Saturday, October 20, 2007

Farce Generation Fighter Aircraft

It's been known for a long while now that the PAK-FA, Russia's fifth generation fighter programme, is well off the drawing board. In fact, I was in Moscow when United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) chief Alexey Fedorov announced that the programme's design phase had been passed and approved, and that certain fabrication would shortly begin. This in itself should have set the alarm bells ringing. Reason – the Indian government and air force have been vigorously insistent – reasonably so – that they be part of the design phase. As it happens, this was not to be. It emerges that a dossier of baseline QRs was forwarded to the Russians in late 2006, but these were returned as the design phase was already frozen.

And now, there are statements from the Russians – forget for a minute the rhetoric emerging from the Indian Defence Minister about "new heights in defence relations" – that the PAK-FA will be "jointly modified" for the Indian Air Force. Cool. Really simple question in that case – isn't "joint modification" precisely what happens when India "buys" fighters. Isn't modification what happened with the Sukhoi-30s? Isn't modification what will happen with 126 MMRCAs? What in hell place does "joint modification" have in a joint venture programme that's likely to cost India $5 billion? Zip. Zero. Nada. As usual, we're being had.

This takes nothing from the fact that the PAK-FA (if it's ready by 2015 as promised), could be a fantastic machine. Let's not forget that IAF alterations – even if they're under the "joint modification" plan – will mean an excellent plane by any means. We've been through the technology and all the rest of it that should ostensibly under the FGFA's hood, but what about the money, the credibility.

Ironically, instead of re-emphasising trust and credibility while India ponders about Washington's word of assurance, Russia has categorically reneged on contracts, accentuated its reputation for non-reliability and put itself across not just as a newly capitalist nation, but a ferociously unfeeling state dismissive of the past. The recent past does not augur well – our Ilyushin-38 upgrade programme is stuck in Russia. There are problems with the three follow-on Talwar class frigates regarding weapons configuration and price escalation. The Gorshkov mess we're all aware of. And most recently, India bowing to Russia's demand for a 5 per cent cost escalation on the enormous Flanker deal signed in the late 1990s. This last deal was one built on political good faith – India didn't need these fighters at the time. It was a political favour to Moscow, still reeling from the aftershock of shutting down Red Russia. The vicious commercialization of relations has caught India off guard – New Delhi remains in a dream world of the past. Hilariously, Russia has voiced problems about investing India's debt to Moscow as India's share of the FGFA investment. Sorry, but I can't think of a single reason why this should be so. A political leash for the future?

Russia has changed. Big time. And it's time the country sat up and took notice. While India was sitting in a corner wondering about whether to engage the US – was it trustworthy enough? – Russia sulked, instead of seizing the day and re-establishing trust, faith and credibility. Now, it's just like another Washington. How ironic is that. And what of the MCA?


Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, the article written by you was excellent. Words can not only fail me in describing how effective it has been in hitting the hammer on the nail, but people in the MoD and IAF would also find themselves equally at a loss of words when confronted by the indictment that the PAK-FA deal executed by them is nothing but a project on the scale of Su-30 MKI or Brahmos only. It would not be wholly Indian.

Although it is universally acknowledged that the Su-30MKI and Brahmos deals were not only beneficial for India, but were also unprecedented in giving Indian scientists a chance to "put their computer skills to the test", they have unfortunately set a poor precedent in the development and furthering of defence hardware in India.
The Su-30 and Brahmos deals had an incremental Indian participation; in essence, India built upon established Russian platforms in a manner similar to how our Constitution was initially built upon the laws and statuettes from the colonial times.

This model of development of military hardware must stop. However, it has unfortunately started a trend whose next casualty is the indigenous 5th G project by DRDO i.e. MCA.

Also, the MoD and IAF have by a deft use of words and terminology have not only convinced the Indian public, but also themselves that this model of development is infact "co-development". The PAK-FA is a Russian airframe, built as per Russian requirements. Only some of its sub-systems will be modified by India for its own use. By being a 50% financial partner, in essence, India has euphemistically purchased the licence production rights for the PAK-FA in India and also got the rights to modify some non-critical sub-systems for its own requirement.

Russia is forcing India to sign an IPR, which signifies that it intends to safeguard its proprietary technology, and not share it with India. Besides, there have been numerous Russian articles in "Kommersant" and "Russian Aviation" in which Sukhoi officials have been unambiguously quoted as saying that India's role is primarily that of a financier only. Only at a later stage will India be 'allowed' to 'modify' some parts for its 'own use'.

Mr. Aroor, your articles are the only ones currently in the mainstream media which can and do raise a voice against flawed procurement policies. An investigative TV documentary that shows interviews with MoD officials in the light of the quite sidelining of the MCA will definitely raise questions.

Thank you.

