WHY INDIA NEEDS TO BOOST AMCA
The world has always been very dynamic in terms of geopolitical alignments. Few decades before, there existed two poles, which were pivotal to major strategic shifts, the US and Russia. But as we go by a famous proverb, change is the only constant thing in this world, China rose to power dramatically and it started influencing the geopolitics to a greater extent. Its role in changing the Asia pacific and South Asian strategic alignments is greater than what we think. And one cannot deny this fact, that India could be the fourth pivot in this game. With its flourishing economy, growing military capabilities and changing the age old mindset of restricted diplomacy, it is all set to join the ranks of the three major pivots. This ,of course ,is not an easy task, and the road ahead is full of obstacles. One such obstacle is the development of indigenous sophisticated weapon technology. Though India has developed its own 4+ generation fighter jet Tejas, and successfully inducted it into the IAF, it still has to develop good numbers of upgraded Tejas squadron , in order to gain the confidence of its future users.
Now talking about three major pivots, the US, Russia and China, one thing is quite common between them. Their military is heavily dependent on indigenous equipment. Where Russia and the US are almost self-sufficient in terms of defense equipment, they are also major suppliers of defense equipment. This gives them the power to twist the course of geopolitical alignments. China is on the same path and about to join them. Its new fifth generation fighter J-20 is in the trial phase and expected to join PLA anytime as near as 2018. After which it may have an edge over IAF. And one can not deny a possibility of China transferring this fighter to its all-weather ally Pakistan, and this would definitely not be a good news for IAF.
However, India is also developing its fifth generation fighter T-50, FGFA in collaboration with Russia. But, surely, it will not be an indigenous fighter. Recently, possibilities of Pakistan acquiring Su-35 fighters came into news. It gives IAF some food for thought, as a majority of Indian frontline fighters Su-30 belong to the same family of fighters. Also, it is clear that Russia wants to work its own way when it comes to defense deals. What will happen if Russia develops another variant of Sukhoi/HAL FGFA, gives it a new name and then supply it to the neighboring countries? Can anyone deny such possibilities? Will too much foreign fighter dependency block the way of India in taking bold decisions? Will the supplier countries try to leverage this dependency for their own benefits? All these questions lead us to only one answer, and that is India must develop its AMCA program very soon at any cost. There must be a sense of urgency in dealing with this project. Apart from this, there is also a dire need to boost the Indigenous Jet engine program, which is a major road block in indigenous fighter development.
Having a homegrown Fifth generation fighter has its own benefits. First, IAF will have an air supremacy, as very few countries would be having their own indigenous fifth-generation fighter by then. And having FGFA at the same time will multiply our air power by many folds. Most of the AMCA fighters will be available at any given time. There will be no need to worry about the supply of spares stuck in a bureaucratic mess. AMCA project will also develop a healthy ecosystem for the next generation future weapon development projects. India will be free to select the countries it would want to transfer these fighters, and this will give India a better strategic depth and influence in the region as well as in the world.
A serious AMCA effort will not only help India enhance its design pedigree but also enable it to move up the value chain in what should be a key ‘Make in India’ manufacturing sector. Besides the second order technological benefits that would accrue to India’s aerospace sector, AMCA also holds the potential to become an aircraft that can be tailored to Indian Air Force’s (IAF) doctrinal requirements.
Despite what critics say, it is undeniable that the LCA programme has engendered a credible domestic aerospace eco-system with potential for further development. Due to the project, a range of standard test facilities have been set up by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which manages the overall LCA development programme. Today, India also has a contemporary National Flight Test Centre thanks to the LCA effort.
On the industrial side of things, several companies are involved in the HAL Tejas (LCA) programme and some of them are now global Tier-II and III suppliers. They have cut their teeth with this project that has seen the indigenous development of major sub-components such as an aircraft-mounted accessories gearbox, carbon-carbon brake discs, heat exchangers, hydraulic and fuel valves etc.
By value, more than 60% of the components going into the HAL Tejas MK-I are now indigenous and the aircraft’s indigenous content is sought to be raised further through greater outsourcing by HAL.
AMCA project will need a lot of dedication, commitment, money, and talent. It will also need foreign as well as Indian technology partners. No doubt it’s one of the toughest and challenging projects by HAL and DRDO. But Government needs to keep this project on priority and take necessary steps to make it happen as soon as possible.
Around Rs 150 crore has already been spent on the project with progress made on finalising the aircraft’s stealthy aerodynamic configuration as well as its in-board and structural layout. Work on next generation cockpit displays and weapons release testing from a mock internal bay is also underway.
The AMCA is envisaged to be firmly in the ‘medium’ category with a maximum take-off weight of 24.2 tonnes and will feature a large weapons bay that can accommodate a payload of 3 tonnes. Overall, it will have fifth generation (5G) features such as radar and infrared signature management, supercruise and on-board sensor fusion.
Successful technology demonstration by itself will strengthen India’s hand at the world aerospace table. Indeed, if the AMCA programme had been seriously underway, the Russians would perhaps have been more flexible in negotiations related to technology sharing for the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) programme.
If anything, the FGFA programme has shown that it will not be that easy for the IAF to ‘mould on demand’ a design that has been developed to the specifications of another air force. To be able to play to its own emerging airpower doctrine in the 21st century, the IAF also needs to ‘build’ its own aircraft at some level by taking ownership of the AMCA project.
This Article is written by SIDHARTH KUMAR exclusively for http://defenceupdate.in