SOURCE: Sairama.V/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
AMCA is a crucial project for self sufficiency of fighters in IAF inventory. AMCA will be fifth generation medium weight multi role fighter aircraft capable to penetrating air defenses. The design work has started long before the maturity of LCA Tejas aircraft. HAL & ADA is battling hard to solve teething problem of Tejas MK1. The improved version Tejas 1A is expected to start production by 2018.
Meanwhile HAL & ADA is expected to work on Tejas Mk2/ Naval Tejas version with GE F414 engine and is expected by 2022. IAF might produce a list of operational problems in Tejas 1A for rectification. The Gripen NG project started in early 2008 with Gripen Demo (with GE F414 engine) and the first production aircraft will be inducted only by 2018. Also the first GE F414 engine was expected to arrive by 2015 end. The Tejas Mk2 timeline of 6yrs (2016-2021) for development, prototype, testing and induction seem to be too tight. Once again HAL & ADA has provided a timeline which might be too small.
AMCA project is expected to start developing the prototype once the induction of Tejas Mk2 happens. In the meantime development work on new engine, stealth feature and thrust vectoring nozzle will be carried out. The prototype is expected to make the first flight by 2023-24 as per the latest report. All these timeline depend on other projects (Tejas 1A, Tejas Mk2, New Engine, AMCA development, Prototype building) and any delay will push the first flight of AMCA substantially.
IAF has realized the problems with the AMCA timeline and has been reluctant to go for the development of Tejas Mk2. Tejas Mk2 development timeline from 2017 to 2022 will create considerable strain on AMCA project and delay prone LCA Tejas may not meet the 2022 induction. IAF might want to start the development of AMCA from 2017 as IAF is satisfied with Tejas 1A modifications and has been vocal about the irrelevance of Tejas Mk2. IAF would like to have AMCA inducted in large number before the retirement of Mirage 2000, Jaguar, Mig-29 in 2030. IAF is expected to retire 69 Mig-29, 50 Mirage, 245 Mig-21, 145 Jaguar and 85 Mig-27 before 2030 along with early Su-30MKI in mid 2030s.
IAF had the option to upgrade the Mig-21, Mig-27, Mig-29, Mirage 2000 and Jaguar due to the delay in LCA Tejas. In case of delay in AMCA, IAF do not have back up plan and Mirage, Jaguar & Mig-29 will be at the end of their lifespan. IAF reluctance of Tejas Mk2 will create further strain to squadron strength.
In the case of Indian Navy which is interested in the development of Tejas Mk2/ Naval Tejas will find its utility in the Ski-Jump aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant. Indian Navy currently operates Mig-29K from aircraft carrier and it expected to be in service till 2040 in worst case scenario (25yrs life span) or 2045 in best case scenario (30yrs life span). Navy will expect Tejas Mk2 to have longer range compared to MK1 along with higher payload & hardpoints. Navy will find AMCA to be suitable replacement of Mig-29K. The deep flaw arises with the construction of INS Vishal.
INS Vishal EMALS based nuclear aircraft carrier will be able launch heavier aircraft. There is no point in building a large carrier to launch Naval Tejas. Pak FA or F-35 are the only candidate worth justifying for the aircraft carrier. INS Vishal should have mix of Heavy & Medium fighter with Pak FA/F-35 in Heavy category and AMCA in Medium category. Delays in AMCA might force Navy to acquire Mig-29K/F-18 Super Hornet or do away with less capable Naval Tejas. Indian Navy should consider building Naval Pak FA in the line of Su-33 in case of an agreement between India and Russia on the FGFA program.
The 4+/5th Gen Fighters have taken at least 15yrs from the Demonstration flight to Introduction into Air Force and upgradation to latest standard have consumed much longer timeframe. Designers first introduced the aircraft and provided advanced capabilities by upgradation. Prototype flight have taken 8yrs for F-22, 9yrs for Typhoon and 10yrs for Rafale & F-35. These fighter are build by experienced designers and all these fighters have made demonstration flight before building prototype. F-35 is an exception with three different models and Lockheed Martin has experience building F-22 Raptor.
Japan F-3 Fighter: The technology demonstrator ATD-X started in 2007 with the first flight and full development in 2016 & 2018. The full induction of F-3 Fighter is planned in 2027. There is considerable delay in the first flight of the demonstrator and it is expected to affect the timeline of the aircraft. Japan will receive matured classified technology from US for the fighter project.
AMCA project will receive jet engine in the form joint venture with GE and 3D Thrust vectoring nozzle from Klimov. GE has developed & tested the EPE Engine and also 3D Thrust vectoring nozzle is currently used by Su-35, Mig-35 & Pak FA. Timeline is expected to steeply reduce due to the usage of existing components & technology through joint venture. ADA has already developed components for LCA Tejas but still the indigenous level in LCA Tejas is 61% as per HAL and 35% according to CAG.
AMCA project might face considerable delay and might not meet the IAF deadline of 2030 unless the development of Tejas Mk2 is sidelined by both IAF and Indian Navy. But Indian Navy expects Naval Tejas to be inducted to have right mix of fighters and reduce the operating cost. In case of agreement between Indian Navy & IAF on AMCA & Tejas Mk2, ADA can stretch the timeline of Tejas Mk2 providing considerable resource for the development of AMCA. HAL resources will be spread too thin in case of an agreement on Pak FA along with the development of Tejas Mk2 & AMCA.
Delay in AMCA will push the first production aircraft to mid 2030s and naval AMCA carrier integration to late 2030s. In the same note, US has fixed the timeline for Sixth Generation Fighter F-X as 2040. All these developments looks familiar to LCA Tejas Program. Indian and US Air Force will be inducting new fighter in 2017, but the considerable difference is LCA Tejas is a 4th Gen and F-35 is 5th Gen Fighter.
To make it clear, US Air Force has inducted True 5th Gen F-22 Raptor a decade earlier in 2006.Can India buck the trend? The way forward to Sixth Gen Fighter is the Adaptive Cycle Engine, Directed Energy Weapons & Electronic Warfare. GTRE should start development of Adaptive Cycle Engine in collaboration with either Klimov/NPO Saturn or Eurojet/GE. NPO Saturn is developing engine for Pak FA and GE has tested preliminary engine for the Sixth Gen Fighter. The first upgradation of Tejas Mk2 and production of AMCA will be close to 2035/2040 timeframe which should provide 20-25yrs for the development of 120KN Adaptive Cycle Engine. India should start investing in technology for Sixth Generation Fighter, Bomber and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.