Indian Air Force to seek engine upgrade for fighter aircraft

The Indian Air Force will seek a more powerful engine for the Sukhoi T-50 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet that is being jointly develo...

The Indian Air Force will seek a more powerful engine for the Sukhoi T-50 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet that is being jointly developed by Russia and India for delivery in 2018, a top government official said.

The air force is aiming to induct 250 Sukhoi T-50s with stealth technology, 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft and 120 indigenously built light combat aircraft, known as the Tejas, in addition to upgrading RAC MiG-29, Dassault Mirage 2000H/TH and Jaguar fighter jets.

India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi Co. had signed an agreement in 2010 to jointly design and develop the fifth-generation fighter jet.

India hopes to induct the jets from 2017-2018 to bolster its air defences.

Air chief marshal N.A.K. Browne said he was satisfied with the progress of the fighter jet project, but will seek an upgrade of the engine.

“It has flown a number of sorties,” Browne said on the sidelines of an aerospace conference in New Delhi. “A lot of changes are going to take place by the time we get the first aircraft. The engine is going to be different. It’s going to be a more powerful engine than the one fitted right now. We have selected the engine.”

The air force chief did not provide details of the upgraded engine or its capabilities.

“Perhaps what he is referring to is the 117S engine, which is an advanced version of the AL-31F engine,” said Deba R. Mohanty, senior fellow in security studies at Observer Research Foundation.

India may learn very little about design from the stealth jet projects as most of the work has already been completed, Mohanty said.

“When we are talking about joint development, three areas are important—upgraded avionics, composite material related to stealth technology and the engine, which could have helped our own Kaveri engine programme,” he said. “I don’t think India is going to get much in design knowledge, maybe more in the production stage. I wish India could have joined earlier.”

Timelines for the delivery of the fifth-generation aircraft to the air force will become clear once the programme moves from prototype to production, Browne said.

“By 2017-2018, we expect the first aircraft to come to us,” he said. “The aircraft is still under prototype testing. So, once the prototype is over and it gets into the production phase, then we will be sure of the timelines.”

Meanwhile, the bids for the multi-billion-dollar medium multi-role combat aircraft order, which has Eurofighter and Rafale as the two contenders, are expected to be opened by October.

The Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four countries—the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany—whereas Rafale is developed by France’s Dassault Aviation.

“On 7th of October, we have a meeting where some of the issues are going to be discussed,” Browne said. “Once the issues are cleared by the middle of the month we should be in position to open the bids.”

India will need both the medium multi-role fighter jets as well as the stealth fighters, Browne said.

“The medium multi-role combat aircraft does not have stealth features, it does not have super cruise capabilities, whereas the fifth-generation fighter aircraft has all that,” Browne said.

“It has (an) armament base, where all the missiles and weapons are inside the aircraft which gives a certain amount of stealth potential. Medium multi-role aircraft has its own set of capabilities. So they are a generation apart,” Browne added.

Typically, an air force of India’s size should have 30% fifth-generation jets which make up the frontline aircraft and 40% of medium-range aircraft, Mohanty said.

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