Does India need AMCA and an Indigenous 6th Generation fighter program?
A sixth-generation jet fighter is a conceptualized class of fighter aircraft design more advanced than the fifth-generation jet fighters that are currently in service and in development. Several countries have announced the development of a sixth-generation aircraft program, including the United States, Japan, Russia, Germany, India,China, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Off-late many countries have declared their intentions to join sixth-generation fighter development bandwagon and series of announcements have largely come from European countries, where at least Three independent 6th Generation fighter programs are racing against time to field a production-ready prototype by 2035 time-frame which can enter induction by 2040. The US, China, and Russia who all have their own 5th generation program are yet to announce any major projects of their own, yet they continue to explore and research what can be classified as 6th generation program so that it can have a clear advantage over 5th generation programs.
Use of electric propulsion for SiGFA is an another possibility. A prototype of the first Japan-made stealth fighter X-2 Shinshin, formerly called ATD-X may be equipped with powerful batteries and electric motors. Such a hybrid would take advantage of a jet engine’s speed and use electric generators so as to give power to directed-energy weapons, including lasers. It would also fly at low speeds.
A sixth-generation jet fighter is supposed to be a conceptualized class of fighter aircraft design more advanced than the fifth-generation jet fighters, yet there is no clear cut explanation on how they plan to differentiate between 5th and 6th generation fighters and many European countries who have taken the lead are the ones who have skipped development of 5th generation fighter aircraft themselves raising big question mark if their 6th generation fighter jets actually will be any better then 5th generation fighter already under development and in-service?. 5th and 6th Generation fighter jet program debate already has reached Indian shores after the United Kingdom offered their Tempest 6th generation program to India.
India has struggled to get its hands on a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, such as the F-35, but has not succeeded so far. The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project, which was to follow the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), has remained on the drawing board for years, awaiting approval for design and development, and is not expected to make its first flight until at least 2032; India’s bid to join the Russian fifth-gen fighter project (PAK-FA) at a late stage fell through last year after years of negotiations; and the US will not sell India the F-35.
India’s next door adversaries like China already has two 5th Generation Stealth fighter jet program which is close to entering scale production soon and China is reportedly also developing third 5th generation fighter jet which will have vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities for carrier operations,China will not be far behind in the development of a 6th generation fighter program and is likely will field one by 2030.
Pakistan is also exploring the development of 5th generation fighter jets based on its JF-17 fighter jets with China and it won’t be long before China and Pakistan in the region will possess a 5th or 6th generation fighter aircraft in large scale even before AMCA enters production. The question now many are asking is, should India fund a 6th generation program or simply wait till there are ready for export? but then it also self defeats India’s quest to develop all the defense equipment in-house without much dependencies from its regular exporters of defense equipment.
But India can’t be left far behind and by 2030 we could have two indigenous fighter programs already in service of the country and another one on the verge of induction so plans need to be chalked out if we need AMCA with advancements or a completely new 6th jet program of our own. With no major breakthrough in the development of next-generation stealth technology and with improvements in the detection rate of surface radar technology and the majority of Defense Pundits world over, for now, have agreed to classify a 6th generation fighter jets has an aircraft which will be mostly software and avionics driven with a touch of Artificial Intelligence.
India with the development of AMCA and Tejas Mark-2 can progress to develop a local 6th generation program with greater participation of the public and private sector in India which is growing at rapid rate and will need sustainable local programs for future if India really wants to be seen as a major defense exporter.
Replacement of Sukhoi-30 by 2050 and Failure of FGFA joint venture with Russia has provided Indian designers and aerospace ecosystem in the country to come up with an alternative which can take on and replace Heavy Class fighter like Su-30 and yet be India’s frontline fighter in terms of technology. Indian military planners should start work on Advance Heavy Combat Aircraft (AHCA) concept which could be India’s 6th Generation fighter program which should materialize by 2040.