AERO INDIA: Fifth-generation fighter talks inch forward

Bangalore
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India and Russia are still tying down the details of their plans to jointly develop a fifth generation fighter and a multi-role transport aircraft.

"Discussions on both agreements are still going on. This is the first time that we are working on a programme at this level and on this scale, and so there are a lot of things that have to be tied up," says Ashok Baweja, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) chairman.

One issue is over Russia's preference for a single-seat fighter, while India would rather have a twin-seater. There have also been reports that some Indian scientists and bureaucrats are unhappy over the level of access they will get to the Russian programme, which Sukhoi has already started work on.

Alexey Fedorov, president of Russia's United Aircraft Company, adds that he does not expect many hitches along the way to an agreement.

"We have government contracts for both programmes but the details must be sorted out. However, we have agreed that the financing, design and developement, and sales support will be undertaken on a 50-50 basis," he says.

"We are still discussing a lot of things on the fifth generation fighter, and we understand that the project must be acceptable to both sides. We are much closer to an agreement on the MRTA programme. For the transport aircraft, we have already fixed the work-share and agreed that a joint venture will be formed shortly to spearhead the development."

India and Russia have traditionally enjoyed a close defence relationship and Moscow has supplied around 70% of New Delhi's military requirements. That has been strained recently over the cost of refurbishing a used aircraft carrier that India bought several years ago, and New Delhi has indicated that it is willing to look beyond Russia for its requirements.

Observers say that India's purchase of six Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transports last year and eight Boeing P-8I Poseidons this year, as well as the stiff competiton provided by US and European fighters in a 126-aircraft competition for medium multi-role combat aircraft, are further evidence that the country is willing to cast a wide net in its efforts to get the best equipment as part of its armed forces' modernisation programme.

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