India accelerates AMCA fighter development
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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is working feverishly with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the Aeronautical Development Agency to develop the indigenous Advanced Multirole Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
The modular design of the fifth-generation twin-engine single-seat aircraft is said to be finalised.
‘That is what we are putting our energies into,' ACM Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said recently. More than most of his predecessors, Bhadauria has supported the need to focus on indigenous design and manufacturing.
Six squadrons of AMCAs are planned initially. The first flight is expected in 2024-25, followed by trials and tests. It will be in full production by 2029, to be followed by the Mk2 version by 2036.
Amid the ‘Make in India’ mantra, HAL could soon announce a JV along with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and a private company to progress the AMCA programme. Once signed, it will be the first time the private sector has worked on the same platform as HAL rather than just being a tier supplier.
Raman Sopory, founding president of the Aerospace & Defense Consultants Society of India, said: ‘HAL has to constantly evolve and there must be an export angle to this.’
Plans to work with Russia on joint development of a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) were set aside by early 2017. ‘We have no plans to import any FGFA, nor will we enter into any joint agreement with a foreign country,’ said Bhadauria.
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The twin-engine AMCA, which is to have an indigenous AESA radar, has been a long time coming. In 2018, $60 million was allotted for prototype design and R&D. The project will face similar technology and knowledge transfer challenges as FGFA, because ‘no nation is willing to share its stealth technology', a senior official admitted.
However, an agreement is on the cards between the UK and India to co-create a new 110kN jet engine for which India will get IP. The new engine core will not be based on the Eurojet EJ200 due to the complex IP ownership within the EuroJet Turbo consortium.
Anil Gupta, military head of Airbus India, said: ‘Getting ToT [transfer of technology] for a new engine design is good progress from the technology infusion point of view.’
The initial contract with Rolls-Royce is likely to be for 140 engines over a nine-year period. Before then, the 25t-class AMCA will be powered by the General Electric F414 delivering more than 90kN of thrust. South Korea’s KF-X also uses the F414.
Stealthy aircraft carry weapons in internal weapon bays to avoid detection. However, the Indian-made Astra beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile is 3.6m long. ‘Since it doesn’t fit into the bay, its length will have to be reduced,’ said an official.
An unmanned version of the AMCA will have to wait. ‘Any system needs proper control and guidance. The pilot-in-the-loop system has to be replaced. Challenges remain on where they will test it…It isn’t easy and, at the moment, it is wishful thinking,’ a senior IAF engineer told Shephard on condition of anonymity.
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