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Pakistan may beat India to 5th generation fighter jet

India’s bitter rival Pakistan may well get its hands on a fifth-generation fighter jet before the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), being produced by the DRDO, gets off the ground.

Turkey has disclosed that it has begun talks with Pakistan to include that country as an official partner in the construction of combat aircraft. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is now staring at two wasted decades of technological growth as a result of a series of mistakes made by the Indian defence establishment and the IAF top brass over the years.

The IAF has fewer and older fighter aircraft units to protect Indian airspace as a result of the delayed acquisition and slow development of indigenous fighter jets. The IAF reportedly has more surface-to-air missile units than fighter jets at present.

When India and Russia collaborated to create the Fifth Generation Fighter Jet (FGFA), the search for the next generation of fighter jets officially began about 15 years ago.

 

IAF let down by India’s leadership

The Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) co-development and production project, one of the most ambitious and contentious joint Indo-Russian defence programmes to date, saw the IAF withdraw in 2018 due to disagreements on cost-sharing strategies, technology transfers, and the technological capabilities of the aircraft, among other issues.

But 11 years after the two countries started working together, India withdrew from the initiative.

If the Cabinet Committee on Security approves and funds the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) twin-engine stealth aircraft project, the first AMCA is anticipated to be operational in 2026. In contrast, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, the first fighter plane of the fifth generation, had its initial service entry in 2005.

The AMCA was first envisioned as an all-weather, multi-role fighter jet in 2009, with the ability to engage in aerial combat, launch ground attacks, neutralise enemy air defences, and engage in electronic warfare. The first workable design was developed after four years, and the IAF approved it in 2013.

But after that, a cooperative venture to develop FGFA with Russia was started. Encouraged by the joint venture’s success, the IAF opted to continue with the project until it was abandoned in 2018. The AMCA project was delayed as a result, but the IAF has since decided to stick with its own 5th-generation fighter plane.

The crucial design that the ADA submitted has been accepted by the IAF. The first five AMCA prototypes will be powered by GE-F414 engines. The IAF will purchase 125 AMCAs in Mk1 (40 with GE F414 engines) and Mk2 (with ‘Indian’ engine) versions. It is suggested that the latter have a stronger engine created in partnership with a foreign partner.

 

Poor performance by DRDO

The DRDO has received criticism frequently for establishing difficult deadlines only to miss them.

“The prototype can be released in three years after project approval, and the maiden flight can follow in one to one and a half years,” Dr AK Ghosh, the Project Director of AMCA, had claimed during DefExpo-2022

The IAF, however, took the assertion with a grain of salt.

The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, suggested “prudence” in November 2022. He suggested overseas partnerships as a backup plan for creating “alternative systems and sensors” in case domestic development is delayed.

On February 14, 2023, the DRDO Chairman Samir Kamat announced a revised timeframe in response to the IAF Chief’s remarks. It states that the maiden flight of the AMCA “may take seven years, and the induction can be done in ten years from now.” The induction was planned to take place in 2035, while the first flight timeframe had already been advanced from 2027 to 2030.

 

Pakistan riding on Turkey’s technology

Pakistan’s ability to participate in the Turkish combat aircraft programme is not yet known, but Turkey has made it clear that it intends to start talks with Pakistan as soon as possible.

“Pretty soon, within this month, we will be discussing with our Pakistani counterparts to officially include Pakistan in our Kaan national fighter jet program,” Turkish deputy defense minister Celal Sami Tufekci said in Pakistan on August 2, 2023.

Only a few days had passed when Azerbaijan joined the fighter jet project before the news was made. The state-owned military aircraft manufacturer and MRO facility in Pakistan, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra, and Turkish Aerospace, which is in charge of the Kaan’s development, have a tight working connection.

The impact of Kaan’s involvement on Pakistan’s homegrown efforts to create a future fighter—the so-called Next-Generation Fighter Aircraft—started through Project AZM in 2017—is unknown.

The Kaan fighter jet’s development started concurrently with the AMCA project, which is impressive. A core team of five defence scientists—Ashish Kumar Ghosh, Krishna Rajendra Neeli, MB Angadi, AK Vinayagam, and Fairoza Naushad—was established in 2009 to design the Indian stealth fighter. However, in December 2010, Turkey’s Defence Industry Executive Committee (SSIK) agreed to create a new generation of air superiority fighter aircraft.

Even though the engines will only be able to taxi at this point, the Turkish Aerospace Industry hopes to roll out the aircraft by 2023 while the Indian project is still in the planning stages.

Late last month, Temel Kotil, the general manager of TAI, made a broadcast announcement announcing that the business had picked December 27 for the aircraft’s introduction into Turkish airspace, five years ahead of schedule.

After that, critical design review (CDR) tasks will be completed in 2024, Block-0’s production will be finished in 2025, and the first flight will take place in 2026.

Pakistan and Turkey are looking to replace their fourth-generation Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter aircraft with a fifth-generation model. The Kaan, dubbed the “first big fighter” of the Muslim world, is expected to reach a top speed of Mach 1.8 at 40,000 feet (12,192 metres) and have a service ceiling of 55,000 feet, according to material made public by TAI.

The AMCA will have a 1,620 km combat range and a peak speed of about Mach 2.15. The aircraft will be equipped with Brahmos-NG (next generation) air-to-ground missiles, Astra air-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles, Rudram anti-radiation missiles, laser-guided bombs, and precision munitions to handle both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations.

Engine technology has stymied India’s aim of building fighter jets. India hesitated to recognise its inability to produce engines domestically and worked with international businesses to obtain one, but Turkey moved quickly.

It signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Eurojet, the company that makes the EJ200 engine that powers the Eurofighter Typhoon, in January 2015. Turkey wants to increase its resources and experience, which is why Ankara is interested in making Pakistan a formal partner in the project.

India’s ‘go alone’ attitude changed when it decided to work with General Electric and Safran instead of trying to design the wheel and produce fighter aircraft engines on its own. The LCA Mark II and AMCA will be powered by GE F414 engines.

The ejection seats for the Mark-1 are also imported, in addition to the engines. There are no imported sensors, avionics, or flight control systems. That indicates that more than 70% of the planes are domestic.

Because it would not be commercially viable, scientists do not wish to scale up the indigenous content any further. The percentage of locally produced content will increase to 90% after the Mark-2 engines are developed.