India hopes to have its new fifth-generation fighter–co-developed with Russia–in service by 2022, the country’s top air force official says. The first developmental aircraft, which is based on the Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA, is going to arrive in India in 2014, says Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne. A second prototype is expected to arrive in India in 2017 while a third should arrive in 2019.
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Developing the aircraft will cost about $11 billion. India hopes to eventually purchase some 214 of the stealthy fifth-generation fighter by 2030–for a total of about $30 billion.
Meanwhile, India still hopes to buy 126 Dassault Rafale fighters to replace some of its aging and increasingly dilapidated Russian-built MiG-21s. The French-built aircraft beat out the Eurofighter Typhoon during India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contest; however, no agreement has yet been signed. But what was originally supposed to be an urgent requirement has now consumed the better part of a decade. And there seems to be little progress being made on actually getting Rafales into the hands of IAF operators…
But if it doesn’t work out, India already has a fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters. The country could extend the production of those very capable warplanes if there is a severe shortfall in the IAF’s force structure–if need be. But it could also start to talk to Eurofighter or reopen the MMRCA contest as a last resort… both options would add even further delay.
There is also the option of producing additional indigenous HAL Tejas fighters. But given that aircraft’s less than stellar performance, it might not be the best use of procurement funds–not against the types of threats the IAF is likely to face off against in its neighbourhood. It might be an idea just to treat the program more as a learning experience–a science project if you will–in order to develop a better, more capable machine the next time around.