Wednesday, December 22, 2010
India will foot the bill to develop the Russian fifth generation fighter and then buy it at market price
Condemned to another cycle of fighter jet imports
SO FOR yet another generation, India is going to end up paying for the development of fighters built to someone else’s design. The $35 billion deal to “jointly develop” the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) is a misnomer:
India will merely be associated in developing the Indian variant of a Russian fighter, and probably end up paying most of its development costs.
In fact, three prototypes of that fighter already exist and the first flight took place in January this year. It is called the T-50 or PAKFA (no relation to Pakistan).
India was not associated in that design work. But it will now cut into the programme by providing the much needed funds and be able to shape the fighter to its requirements. That process will give the Indian Air Force a good fighting machine. But it is unlikely to provide India with what it needs — the ability to design and develop its own topnotch fighters.
Diagrammatic representation of the Sukhoi T-50 or PAKFA on which the fifth generation fighter will be based.
The contrast with China is obvious. In 1999, China acquired the designs of the Soviet-era Su-27SK fighter which was then manufactured in China as a joint venture between Knaapo, the Russian manufacturer, and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. This was then jointly developed and became the Su30-MKK. The contract was terminated well before all 200 fighters were supplied and thereafter the Chinese have come up with their own reverse engineered aircraft, the J-11 which is also the basis of a new naval variant the J-15. Out of this is also likely to emerge the J-XX or the Chinese fifth generation fighter.
The Chinese have considerable experience in reverse engineering Russian designs. But India has been unable to do that though it has paid for licence manufacturing capabilities, first for the Mig-21 series of aircraft, then the Jaguar strike aircraft and finally the Sukhoi 30MKI.
Neither has it developed a significant design and development capability despite funding the Light Combat Aircraft project. India has actually ended up paying the development costs for someone else’s fighters. In this way, we subsidised the development of the Mirage 2000 aircraft, then of the Sukhoi 30MKI and now we will do it with the FGFA. And then we will pay market prices of the final product for the privilege.
ACCORDING to the HAL, a number of Indian design engineers are to be associated with the FGFA. It remains to be seen as to just how many do end up participating in the programme and what use is made of them thereafter. Whether or not this extends to engine development remains to be seen, though this is unlikely.
The Chinese have been relentless in ensuring that they acquire strategic capabilities in key areas. Military aviation is just one such area. The other is high-speed trains in which China has emerged a world leader in the short space of two decades. The systematic manner in which China imported technology and then insisted on transfer of technology and its dissemination into Chinese research and development institutions is to be admired.
On the other hand, Indian processes are opaque and it is the taxpayer who is eventually landed up with a massive bill. Take the Su-30 MKI, from $32 million per piece in 2000, we are now paying $90 million per copy even though they are allegedly being made from raw materials in India. But it is no secret that India imports all key assemblies and the engine (40 per cent by value of the aircraft).
Indian defence PSUs repeatedly make claims about indigenising products, while they actually cheat the exchequer and the public by buying subassemblies and passing of the final product as their own. The 2010-2011 CAG report for the air force and navy gives one instance when a PSU claimed it would make 22 of a kind of surveillance radars indigenously. As soon as it got the approval for the `870 crore project, it placed an order for the import of 13 of the 22 in completely knocked down (CKD) form. To top this, the socalled indigenous product cost `78 lakh more than the original imported radar.