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While Asian giants like China, Korea, Turkey and Japan have taken the lead in the 5th generation fighter jet race, India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program seems content to be the last entrant. However, the complacency doesn’t extend to the 6th generation, where experts warn the Indian Air Force (IAF) risks falling even further behind.

With countries like France, the UK, the US, France and even Turkey announcing ambitious 6th generation programs, India remains curiously passive. Defence expert Ranesh Rajan points out the IAF’s “wait and see” approach, relying on others to define the technology and capabilities of the next generation, rather than actively shaping its vision. This wait-and-watch could leave India playing catch-up yet again.

While neighbouring Pakistan’s plans to acquire the 5th generation FC-31 should have served as a red flag, the IAF seems unfazed. The AMCA program plods on, with its Initial Operational Capability (IOC), delayed until 2035, a full 7-8 years after other nations expect to field their 6th generation jets.

Adding to the worries, the AMCA program faces serious engine development hurdles. Rajan estimates it will take another 12-15 years for the new generation engine to enter mass production, further extending the delay and jeopardizing the project’s viability.

Time is of the essence. While India celebrates its eventual entry into the 5th generation race, the world has already moved on. The IAF risks losing air superiority if it doesn’t wake up, take the initiative, and chart its course towards the 6th generation and beyond. The future of Indian skies depends on it.

The IAF needs to take immediate and decisive steps to address this worrying situation. This includes:

  • Fast-tracking the AMCA program: Streamlining the development process, prioritizing resources, and collaborating with international partners could expedite the AMCA’s entry into service.
  • Proactively engaging in 6th-generation research: Instead of waiting for others to define the 6th generation, the IAF should actively invest in research and development, ensuring India is at the forefront of this next-generation technology.
  • Strengthening indigenous capabilities: Investing in engine development and other critical technologies within India will reduce dependence on imports and accelerate the overall development process.

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