Up­date on PMF/FGFA pro­gramme

SP's MAI - - SP’S EXCLUSIVES -

In­dia and Rus­sia will soon sign new $11-bil­lion con­tract for the cru­cial ex­per­i­men­tal de­sign phase of the Fifth-Gen­er­a­tion Fighter Air­craft (FGFA) pro­gramme. This fol­lows a se­ries of con­tracts since 2007, in­clud­ing a gen­eral con­tract on joint de­sign and pro­duc­tion, fol­lowed by a con­tract for en­gi­neer­ing de­vel­op­ment. The cru­cial phase will in­volve the ac­tual ‘shift’ of some of the work to In­dia, in­clud­ing the set­ting up of fa­cil­i­ties, build­ing the In­dian pro­to­type and flight test­ing that is ex­pected to be­gin by the end of this decade. The In­dian Prospec­tive Mul­ti­role Fighter (PMF), as the In­dian sin­gle-seat ver­sion is of­fi­cially called, will take shape dur­ing this cru­cial phase, with deeper clar­ity on the work­share be­tween Sukhoi and the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Limited (HAL).

As things stand, the In­dian Air Force (IAF) plans to or­der 144 sin­gle-seat air­craft. In­di­ca­tions are that there is neg­li­gi­ble scope for HAL to tin­ker with the T-50/PAK FA air­frame given the time­frames pro­vided by the IAF for de­liv­ery. Se­condly, HAL will not be look­ing to im­prove upon an air­frame that will be largely proven in test flights by the time the In­dian PMF pro­to­type takes shape in fab­ri­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties. While de­vel­op­ment work it­self may be some­thing of a fait ac­com­pli given that the Rus­sians are al­ready test­ing a full fleet of pro­to­types, in­clud­ing two ground test air­craft, HAL has been asked not to sur­ren­der work­share in the fi­nal ma­trix of co­op­er­a­tion. Cur­rently there are four T-50 fighter air­craft un­der­go­ing flight tests in Zhukovsky (the first flight of the PAK FA took place on Jan­uary 29, 2010, in Kom­so­molsk-on-Amur.) Two more are ded­i­cated to ground test­ing: one as a com­plex ground stand and the other un­der­goes static tests. The com­plex­ity of the ne­go­ti­a­tions and de­lib­er­a­tions mean there is a fear that HAL could set­tle for much less work than ini­tially agreed upon, thereby plac­ing the IAF in pre­cisely the sort of po­si­tion it is look­ing to avoid: to­tal de­pen­dence on Rus­sia for yet another front­line plat­form.

The flight test pro­gramme had a bit of a scare in June this year when after the reg­u­lar test flight of T-50 pro­to­type at the air­field of the M.M. Gro­mov Flight Re­search In­sti­tute in Zhukovsky near Moscow, while the plane was land­ing, a fire broke out and smoke was ob­served above the right air in­take. The fire was quickly ex­tin­guished but not be­fore some dam­age to the air­frame. The air­craft is still un­der re­pair, with the Sukhoi De­sign Bureau’s com­mis­sion still in­ves­ti­gate the cause of the ac­ci­dent. Sukhoi had stated at the time that this in­ci­dent would not af­fect the tim­ing of the T-50 test pro­gramme.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, one pro­to­type of the T-50, pi­loted by the test pi­lot of the 1st Class Sergey Ch­erny­shev, flew to the 929th Chkalov State Flight Test Cen­tre’s air­field in Akhtubinsk for joint test­ing, where the air­craft was put through aero­dy­namic fea­tures eval­u­a­tion, tests of sta­bil­ity and con­trol­la­bil­ity and of dy­namic strength, func­tion check of on­board equip­ment and air­craft sys­tems. Ac­cord­ing to Sukhoi, the op­ti­cal lo­ca­tor sys­tem as well as ac­tive elec­tron­i­cally scanned ar­ray radar was tested on the air­craft with “pos­i­tive re­sults ob­tained”. Cru­cial air re­fu­elling mode was also tested. “Su­per­man oeu­vra­bil­ity tests of the air­craft are un­der way. Air­craft sys­tems are be­ing tested on the test stands, ground ex­per­i­men­tal works con­tinue,” the De­sign Bureau states.

Con­stant com­par­isons with the F-22 Rap­tor and F-35 Light­ning II don’t bother the Rus­sians too much. They be­lieve that a long-term re­la­tion­ship makes them a nat­u­ral part­ner in the PMF pro­gramme. “Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion fight­ers, the PAK FA com­bines the func­tions of a strike air­craft and a fighter, thus of­fer­ing a num­ber of unique ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The use of com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als and in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies plus the aero­dy­namic lay­out of the air­craft, spe­cial air­frame coat­ing and mea­sures to re­duce the power plant, antenna and cock­pit sig­na­ture as­sure un­prece­dent­edly low radar, op­ti­cal and in­frared ob­serv­abil­ity. This con­sid­er­ably im­proves the op­er­a­tional ef­fec­tive­ness against air and ground tar­gets at all times and in all weath­ers,” says Sukhoi.

HAL says, “The pro­posed FGFA will have air com­bat su­pe­ri­or­ity, high tac­ti­cal ca­pa­bil­ity, group ac­tion ca­pa­bil­ity in the re­gions even with poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion support. The air­craft will have ad­vanced fea­tures like in­creased stealth, su­per­sonic cruise, data link and net­work cen­tric-war­fare ca­pa­bil­ity.”

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