- The defence establishment plans to seek the Cabinet Committee on Security’s approval for the detailed design and prototype development of the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) by early next year
- The twin-engine AMCA will combine advanced stealth, supercruise, super-maneuverability, data fusion, and multi-sensor integration with AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars
With the IAF now fully backing the indigenous development of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), it’s all systems go for the desi stealth jet. The defence establishment plans to seek the Cabinet Committee on Security’s approval for the detailed design and prototype development of the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) by early next year.
The twin-engine AMCA will combine advanced stealth, supercruise (the capability to achieve supersonic cruise speeds without the use of afterburners), super-maneuverability, data fusion, and multi-sensor integration with AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars.
Development of an FGFA is an extremely complex and costly affair, with the American F/A-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning-II Joint Strike Fighters being the only fully-operational ones around the globe at present. “Both the Chinese J-20 and the Russian Sukhoi PAK-FA do not have the requisite super-cruise and stealth capabilities,” said a senior IAF officer.
DRDO, in turn, rejects widespread concern the developmental saga of the “swing-role” AMCA may go the same way as the long-delayed Tejas light combat aircraft. “The design work on AMCA began in 2009. By 2014-2015, the fighter’s configuration, in tune with IAF requirements, had been worked out. But the problem was that there was no engine,” said a scientist.
Consequently, the decision has now been taken to go in for two squadrons of AMCA Mark-I with the “available” General Electric-414 afterburning turbofan engine in the 98 Kilonewton thrust class.
“The next five to six squadrons of AMCA Mark-II will have a more powerful 110 Kilonewton engine, which will be developed indigenously with foreign collaboration parallelly. The supercruise of Mark-I will be slightly limited due to the older engine but it will be upgraded in Mark-II,” said a source.
After the Rs 400 crore design sanction for AMCA in December 2018, it will now take “another seven to eight months” for the nod for the prototype development phase at a cost of around Rs 7,000-8,000 crore, which will be required over a decade, said sources.
As per existing plans, the 25-tonne AMCA’s “roll-out from the hangar to the runway” will take place by 2024-2025, with the first test-flight a year after that. “By 2029, the clearance to begin production of AMCA Mark-I should come. Mark-II production, in turn, should begin by 2035,” said the source.
DRDO says the advanced technologies to make AMCA a stealth fighter range from “serpentine air-intake” and an internal weapon bay (internal carriage of smart weapons) to radar absorbing materials and conformal antennae. “Most of the designing for stealth shaping of AMCA has already been done,” he said.
The plan is to produce the single-engine Tejas in greater numbers, with the IAF already committed to acquiring 123 of them. Another 200 Tejas Mark-II, with more powerful engines and advanced avionics, will be inducted at a later stage.
“The first test-flight of Tejas Mark-II or the MWF (medium weight fighter) should take place by 2023. The specialized AMCA, which will cost double the Tejas Mark-II, will be inducted in smaller numbers … stealth aircraft are expensive,” said the source.