India's recent deal to partner
with Russia in the development and production of a "Fifth Generation Fighter"
has caused some unrest in the senior ranks of the Indian Air Force. Some
generals believe India is paying too much ($5 billion, about half the
development cost) and is not involved enough. The Russians have frozen the
design of the aircraft. This is not to say that Indian air force generals
cannot have some input when changes have to be made during development, but the
current deal does not force the Russians to pay much attention.
The Russian-Indian effort is meant to build a
superior aircraft to the American F-22. The Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA [PHOTO] is not expected
to fly until 2010, and won't be in service for another 5-10 years (depending on
how quickly the new technology can be obtained). The T-50 looks a lot like the
F-22. The 37 ton T-50 is about the same weight as the F-22, and has a similar
The benefits of the Russia-Indian cooperation are
many. In addition to the financial and technical help, Russia will have a
guaranteed export customer, and a better chance at increasing the number
produced, and bringing down the per-aircraft cost. If only 200 are produced,
each aircraft will carry a $50 million share of the development cost.
Manufacturing costs for each aircraft could be as much as $100 million. While
Russia and India have lower labor costs, wage rates are not a major factor
here. You have to build a lot of expensive, and precise, production facilities.
In addition to stealth, super-cruise and multiple
sensors (some of them passive), the T-50 will also contain multiple electronic
systems, all possessing a lot of technology that neither Russia, nor, India,
have at the moment. While Russia has its spies trying to steal all the
technogoodies it can, that may not be enough.
For the last 70 years, the Russians have been
designing hot (although often flawed) aircraft, that tended to be flown by low
quality pilots. The Russians say they are trying to break out of this cycle,
but they've been saying that for several decades. Their last generation of
fighters, the MiG-29 and Su-27, like all those before it, performed poorly
against American fighters. But the Indians believe this is more a reflection of
pilot, than aircraft, quality. With the T-50, they will have a fighter far
superior to anything Pakistan or China possess. That's worth $5 billion, and
not being allowed to tinker with the design. This assumes that the cooperation
deal involves the understanding that the aircraft will not be sold to China or