden 25 minute test flight escorted by two fighter aircraft. Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said such advances could also be applied to other fields and technological innovation in the aviation industry. The 14.2 metre long and 9.1 metre wide X-2 developed at a cost of some US$ 332 million by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and 200 other firms is successor to F-2 fighter jets Japan developed jointly with the US. Remarkably, the X-2 project began in 2009 and the maiden test flight has been made in less than seven years. Mitsubishi Heavy also developed Japan’s first indigenous passenger jet that made its maiden flight in November 2015. Technological giant Japan’s Self Defence Forces pack a powerful punch. India is procuring ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft from Japan.
India has been working on the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA – derivative of the Russian PAK FA (T-50) being developed for the IAF, also termed Perspective Multi-Role Fighter (PMF). The completed PMF is to include 43 improvements over the T-50 including stealth, supercruise, advanced sensors, networking and combat avionics. The first aircraft was to begin testing 2014, with introduction into service expected by 2022. India wanted to induct the PMF earliest before developing a wholly indigenous FGFA; begin inducting 127 x PMF entailing expenditure of $25 billion.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu held talks with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in January 2015, both agreeing to fast-track issues and review progress every three months. It is now reported that Indian and Russian negotiators have agreed to develop the FGFA reducing costs by $4 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) in India, opening avenue to build of 250 FGFAs. The overall project will cost both sides around Rs 40,500 (US$ 6 billion) each. The FGFA project involves improving the Russian PAK-FA significantly to meet the IAF’s specifications that include a 360-degree radar and more powerful engines. However, the proposal for a $4 billion R&D contract will have to go through MoDs cost negotiation committee and the Defence Minister, the contract visualizing a prototype fighter flying in India within three years. Overall 11 prototypes are to be built; three for IAF and eight for Russia. PDC of the FGFA giving detailed configuration, was completed in June 2013.
The second Indian project is the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) FGFA under development, with product design and simulation modeling in collaboration between the IAF, DRDO and Aeronautical Development Agency almost complete. The initial design and development phase will reportedly require Rs 4000-5000 crores. It is planned to fly the AMCA prototype by 2034-2024 coinciding generally with the time the IAF receives deliveries of the Tejas Mark II fighters. If large orders for the AMCA are guaranteed private players would find setting up new facilities much more lucrative. Some of the envisaged capabilities for the AMCA including fly by light, cloud shooting and new generation man-machine interfaces actually put it in a realm closer to that of a Sixth Generation fighter.
The AMCA needs to be executed on a newer model of public private partnership as ‘Make in India’ inviting foreign investment and partnership, to include countries like US, Japan and South Korea. If the AMCA project is pursued wholeheartedly, India could have an indigenous contemporary fighter by 2027-28. The requirement, therefore, is to speedily progress both the PMF through Indo-Russian partnership and AMCA through Make in India simultaneously.