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  Fifth-Gen flavour at Aero India
By SP's Special Correspondent

HAL-Sukhoi prospective multi-role fighter
 
AMCA
 
AMCA
 
AMCA
At Aero India 2013, it’s hard to miss the fifth generation flavour in the air. They may not be big jets on the flightline, not yet at least, but they finally have a shape and form. The HAL-Sukhoi prospective multi-role fighter (PMF), the modified version of the Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA which is already under test across four prototypes in Russia, is on display for the first time at the HAL pavilion and has attracted a great deal of interest. HAL sources confirm that enquiries have been pouring in about the aircraft, including from the vast number of small and medium Indian enterprises who will be looking for a piece of the lucrative development and manufacturing pie. To be sure, the HAL-Sukhoi jet will not be extravagantly different from the platform currently being flight-tested currently, but largely involve an Internet reconfiguration of systems, including sensors, avionics and survivability features. Officials with the Sukhoi Design Bureau visiting Aero India this year confirm that the scope of redesign is extremely slim given timelines. However, the project has received a show of support from the IAF from the word go, a highly welcome fact for a programme that is all set to be one of India’s most costly. Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne recently revealed that two prototypes of the PMF would be delivered for tests later this decade. However, it is perhaps testimony to the massive scope of work at play that full scale production of the platform won’t begin before the early part of the next decade. In the meantime, there is a decade of development, testing and manufacturing to do, and HAL is going to be extremely busy. The fact that the state-owned company could be strapped for capacity and human resources towards developing a large part of its share of the work, the opportunities for the Indian private sector are enormous. It is also upto them to step up, take an interest in the future machine, and ensure that it is truly keeping with the spirit of an Indo-Russian partnership, rather than a Russian platform with a few Indian systems thrown in – which it could well turn out to be if ignored.

“The prospective multi-role fighter is a joint Indo-Russian effort to create an advanced fighter primarily for the Indian Air Force having advanced features such as stealth, ultra-manoeuverability, highly integrated avionics suite, enhanced situational awareness, internal carriage of weapons and network centric warfare capabilities,” says HAL. The officially declared features describe it as a single-seat swing-role combat aircraft with a low-observable design capable of supersonic cruise flight regimes. The aircraft will be capable of high maneouverability both in subsonic and supersonic regimes. Sporting an active safety flight control system, the PMF is said to be designed for air superiority to engage targets in the air and for the strike role to engage targets on the ground and ocean surface. Electronic warfare support systems will enable it to operate in a dense hostile electronic environment comprising airborne and ground based radars and jammers. “High degree of agility to close air combat, both at medium altitudes as well as at low level,” says official documentation freshly released on the platform at the show. High precision, multi-channel, long-range air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground, air-to-sea and air-to-radar weapons. This official description of the aircraft alone throws up huge development and participation opportunities for Indian companies.

A top IAF officer attending Aero India as part of the IAF Chief’s entourage says, “In an ideal situation, the PAK FA should only be a shell. HAL and Indian industry must fill the aircraft with fully Indian systems, preferably with an Indian primary AESA sensor, avionics, cockpit and all other on board features. If not, it adds to our inventory of just another foreign aircraft for which we will have to worry persistently about spares and support.” India and Russia see the PMF as a new paradigm in their relations, but a large section of the IAF still worries about its continuation as a buyer of foreign aircraft, and how Aero India continues to be a reflection of that. And that’s where the second newly revealed concept comes into play at the show – the newly configured advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA).

Until now a concept jet, the AMCA effort has intensified, and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is making every indication at Aero India that the design phase of the fifth generation attempt could be in its final stages, or indeed complete. With several different configurations over the last few years, the AMCA is often called India’s Raptor, though that may be a bit of stretch at this time. At the ADA stand this year, visitors will be treated to the first large model of an aircraft concept that has fructified into a formal project that has government sanction and generous funding. To be sure, the AMCA isn’t just another aircraft programme. This week, it was described by Chief of the DRDO as a “fifth generation plus” aircraft programme. “The AMCA will feature typical fifth generation design features and technologies such as stealth features, supercruise, super-maneouverability, thrust vectoring, advanced avionics based on integrated modular architecture, new generation display systems with touch panels, pilots associate to reduce pilot workload, advanced sensors like an AESA radar and infra-red search and track. Its declared missions in the air-to-air space include point defence, area defence and escort. In the strike role, it will be built to conduct SEAD, DEAD and precision strike missions.

 

 
     
 
 
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