Moscow, New Delhi set to develop a fifth-generation fighter

MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - Although the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum air-superiority fighter with a vectored-thrust engine is currently stealing the limelight at the Dubai Air Show 2007, this warplane will become obsolete in the foreseeable future.

Fifth-generation fighters featuring entirely new engineering solutions will form the mainstay of national air forces in the 21st century.

On November 15, Russia's Sukhoi Military Aviation Complex and the Indian Defense Ministry launched a new round of talks on developing a fifth-generation fighter.

On October 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a televised news conference that Moscow would start developing such warplanes by 2015. Before that, First Deputy Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said a prototype fifth-generation fighter would perform its maiden flight in 2009, and that serial production would commence in early 2010. But most experts were not so optimistic and predicted that the first warplane in this category would not appear before 2012-2014, which is supported by President Putin's statement.

However, the world's first fifth-generation fighter, the prototype US F-22 Raptor fighter, first took off on September 7, 1997. Two weeks later, Russia's Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut, another prototype fifth-generation fighter, flew for the first time.

Production versions of the F-22 Raptor and the US-EU F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are currently available. The latter, which is referred to as a generation five-plus fighter, seems to out-perform the former.

Unfortunately, Russia has so far failed to master production of the purely experimental Su-47, built by Sukhoi at its own expense. Nevertheless, the plane's lay-out makes it possible to streamline various engineering solutions under the Advanced Tactical Aircraft (PAK FA) program.

The United States and Europe spent over $20 billion on the F-35 JSF program. Therefore, experts believe that Russia should team up with a foreign partner in order to develop a fifth-generation fighter. It will take $600-800 million to design the engine, the most expensive element, and another $1.5 billion to launch serial production.

Moscow considered China and India to be the best partners. However, Beijing prefers to develop its own aircraft engines, and India is more interested in state-of-the-art designing methods and does not want to manufacture "ready-made" planes.

Russia and India started negotiating on the joint fifth-generation fighter program in 2003. New Delhi insisted that the new plane be developed from scratch. Moscow was not very happy about this because it implied another highly expensive project.

Apart from outstanding achievements, bilateral military-technical co-operation has been marked by major setbacks and even conflicts. And this explains why it took India so long to get involved in the new fighter program.

Both countries have faced serious problems such as upgrading the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier. Under a bilateral contract, the Indian Navy was to have received the warship in 2008. However, the Admiral Gorshkov will only conduct its trial run from 2010 to 2012.

Moreover, Russian bureaucrats have failed to approve the preparatory documents of the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MTA) project during last two years and have nearly stopped it. New Delhi has already said that it could withdraw from the project and develop the MTA together with Brazil or the EU.

Tatyana Shaumyan, head of the Centre of Indian Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oriental Studies, said Russian red tape, the inadequate fulfillment of contracts and delayed shipments had impaired many aspects of bilateral relations. This is why India is trying to protect itself from such negative developments.

For instance, the national air force floated a global tender for 126 combat jets worth $10 billion. Eighteen of the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) will be purchased in flyaway condition and the remaining 108 manufactured in the country under a transfer of technology (TOT) agreement with the chosen supplier.

The 211-page request for proposal (RFP) has been sent to the manufacturers of six aircraft: the U.S. F-16 and F-18 Super Hornet, the Swedish Gripen, the French Rafale, the Russian MiG-35 and a European consortium's Eurofighter.

Indian engineers and technicians who know all about the Russian aircraft production process will quickly master the relevant technologies.

The Indian leadership seemed inclined to co-operate with the United States and to obtain F-35 JSF know-how. However, Washington, which refuses to share technologies even with its closest allies, offered some rather harsh terms to New Delhi.

This October, Russia and India agreed to jointly develop the fifth-generation fighter and to manufacture it at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Sukhoi Military Aviation Complex plants.

India's Defense Minister A. K. Antony said the agreement heralded a new stage in bilateral co-operation aiming to develop new-generation weapons and military equipment. This will become one of the most ambitious Russian-Indian military programs.

The fifth-generation fighter must retain in-flight stability and control at 90-degree-plus angles of attack. The United States, which faced similar problems, eventually preferred Stealth characteristics and supersonic cruise speeds to super-agility.

The future Russian-Indian warplane would probably out-maneuver any other similar aircraft because the F-22's maneuverability is similar to that of the revamped Su-27 Flanker featuring vectored-thrust engines. This Russian plane features AL-37-FU engines with round rotatable nozzles and can attain supersonic cruise speeds. Its combat efficiency has been enhanced because the Su-27 can bank sharply at high angular speeds and along short trajectories in every plane.

In addition, the fifth-generation fighter will be fitted with advanced avionics, long-range weapons and other radio-electronic equipment for hitting any conceivable target. The Indian electronics industry will provide an invaluable contribution to developing automated electronic counter-measures (ECM) systems, secure data-exchange networks and fire-control systems for long-range tactical missions.

Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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