India Looking At 60 FGFAs As Russia Reduces Price, Final Talks On
By Arming India Correspondent
NEW DELHI, FEB. 3, 2016: India and Russia are in final negotiations in New Delhi to settle the contributions for the development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) at a reported $3.7 billion from both sides, Arming India has learnt from diplomatic sources. An early conclusion of the agreement is expected.
Development costs are to be paid in seven years, starting with an initial payment of $1 billion. The breakthrough follows a price reduction by Russia last month.
India's contribution for development costs would entitle it to extensive transfer of technology and include delivery of three prototypes. Subsequently, the entire lot of FGFAs for the Indian Air Force (IAF) are intended to be made at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's 'Russia complex' in Nasik, Maharashtra.
The cost of each series production FGFA is initially pegged at a whopping $225 million apiece, which is about two-and-a-half times the estimated current price of the Su-30MKI, currently India's frontline fighter.
Sources disclosed that a reluctant IAF has finally been made to come around on the FGFA. But it has reduced its requirement to just 60 fighters, or three squadrons. This is being interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm for the proposed fighter, which is yet to prove true fifth generation capability.
The initial numbers were pegged around 220, which were later brought down to 120, and now have dwindled to half of even the reduced numbers.
Indeed, the Russian Air Force itself has committed itself to just 12 of these proposed aircraft, known in Russia as PAK-FA. These 12 aircraft will comprise a trial squadron.
But Russia is hopeful of persuading India to eventually commit to far more than the initial lot of 60 FGFAs.
India will have no major contribution to design and development, and the project is being re-modeled on the Su-30MKI lines, wherein India substantially paid for the development cost, paving the way for assembly line production in India under transfer of technology.
The initial concept of India having a substantial work share in the design and development of the fifth generation fighter in order to boost indigenous capability has been abandoned.
The rapid headway on the under-development FGFA is in stark contrast to the stalemate in price negotiations on the curtailed order for 36 flyaway French Rafale fighters, which are reportedly stalled at a level of over $11 billion, according to top Indian Defense Ministry sources.
The FGFA will very significantly enable Russia's military industrial complex to extend its pre-eminence in India by ensuring a follow-on to the Su-30MKI production line.
Informed observers see this as a shot in the arm for the Russia, which they reckon could impact immediately on French and American interests. A renewal of commitment to Russian aircraft will limit the number of Rafale fighters for India, and also reduce the possibility for Americans to sell a fighter aircraft to India.
Boeing Company Chairman James McNerney in October 2015 announcing in New Delhi that his company was ready to set up a manufacturing facility for its F/A-18 fighters, which also have a naval variant, in India.
Lockheed Martin leadership too had in the second half of 2015 made a pitch for selling its F-16 fighters to India, while Swedish Saab made a counter offer to make its Gripen NG fighters.
The two American aircraft manufacturers and the Swedish firm were competitors in the 2007 Indian tender for 126 medium multi role combat aircraft, which was won by French Dassault Aviation's Rafale fighters. The only close competitor to Rafale was the then Cassidian's Eurofighter Typhoon, which is part of the Airbus Group. Only Eurofighter Typhoon campaign, led by the Germans, has openly stated that it is all over for it in India for the Air Force's need for a combat plane.
Significantly, the latest development in the FGFA talks between Russia and India also signals that the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will continue to be Russia's major partner in India, and its engagement with emerging Indian private sector in defense production will be marginal.
Just a month ago, Russia rejected the possibility of trying out an alliance with the private sector Reliance Defence on the production of 200 Ka-226T light utility helicopters for the Indian armed forces by opting for HAL to be the production agency in India.