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, the Tejas is probably the most documented and studied plane in the world. From technical reports that minutely analyse its AoA characteristics, Fly-by-wire and flutter testing, to articles that feature each external contractor for supplying its various sub-systems, the Tejas probably beats even the Discovery-channel sponsored F-teens in detailed coverage and 'dissection'.

To that effect, this 'open-book' momentum can be expected to be passed on to the MCA. However, DRDO has for some reason, released very little information about it in the public domain. Except in a public speech by Dr. Natarajan earlier this year and a news report, nothing was declared about the MCA.

However, circumventing the Indian media, the following statement by Dr. Natarajan given on Feb 12 this year found its way in a French news agency, and is of interest :

""We see the potential to build 200 to 300 MCAs," said Natarajan who is also scientific advisor to the defense minister."

Under these levels of optimism, it is extremely suspicious as to why no Government or IAF official has even mentioned about MCA publicly. It proves that this is a deliberate attempt to "rush" with the purchase of PAK-FA, and to sideline the MCA, by obfuscating it by never mentioning it in public.

It is NOT such a deeply secretive or security matter. The IAF has given open and passionate Press conferences detailing its options, likes and dislikes for the MRCA contract. Why can't it do the same for the PAK-FA ? Why doesn't it explain to the public its preference of PAK-FA over the MCA ? Does it even recall or has even 'officially' been made aware of the MCA ?

Mr. Aroor, I sincerely request you to take the initiative to ask these questions to the IAF top brass.

Thank you.

Reference :

Anonymous said...

Is the image which you posted is that of PAK-FA?
If yes then it is very bad design.
Circular nose,doesn't look like option for internal bay basically a SU-30/35 with a diamond wing

Something really strange is MOD has been sitting on the MRCA file for ages and now suddenly decides to spend 15 billion dollars on two aircraft projects.

So in 2012-2015... HAL will be producing MRCA,LCA & PAKFA.. and possibly some SU-30 as well.

I think you need to run a report on why so suddenly did the MOD decide to go for FGFA. Not that I say something is wrong.It is just that it is not MOD's habit to make decision well before time.

Abhiman said...

To Anonymous I may say that the "burning question" may be that when last year in Oct. 2006, (under the then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee) the visiting Russian delegation was told that India can't participate in the PAK-FA project, why is suddenly the project being forwarded now ? The Russian side did not retrace their steps back to the drawing board to accomodate India since last year; in fact, they have gone ahead and completed one prototype of PAK-FA.
They announced that it shall make its first flight in 2009.

Fast forward one year to Oct 2007 :- Mr. Antony is the defence minister and on a visit to Russia. The Russians have made no attempt to heed Mr. Mukherjee's request since last year. Yet, Mr. Antony announces that India shall be a 50% partner in the PAK-FA project, never mind that most Russian dailies and Reuters have quoted Sukhoi officials as saying that India's role will primarily be that of a financier and that India will only be allowed to "modify" the PAK-FA. The promise of 50% whatever (engineering or funding) is in the modification.

So why did India drop from its earlier demand of engineering from the Drawing board to mere modification ? What is more appalling is that even after this, the ministry of defence continues to call this a "Joint-venture" and a "co-development", even though it is just a shadow of the principled stand taken a year ago (i.e. Indian inputs from design stage and inclusion of IAF's requirements).

It may be certain that when confronted with all tese questions, the MoD and IAF will give the example of Su-30 MKI and Brahmos to justify this, but they must be reminded about a) MCA and b) about Mr. Mukherjee's demand, and the reality as reported by 'Kommersant', 'Russian Aviaion' and 'Reuters'.


Mihir said...

Excellent piece, Shiv! Though I don't agree with your views on joint modification, the arm twisting by Russia is definitely a cause for concern. But, it is apparent that we aren't a part of the Big Boyz Club yet, and need the support of a big boy to get there. And since we have to lick someone's butt, why not swallow our pride for the time being and lick Russian butt?

Abhiman said...

Mihir, regarding joint modification, Mr. Aroor was quoting a Reuters report that quoted Russia's federal service for military and technical cooperation. It is fact and not his own view.

The reuters report was posted in the comments section of the previous article, "Indo-Russian fifth generation fighter agreement signed".

Your latter statement is not becoming for India. India is capable of developing MCA indigenously which will also be a 5th G fighter. The argument that PAK-FA will "help" in MCA's development is irrelevant because the costs of producing/maintaining two 5th G fighters are extremely prohibitive, besides being unnecessary and also because Russia has in effect, disagreed to share its proprietary technology with India.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sri Aroor-ji & Sri Abhiman-ji,

I really thank you for such mind blogging articles...


One question for you... You said India has capacity to build MCA ( Yes Of course if reality makes we Indians proud rather than jointly modified aircrafts) but what about engines ???? To get Kaveri done we are looking desperately for foreign help right????...

