India is now finally getting set to launch its most ambitious indigenous military aviation project to build a fifth-generation fighter or the advanced medium combat aircraft with advanced stealth features as well as ‘supercruise’ capabilities.
The case for the full-scale engineering development of the twin-engine AMCA prototypes has been finalised and will be sent for approval to the Cabinet Committee on Security by early next year after consultations between the defence and finance ministries, top sources said on Sunday.
Production of fifth-generation jets is an extremely complex and expensive affair, with the American F/ A-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning-II Joint Strike Fighter, the Chinese Chengdu J-20 and Russian Sukhoi-57 being the only operational ones around the globe at present. Experts, however, contend the J-20 and Sukhoi-57 fighters are still somewhat short of being true blue fifth-generation fighters. The 36 Rafales being inducted by IAF, under the Rs 59,000-crore deal inked with France in September 2016, are 4.5-generation jets.
As of now, the development cost of the 25-tonne AMCA is estimated to be around Rs 15,000 crore, with the first prototype’s “rollout” by 2025-26 and production of the Mark-1 jets slated to begin in 2030-31 under the “aggressive timelines” set by DRDO and its Aeronautical Development Agency. A more realistic time-frame for the AMCA induction to kick off, however, would be around 2035.
The project is critical for IAF, which is grappling with just 30-32 fighter squadrons and will not reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons even with “planned inductions” over the next 10-15 years.