With uncertainty looming large over the signing of multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal, finalization of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) deal is likely to gather pace. The government had signed a joint development programme for FGFA with Russia.According to sources in the know, the FGFA programme is once again high on the agenda of the ministry of defence. The ministry had put the deal on the backburner. It, however, went on full speed to finalise the MMRCA (multi-role medium range combat aircraft) programme and Rafale of Dassault from France was shortlisted.
However, the Rafale deal is still not finalised and the need for having a modern fighter jet with advanced avionics by the Indian Air Force led to a fresh thinking over the FGFA deal, though it is not a substitute for MMRCA, the highly-placed sources in the IAF told Business Standard on the sidelines of Aero India last week.
"The Indian Air Force is keen on the FGFA. It has already been built by the Russians. India only needs to customise it to the specifications of IAF," said Air Marshal (retired) B K Pandey.
With the Rafale deal now looking far from being a done deal, Pandey said IAF may be in for trouble. It may again have to turn to Sukhoi for the Su-30s as it's a proven platform and India has developed enough expertise on the aircraft as to even do an overhaul, he added.
While the Su-30 may not be a fifth generation fighter, if it's bought again, it could come loaded with fifth generation avionics. "For the IAF too it's more convenient," said a senior IAF officer. "Its pilots are familiar with the aircraft," he said.
India and Russia had signed an agreement in October 2007 for the co-development and manufacture of the FGFA, and Russia's Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) were appointed the prime contractors for the project. India is to co-develop the FGFA where the project envisages building of 144 aircraft with the total project cost being about $35 billion. The aircraft is being co-developed by Russian and Indian specialists based on Russia's PAK FA, with due account of Indian requirements.
India is currently working on two co-design defence projects with Russia -- the FGFA and the Multi-role Transport Aircraft, which is already said to be in a detailed design stage.
Indian delegations have paid numerous visits to Russia -- to both the Sukhoi design bureau in Moscow and the plant in Komsomotsk-on-Amur where the construction of the early T-50 prototypes had been underway from December, 2007.
In September 2010, it was reported that India and Russia had agreed on a preliminary design contract for the FGFA where each country invests $6 billion on its development. The HAL is to get three Russian prototypes for re-design and testing in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and is scheduled to hand over the first series produced aircraft to the IAF in 2019.
But, on speaking to people privy to the newest developments regarding the negotiations, Business Standard has learnt "the price negotiations are going on" and that "till the project is finalised, nothing can be said". According to the sources, so far 17 rounds of negotiations have been held between India and Russia over the FGFA programme.
Meanwhile, Rafale, according to sources, could get one last chance when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits France this year.