An unprecedented decision taken in 2020 to develop India’s fifth generation fighter aircraft under a novel public-private partnership has remained stalled for well over three years, with no sign of the intended corporate special purpose vehicle (SPV). A former Indian Chief of the Air Staff, who was in office when this never-before development and production model was proposed, has now publicly confirmed that discussions aimed at cementing such a partnership have ‘not gone well’.
In an interview to Livefist founder Shiv Aroor on his weekly defence-focused show BattleCry on India Today TV, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria (Retd.) says of the 2020 proposal, “It was a sensible thing to do then, and it is a sensible thing to do now. I think this is one challenge that the DRDO and industry needs to really address. Discussions with industry or private sector need to be open and honest. The SPV model is a must in this project and private industry must get involved right from the word go. I’ve heard that initial discussions on this have not gone well. We will not be able to bring in the kind of efficiencies and reliability if we don’t bring in private industry. We would be repeating what we’ve done for the last three decades. It is not difficult to correct now. We have to really choose the right industry partner. It should be an open, absolutely transparent discussio. I see no reason why this cannot be done even at this stage.
Asked why he thinks discussions haven’t ‘gone well’, the former Indian Air Force chief says, “I think one of the reasons is that the discussions so far have been kind of preliminary in nature, an explorative kind of discussion. I think ADA has had one big session with industry. This needs to be moved forward. An important issue is how you approach this. The starting point needs to be that an SPV is a must and therefore we need to choose a partner.”
Interestingly, asked about the DRDO chairman’s statement last year that a first flight could happen in seven years (2030), former IAF chief said he expected the first prototype of the AMCA to take off in four-and-a-half years.
“With the LCA Mk2 already cleared, and its technologies taking off, many of them will go into the AMCA. This would shorten the testing and development time for the AMCA. There are of course technologies way beyond the LCA Mk2 that will need to be developed. I spoke to the ADA chief recently, and as I understand it, they’re working on a timeline of 4.5 years to first flight, and ten years to initial operation clearance. You must realise that the design phase is nearly frozen. It’s not a matter of moving onto the next phase once the project gets cleared. Taxi trials will start much earlier, but first flight in 4.5 years looks very possible,” he says.
In a detailed 12 minute interview as part of the show, the former IAF chief speaks about the AMCA’s technologies, challenges, roadmap and ho it could compare with other fifth generation fighters, especially those in the neighbourhood.
Watch the full BattleCry episode here: