This photograph from January 17, shows Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar scoping out what appears to be a new scale model of India's Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), its fifth generation strike jet concept. Putting aside how this photograph tragically chops off the AMCA's nose, it appears that the design hasn't significantly changed since the concept's last 'outing' two years ago. The four-poster tail and X-15-like low aspect trapezoidal planform appear untouched from the last time anyone got a chance to see the concept design.
Things started with a compound trapezoidal configuration first revealed six years ago. Then came a pure trapezoidal with Hornet-like leading edge extensions in 2012. A little tinkering, and a year later the AMCA's designers appear to have arrived at a final shape, with its almost diamond-like trapezoidal wing config.
After years of wind tunnel models, design tinkering and fine-tuning of stealth characteristics, this year is truly (and hopefully) the word go. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) will, by August this year if everything goes to plan, look to obtain official project sanction from the MoD and funding to the tune of $800 million for the preliminary engineering & development phase.
It's well known that the AMCA's tech dem vehicles will be powered by turbofans from abroad, not a modified/uprated version of the Indian GTX-35VS Kaveri, though successor programmes by the DRDO's engine research house GTRE in Bengaluru are aimed in part at powering post-prototype airframes of the AMCA in the 2020s.
I hear Parrikar, an engineer and technocrat himself, was brusque on Jan 17 when he met with programme chiefs at ADA in Bengaluru, where that photo above was taken. Told about import content on the LCA Tejas (hovering around the 60% mark), the minister said anything close to that figure would be unacceptable on the AMCA. He laid it out that the government was willing to pay special attention to the AMCA if it could be a worthy and continuous mascot for the Prime Minister's 'Make in India' ideal -- a sort of touchstone for local development, testing and manufacturing prowess.
The folks at ADA and other agencies may have been shaken up by the minister's terse manner, but the message is an important one. From where the programme stands, it may seem impossible for it to gallop along with what the government, for now informally, wants from it. But if that's the kick in the aft section that a crucial aerospace programme of strategic importance needs, then bring it on.