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|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman and MD R. Madhavan recently announced that India’s fifth generation fighter program, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) will be a corporate public-private program. HAL and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) are in the process of laying the contours for a joint venture company to execute the AMCA program. The joint venture company will be a three-way partnership between HAL, DRDO (via ADA) and an Indian private sector firm. It is not yet clear how the private partner in the AMCA project will be chosen, though it is clear that HAL and DRDO are keen to progress the proposed structure and create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) as quickly as possible. The decision to include a private partner as an equal stakeholder in a joint venture is new in Indian aerospace projects, with private firms so far confined to being tier-level suppliers of systems and subsystems. If the proposal goes through, it will be the first time a private firm will be on equal financial and work terms with HAL and DRDO on a military armament project.
India pulled out of the Su-57 fifth generation fighter program with Russia in 2018 after a concerted view was taken by a governmental committee. According to Madhavan, “It’s on the drawing board. Preliminary design is completed. First prototype will be out (flying) by 2026-27. Secondly, as far as 4th Generation and 5th generation fighters are concerned, the latter loses out in terms of aerodynamics owing to the stealth requirements, so it is not a good idea to put everything in one aircraft. With LCA Mk.2 and AMCA, we will be having both varieties - 4+ generation and 5th generation. One doesn’t replace the other. If you look at the US, they too are buying fourth generation jets in addition to the F-35.”
The AMCA is a multirole fighter aircraft, with shoulder mounted diamond shaped trapezoidal wings with substantial area ruling to reduce drag at transonic speeds, and an all-moving Canard-Vertical V-tail with large fuselage mounted Tail-wing. Flight control surfaces include leading and trailing-edge flaps, ailerons, rudders on the canted vertical stabilizers and all-moving tail-planes. These surfaces also serve as air-brakes. The cockpit features a single seat configuration which is placed high, near the air intakes and wings of the aircraft to provide good visibility to the pilot with a single bubble canopy construction. The aircraft features a tricycle landing gear leg and two main landing gear legs. The weapons bay is placed on the underside of the fuselage between the nose and main landing gear. The AMCA is designed to produce a very small radar cross-section and to accomplish this, it features serpentine shaped air-intakes to reduce radar exposure to the fan blade which increases stealth. It uses an internal weapons bay and features the use of composites and other materials. The flight control surfaces are controlled by a central management computer system. Raising the wing flaps and ailerons on one side and lowering them on the other provides roll. A leading-edge root extension (LERX), which is a small fillet, is situated on the front section of the intake and wings of the aircraft. It has a typically roughly rectangular shape, running forward from the leading edge of the wing root to a point along the fuselage. The AMCA also has an in-flight refueling (IFR) probe that retracts beside the cockpit during normal operation. Significantly, the AMCA will be capable of operating in manned as well as in unmanned modes. Post completing feasibility study and preliminary design stage of AMCA, the project entered the detailed design phase in February 2019. A CAD model of the aircraft was shown at Aero India 2019.
After India withdrew from Indo-Russian FGFA programme, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria had said in October 2019 that DRDO "must" make the AMCA project happen. The Indian Air Force (IAF) wants to have "full control" in "defining" technologies of aircraft to avoid technology restrictions imposed when purchasing foreign-designed aircraft. Engine development on K9 and K10 started in August 2012 by Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) – a lab of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). A tender of joint venture on development of the engine was issued to engine manufacturers in 2015 for a foreign partner to help in developing the engine by combining both Kaveri engine technology with the joint-venture partners engine to create a 110–125 KTN thrust engine. On February 19, 2015 at Aero India 2015 reporters were told that a tender of joint venture on development of the engine was issued to General Electric, Rolls Royce, Snecma, Eurojet and NPO Saturn to use current engine technology by combining Kaveri engine technology with JV engine to produce an engine capable of producing thrust of 110-125 KN. Possibility of combining Kaveri Core-engine with joint venture partner core engine i.e. with EJ 200, Snecma M88, NPO Saturn AL-31-117 or General Electric F414 to produce 110-125 KN thrusts was also confirmed by GRTE. France made an unsolicited call to help in the development of AMCA's engine with full access to the Snecma M88 engine and other key technology, while the US too offered full collaboration in the engine development with full access to the GE F414 and P&W F135. Media reports of 2019 suggested that initial two squadrons of AMCA dubbed Mark-1 are expected to use 98 KN General Electric F414 while subsequent squadrons dubbed Mark-II will use a 110 KN class that will be developed indigenously with a foreign partner. All these are good developments. However, HAL recently confirmed that the twin-engine AMCA is planned to be powered by an in-development 110 KN turbofan being developed by GRTE as lead agency and a foreign engine major (France’s Safran). The new engine would be ab-initio but draw learning from the erstwhile Kaveri turbofan project. Prototypes of the AMCA, however, will be powered by GE F414 engines.
The AMCA is a multirole combat aircraft designed for air superiority, ground attack, bombing, intercepting, strike and other types of roles. It combines super-cruise, stealth, advanced AESA radar, super-maneuverability, data fusion and advanced avionics to overcome and suppress previous generation fighter aircraft along with many ground and maritime defence aircraft. AMCA will be a big boost to the combat potential of the IAF.