Wednesday, October 7, 2015

IAF's FGA Project Entering a Death Spiral?


The list of the IAF's reservations over the PMF/FGFA project is growing longer by the day, and is probably long enough to put the project in serious jeopardy. What is more disturbing, the list is starting to include inane items! Also, items on the list are now being leaked to the press by senior IAF officials, something that was not heard of in the past. Leaks, unlawful as they are, were earlier the prerogative of MoD babus who are apparently above the law.

Here is the list of IAF reservation against the FGFAm in reverse chronological order of leaks

  1. Russia has not been given a tentative per unit production cost for the aircraft and the IAF is wary that the cost may turn out to be exorbitant. 
  2. Russia has still not been able to develop the Product 30 engine that will power the FGFA. Without the engine, the aircraft cannot super cruise.
  3. Russia has not offered any weapons developed specifically for the FGFA. The weapons offered so far were developed for 4th gen fighters like the Su-30M and Su-34. These weapons are too large for the internal weapon bay of the PAK-FA and would need to be carried externally compromising the aircraft's low observability.
  4. Russia has so far not allowed IAF test pilots to test fly the PAK-FA.
  5. India has sought 27 technical clarifications on the joint project, but Russia has reverted only on 19.
  6. IAF wants Russia to commence delivery of the FGFA within 36 months of signing the development contract for the customized variant of the PAK-FA, instead of 94 months agreed to by Russia.
  7. India wants a larger work share in developing the FGFA.

I will let the reader decide which of these points, if any, are inane; and which possibly serious show stoppers. For example, is the IAF request to test fly the aircraft at this stage of its development reasonably? Would the US or France meet such an IAF request?

The IAF Chief in his press conference on October 4, 2015 stated, " "There are some issues which have cropped up in terms of the work share, in terms of the present technological and technical aspects of the PAK-FA, and of course the cost visibility. So these are the issues we are looking at and they have been taken up at the highest level."

Facts Check

I present here some public domain facts that the reader may like to factor in before making a call on the relevance of IAF concerns.

Cost Visibility

The PAF-FA is under development and is unlikely to be ready for export till 2020. The Rafale has been operational for over a decade and India has committed to purchase 36 Rafales. There is no cost visibility on the Rafale yet, but ironically the Air Chief says the IAF wants to buy 100 more Rafales!

Weapons for Internal Bay

Russia is in the process of developing air-to-ground weapons small enough to fit into the T-50's internal bomb bay.

At MAKS-2015 Russia's Tactical Missiles Corporation (TMC) unveiled three new or derivative weapons developed specifically to fit the internal weapon bays of the T-50:

  1. GROM E1/E2 guided, standoff weapon
  2. X-59Mk2 cruise missile  
  3. X-58USHKE/IIR stand-off anti-radiation attack missile

The H-59MK2 Grom is a stealthy turbofan engine powered cruise missile, a heavily upgraded version of the H-59 family missiles.

All three are advanced weapon systems that the western world would like to know more about. Is it realistic for the IAF to expect Russia to share weapon details and cost at this stage? Would the IAF expect the same from the US or France?

FGFA Powerplant

The initial batch of the T-50 fighters will be powered by the 14.5 tons thrust NPO Saturn AL-41F1 (Product 117) engines, the upgraded version of AL-41F1S engine developed for Su-35, which in turn is a derivative of the NPO Saturn's AL-31F series that power the Su-27/Su-30 family of fighters.

Moscow-based Salut and NPO Saturn are building a brand new stealthy powerplant for the T-50, which is not a derivative of the AL-41F1 (Product 117) engine that powers it. Called Product 30, the new engine will be 30% lighter than the Product 117 engine and come with 30% lower life-cycle cost.

The new engine is expected to offer about 17.5 tons (171.6 kn) of thrust in full after burning mode and somewhere in the range of 12 tons (117.7 kn) in dry mode, allowing the aircraft to comfortably super-cruise at around Mach 1.5.

In June 2015 it was reported that United Engine Building Corporation (UEBC) has built a prototype of the new engine. Two prototypes of the engine are scheduled to be built in 2015.

UEBC CEO Vladislav Maslov had earlier said that work on developing the stage-2 will be completed in 2020.

Is Russia really the problem in the unraveling FGFA deal?

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