After favouring the U.S. for its recent purchases of hi-tech military equipment, India has now turned to Russia, its old supplier, for the next generation fighter aircraft.
PAK FA, Russia’s fifth generation fighter, which boasts of radar evasion characteristics, made its maiden flight only late last month.
India inked an agreement with Russia for jointly developing this aircraft, but the time taken to complete the paperwork meant that 70 per cent of the plane was already developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau. Now India has planned to enter the project mid-way. It will discuss the development schedule for the coming years and the number of aircraft it requires with Deputy Prime Minister and Russia’s India point man S.S. Sobyanin when he visits India by the middle of this month, senior government sources said.
Though its force levels are depleting, the Indian Air Force wants to ensure that the replacements are world-class and the best in the region. The 250-plus Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft to be inducted gradually over the next decade fit the bill, and so will the 126 frontline multi-role fighter aircraft, which India plans to buy and for which six vendors are in the fray.
PAK FA, billed as a competitor to F-22 Raptor, developed by the U.S., is expected go into mass production after at least five years. The striking feature of this aircraft is its stealth characteristics: radars will find it tough to spot it. It will also be able to take off from short airstrips and remain in the air for longer than the current fighters in the inventory of air forces around the world. What has attracted India to the project is the cost factor: it will be a lot cheaper to make than F-22.
Besides the talks on the aircraft, the military-technical team accompanying Mr. Sobyanin will hold discussions on more T-90 tanks, the naval version of MiG-29, Sukhoi-30 MKI and the multi-role transport aircraft project, said the sources.
The two sides have agreed on the price for refurbishing the aircraft carrier Gorshkov. Russia is poised to deliver more frigates to the Indian Navy. It will also transfer a nuclear-powered submarine to India by the middle of this year.
Recently India has favoured the U.S. while buying medium and heavy-lift planes and long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. U.S. companies are also in the race for several types of helicopters and refuelling planes. But officials say the list of military ventures with Russia is still longer and more varied.