Another Indian saga

What for years seemed to be the great advantage of Russia’s PAK FA fighter – having a large and solid foreign customer at the design stage – is becoming increasingly doubtful.

The joint Russian-Indian Perspective Multirole Fighter (PMF) programme based on the Russian PAK FA (commonly referred to in India as the fifth-generation fighter aircraft or FGFA) has been the subject of talks between the two countries since 2001. An intergovernmental agreement signed in October 2007 was followed in December 2010 by a contract for preliminary design of the PMF, dubbed the Type 79L, to be jointly developed by Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India. The preliminary design was accepted in June 2013 and the next contract covering construction and evaluation of prototypes was expected to be signed soon after. That has still not happened.

All current Russian official announcements about the Russian-Indian PMF project claim “negotiations with India are in progress”. When AIR International recently asked a senior Russian aircraft industry official about the negotiations, he replied frankly: “Better not ask.” When Russians speak about the problems, they mention discrepancies regarding money and Indian access to the aircraft. A UAC report published in June 2016 stated: “In [respect of] the financial matters, a compromise solution has been reached. In [respect of] allowing Indian pilots [to fly the PAK FA prototypes] important decisions have been made and they are currently being settled with [the Russian] Ministry of Defence.” According to another UAC report from June 2017: “technical negotiations have been concluded” and “the contract is initialled and is currently undergoing approval procedures by Indian state authorities”.

The Russians always emphasise only that they are ready to give India fifth-generation technologies. The question is whether they really have such technologies. Indian media quoted an Indian Air Force official saying: “The FGFA’s engine is unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered, India’s work-share too low and the fighter’s price would be exorbitant by the time it enters service.” Remarkably, in HAL’s exhibition hall during the Aero India 2017 trade show in February there was no mention of the PMF, although in 2013 and 2015 HAL displayed a model of the fighter in Indian Air Force markings. HAL is Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Nevertheless, negotiations are in progress, which means the deal is not dead yet. Piotr Butowski