Anonymous said...

continued part...

My real highlight is the engine part .... My heart says "Chak de ADA,Chak De DRDO - Go for MCA"

Abhiman said...

To Anonymous I may say that just as for Tejas, for MCA also the engines can be sourced from abroad.

The F-35 uses British Rolls Royce engines and the Chinese J-10 uses Russian Saturn engines. Hence, even if Kaveri is not developed enough by the time the MCA demands it, an appropriate engine can be sourced for it.


Anonymous said...

let's hope it has some sort of stealth capabilities....the only good thing i see is that india gets to say who russia can sell the fighter to....that means china does'nt

Abhiman said...

To the previous Anonymous, I may say that nowhere has it ever been suggested that Russia will be prohibited by some agreement to sell the technologies of PAK-FA to a third country.

Russia has demanded of India for an IPR agreement to be signed. This would bind India to acknowledge and pay for those technologies in the PAK-FA that are Russian; it also binds India to not directly give access to those technologies to any third country without Russia's knowledge and/or approval.

An IPR does NOT translate to Russia being bound not to sell its technologies in the PAK-FA to third countries.
As an example, Russia sold the base-line Su-30 airframe to India as well as China and other nations. The Indian version was modified as per Indian requests, the Chinese version on Chinese requests and so on. The same is the case of the ramjet powered Brahmos and Moskit missiles (for India and China respectively).

Similarly, as per the agreement signed between India and Russia, India will be allowed to modify the PAK-FA as per Indian requirements; note that Russia is not going to incorporate whatever little Indian changes or inputs in any way, as it has its own plans for PAK-FA. Finally, the contract does not in any way prevent Russia to sell the PAK-FA or its assorted technologies to any third country.

What India has actually purchased under the disguise of "Joint-development" is thie following :-

1) Russian airframe with Russian technology incorporated; in return for access to it and the rights to modify it, a 50% of the development fee is to be paid along with an IPR.

2) Rights to licence produce the Russian airframe in India.

Instead of the PAK-FA, the IAF and MoD must have spent the amount of $5 billion and resources on the MCA, which is an indigenous proposal that DRDO has been making since past many years but which deliberately has been given a deaf ear. There are vested interests in the IAF and MoD to purchase the Russian PAK-FA instead of encouraging and promoting the indigenous MCA.


Mihir said...

Abhiman, the comment might be "unbecoming" for India, but what other practical option do we have? Does the MCA even exist? Will the IAF accept one even if it is developed on time?

Abhiman said...

Mihir, the IAF is willing to formulate its entire ASR, tactics and strategies centered on a foreign-made plane, when in fact it should be the other way round. That is, ideally the plane should be built upon the required ASRs and tactics envisaged.

The MCA offers this advantage :- being on the drawing board, it is raw to imbue all of IAF's smallest requirement. It almost be a "designer" plane.

The PAK-FA has a prototype ready without the IAF even having ever seen it. Hence, it has to build its tactics around the plane now that the plane is fixed and not going to change. The MCA can solve this problem and hence is a candidate for ready acceptance by the IAF.

As far as time is concerned, atleast in India's neighbourhood 5th gen fighters are unlikely to be seen in the forseeable long-term. Hence, there is sufficient time to develop the MCA, provided the MoD and IAF are dedicated and committed to it.

Thank you.

Mihir said...

Yes - the MCA, being indigenous, would be best suited for the IAF... I never disputed that. But it is not a practical alternative. And the IAF is unlikely to accept it even if it is developed on time. The way things are going, I expect it to replace the MRCA (assuming that it exists in the first place).

Anonymous said...

A tailor-made MCA, rather than an ill-fitting PAK-FA would be more acceptable to the IAF.


Abhiman said...

The previous comment as "anonymous" was actually by me, and addressed to Mihir.

Mihir said...

Just like the "tailor-made" LCA was acceptable to the IAF?

Just like the "tailor-made" Akash was acceptable to the IAF/IA?

Just like the "tailor-made" Arjun was acceptable to the Army?

Abhiman said...

Mihir, it has been the IAF's persistent demand that it be included from the design-stage leading to the development of the aircraft. The MCA can be ideal candidate because its 'clay is still wet' and can be moulded as the IAF wants.

Contrasting this with the PAK-FA, whose design has been frozen and whose prototype is also ready.

I fully agree with your view that history is not in favour of the MCA, or indigenous hardware. The IAF and Army have a prejudice against anything developed in India. THAT is the reason why I request Mr. Aroor and the good offices of HT to deluge the MoD and the IAF with questions about the MCA and their 'u-turn' on the stand taken on the PAK-FA. The MoD and IAF owe an explanation as to why the rejection of the PAK-FA in 2006 (on the grounds of no Indian contribution), turned into an approval in 2007, even though the Russian side did not budge. They must also explain the reason for deliberately ignoring the MCA.

