Thursday, February 26, 2015

SU T 50 Fighter Project gets a thrust

 SU T 50 Fighter Project gets a thrust

       With the number of operational fighter squadrons dipping to an alarming 25 as against the required 42 squadrons the Government of India has felt a strong need for new fighter jets and in a rapid induction phase. Keeping the future moves of the hostile countries GOI has accelerated the process to induct the best in class 5th gen Fighters for the Indian Air Force. The project has been slated as the SU T50 being jointly developed with the Russians .With the last government showing very less progress in this regard it’s a uphill task for the present government to induct these jets in a rapid succession. Though the deal was discussed with the Russian counterpart during the last government’s tenure no head way was made in the talks and a formal agreement in this regard remained a dream to be realized. 

     From the day the new government took over office the modernization of the armed forces and ramming up the capabilities of the forces has been the top priority. With China running ahead with its very own Fifth generation fighter project the government is surely concerned. China has always been waiting to strike back at India. The present government seems to have realized the real threat to India if any is not “Pakistan “but the “China”. Chinese having established two entirely different projects have joined the elite club of having access to two entirely different Stealth aircrafts platforms and its only after The United States of America. 

     With increased co-operation between China and Pakistan fears of these sophisticated aircrafts being operated in a two front attack against India seems to be a real possibility. And the depleting operational fighter squadron’s numbers of the air force has surely alarmed the government. With no new induction on chart to the air force and faced with only retirement schedules of the 60's era fighters the government has been forced to fast track the “FGFA project”.

 With the new government finalising the contract with the Russian counterpart the long waited Fifth Generation aircrafts can soon be seen patrolling the Indian skies with a IAF tag on them. The Indian and Russian government have now officially signed contracts to produce the first test models for the 5th gen fighters benefiting for both Russian and Indian Air force.

     The Indian delegation has demanded for minute modifications than to the model being developed for the Russian forces. The Russian Variant has been formally named as PAK FA (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation), and the Indian variant being named as PMF (Perspective Multi-role Fighter). The main developing parties for the Fighter have been finalised with Russian based Sukhoi being theajor investor and developer for Russia and the Indian side’s development and manufacturing process being headed by HAL. 

    With both the state owned companies having a good rap out and past experiences in the SU 30 project the companies have made significant steps to materialize the long pending projects. Finally the disputes in regard to various issues regarding the “Technology sharing” and financial worries with Sukhoi and HAL has crossed the turbulent waters and has finally sailed in to a calmer portion promising a bright future for both the forces.

   Even though the first T 50 made its first public appearance in Jan 2010 very less has been know of the aircraft’s capabilities and with just the test models ready it’s a very long way for the induction of these force multiplying fighters into the respective forces. The FGFA project now stands for a testing time where the capabilities the role of the aircraft is time and again tested. With various demands to be met the Russians are sticking to field their first Squadron of SU T 50 by 2017 even though it’s really asking. 

    The first fully fledged prototype model to be handed over to HAL is being awaited in a year to follow. HAL would then be charged with the responsibilities to fine tune the capabilities of the aircraft and to start the process of modifications for Indian conditions. The first Indian version is scheduled to be delivered and inducted by 2019. Indian Air Force has scheduled to field at least a few squadrons of these sophisticated fighters by the year 2021. But with very less ground work being completed it’s a very demanding schedule the IAF has set-up for the HAL. With the time frame being too tight the Indian Government may opt for various other options. To stick to the demanding nature India is facing the government may end up with a totally new contract to procure a few squadrons of  T 50 directly from Russia.

   Though rumors have been for quite some time nothing has been officially confirmed till date. IAF has time and again felt the need to operate these stealth capable fighters for quite some time if the present government does sign a deal for a direct procurement IAF may boost of these ultra-tech fighters which will surely serve as a mega force multiplier for the IAF. Sources close to Russian agencies said have deferred the dates for these T 50 to around the planned induction time of 2020.

    The major modifications being demanded by the IAF is to have capacities for the fighter to operate with a two manned stations. The present and under development fifth gen fighters of other nations actually have been developed around a one manned station. Starting from F 22, J 31 to the F 35 all have been provided and developed for a single operating crew. The mother design T 50 itself is being developed around a single manned station. The only ones who seem to be following the IAF path are the Israeli's who have had plans to modify their F 35 to be manned by two operating crews. And the change in this very basic design demands a very skilled team to work for flawless perfection to be mastered.

   To boost the dipping squadron numbers and the need for deep strike operations increasing  IAF initially planned to procure some 250 FGFA but faced with short runs in various fields the final number was trimmed to 150 FGFA’s. Former IAF chief Browne was quoted saying to have initially went for 150 two manned FGFA and 50 T 50 from Russia but later to be trimmed down to 150.

     If the fact is to be believed IAF can boost of 6-7 operational FGFA squadrons by 2021. And if the government does go ahead with the plans to procure a few T 50 directly from Russia in fly away condition IAF can boost of stealth capable fighters joining their forces by 2020. Hope the all crucial FGFA project rolls in the top gear and the expected deadlines are met and the IAF is given a major booster for strategic deep penetrating bombing missions in the near future.

Editor Karthik Kakoor

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