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India’s 5.5 gen fighter shooting to catch China

Source : Asia Times

India’s 5.5 gen fighter shooting to catch China
CGI rendering by Ankur Singh

In a crucial step from design to reality, Indian aerospace company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) announced it was starting the manufacturing process for India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and HAL have cut the first sheet metal, a tradition when starting the aircraft building process.

The AMCA aims to equip the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with a 5.5 generation twin-engine stealth fighter, replacing India’s aging SEPECAT Jaguar and Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters, and complementing its license-built Sukhoi Su-30MKI jets.

It is designed to be a multirole fighter capable of air dominance, ground strikes, enemy air defense suppression and electronic warfare tasks. It is designed to perform deep strikes into enemy territory to destroy air defenses and critical targets.

Other advanced technologies that are planned on the aircraft include supercruise, diverter-less supersonic intakes, advanced avionics and artificial intelligence.

The aircraft is envisioned to have a combat weight of 20 tons in baseline stealth configuration and will be capable of carrying 1.5 tons of ordnance in its internal weapons bays.

In non-stealth configuration, the AMCA will carry a 23-millimeter cannon and an extra five tons of fuel and weapons on 14 external hardpoints, but these would inevitably increase the aircraft’s radar cross-section.

The AMCA will also feature three-dimensional thrust vectoring and a domestically made active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

The first two squadrons of the AMCA in the Mark 1 configuration are planned to be powered by a pair of General Electric F414-INS6 turbofan engines, each with thrust ratings of 98 kilonewtons.

However, supercruise cannot be achieved until 110 kN-class engines can be developed. Another five squadrons in the more advanced Mark 2 configuration are expected to be powered by an indigenously-produced 125 KN engine co-produced by DRDO and French jet engine maker Safran.

It is designed to have a top speed of 2,600 kilometers per hour (Mach 2.15) and a combat range of 1,620 kilometers.

While HAL and India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) oversee designing the AMCA, India also plans to involve the private sector to reduce development and production costs.

The ADA has been working on the AMCA since 2009, with the first prototype to be completed by 2024, and its maiden flight planned for 2025.

India’s 5th generation fighter project may be driven by an imperative to catch up with China, maintain qualitative military superiority over Pakistan and strengthen its strategic autonomy over key military technologies.

At present, China operates the J-20 and FC-31 5th generation stealth fighters, which can be used against India in their border disputes in the Himalayas. In contrast, India’s most capable air superiority fighters are the 4.5 generation French-built Rafale and license-built 4+ generation Russian Su-30MKI jets.

While the capabilities of China’s 5th generation fighters are as yet unknown, the generation gap between them and India’s existing fighters in service may put India at a disadvantage in an aerial clash over the Himalayas.

India’s AMCA also aims to counterbalance Pakistan’s 5th generation fighter program, which it is pursuing in cooperation with Turkey. India’s AMCA, alongside its newer Rafale acquisitions, may also provide a qualitative edge over Pakistan’s older F-16s, JF-17s, J-10Cs, Dassault Mirage IIIs, Dassault Mirage 5s and Chengdu F-7PGs.

In addition, the AMCA program bolsters India’s strategic autonomy over critical military technologies and hardware by providing an impetus to its domestic aerospace industry.

Moreover, India and France are like-minded states when it comes to maintaining their strategic autonomy, as both are wary of being reduced to subordinate parties under a US-led security architecture.

So technology sharing between the two countries helps create a defense relationship independent of perceived US interference, alongside other defense acquisitions by India from France, such as the Scorpene-class submarines and Rafale fighter jets.

However, India faces cost and technical constraints in its AMCA project. The production of these 5th generation fighter jets is an extremely costly and complex project, with only the F-22, F-35, J-20 and Su-57 being operational at present.

Moreover, some defense experts doubt if the J-20 and Su-57 are true 5th generation fighters, although their assessments may be based on Western concepts and doctrines, rather than what the J-20 and Su-57s were designed for.

The high cost of the AMCA project raises the possibility that India might not be able to pursue the project in accordance with its own timelines. While India plans to have the first AMCA prototype completed by 2024, with its maiden flight in 2025, a more realistic start would be in 2035.

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