Thank you.

Abhiman said...

The following news report is from Aviaport.Ru (sourced from the post by JaiS, bharat-rakshak forum) :-

The date of the first sortie of the experimental fighter, which is being created in accordance with the Future Tactical Aviation Aircraft Complex (PAK FA), remains unchanged – 2009, an informed source in the defense industrial complex has reported to an AviaPort.RU correspondent.

Thus, he refuted a number of media reports about delaying the first flight of the future fighter, which is being created by OAO Sukhoy OKB for the PAK FA program, to 2012.

At the present time, the airplane is at the stage of compiling the detail design documentation into digital form. Technological preparation for the airplane’s manufacture is taking place at the same time,” the source specified.

According to his information, Russia’s State Arms Program for the Period to 2015 already has provided for the purchase of the PAK FA program’s fighter. “That is, the first flight of the fighter in experimental configuration cannot be realized, since not less than 3 – 5 years are needed for the airplane’s tests,” he emphasized.

The fighter’s flight tests will be performed at the same time on several experimental aircraft, the manufacture of which the Komsomol’sk-on-Amur Yu. A. Gagarin Aviation Production Association is providing with the participation of the Novosibirsk V.P. Chkalov Aviation Production Association and other aircraft industry enterprises in cooperative supplies, the source said.

According to his information, the first experimental airplane will be built in accordance with the first upgrade stage – “117S” engines, an incomplete avionics outfit and weapons will be installed. Tests will take place in the first stage within the scope of the evaluation of the airplane’s behavior in the air and its basic flight performance. In the future, as new equipment complexes, systems and weapons arrive, they will be installed onto the airplane and tested.

As the developers indicated previously, the whole PAK FA program has been estimated for 30 years of the airplane’s production.


As it can be seen very clearly in the news report, there is not even the slightest mention of India itself, let alone any Indian technological inputs or IAF's specifications. When even the Russian authorities openly declare that PAK-FA is solely a Russian product, why is the Defence ministry conveying to the Indian public that it is a so-called "Joint Venture" ?

The first prototype's avionics, weapons, flight parameters and of course the airframe itself have been finalized and are in the process of being digitalized. Not only that, the procedure of testing that will culminate into the manufactured aircraft has also been approved ---- AND THIS WITHOUT THE IAF EVER HAVING EVEN PEEKED INTO THE PAK-FA ! NOTHING IN DEFENCE PURCHASE HISTORY COULD HAVE BEEN MORE EGREGIOUS

The Defence Ministry is apparently not presenting the accurate situation to India, and is deliberately naively (or both) presenting a picture that is far from actuality. For this, it is the responsibility of the media to question the Defence minister about the PAK-FA.

It is also APPALLING that the "investigative" and "courageous" media chooses to not only remain silent on this issue, but endorses the deal in the same way as the defence ministry.


Thank you.

Innocent Devil said...

Hi All,

Let me thanks for your efforts to put valuable information and comments. There are many if and buts across the article. I totally agree that we don't have superiority in air born weapons special IAF is running with half of the outdated aircrafts. Some of the concerns were also raise on MCA project's success. But let us not forget when India started space program; we were neither having technology nor money to buy technology from so called friendly countries. “ISRO” is one of the crown jawell in of India which is having record of launching maximum satellites in single rocket. Thanks for some of ignorable ledged like Dr. Sarabhai and many more who give first success to India and road map of technology development to our nation. Indian’s living legend and formal president Dr. Abdul Kalam who has given been know as master mind behind India missile technology has share some his life’s experiences in his book “Wings of Fire”. What make these projects successful? Such projects are always having tough challenges like technology support, financial crisis, corruption, politics and so on. I guess none of the project leader was having option of failure. There dedication, Project Planning, Identifying right people for job, commitment, team work and ability to find success with limitation, was the key of project success. As Indian, I am never saying the Indians are best in the world, because it is not correct. However we have potential to be the best of best. If we can become successful in state of Art technologies like Missile, Space, Nuclear, Power and Infrastructure, IT software etc., I could not find why can we not be successful in projects like MCA, LCA, Arjun etc,. We need good project managers. Let us trust our self and give another best try. “People are the architect of their country’s fortune”. Let start contributing whatever we can do from our end…..

Anonymous said...

nice article

Anonymous said...

Only way India can become big boy is to legilate new protocol for private companies manufacturing defence items so that it can be throughly monitored cause we dont need more AQ K. And then bring in as many private corps to help in evolving our technology in all areas. Only public private partnership will help us achieve this goal at a very fast rate.

joseph said...

Congratulation for the great post.