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India recently greenlit its ambitious Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program, aiming to develop a domestic 5th-generation fighter jet. With a budget of ?15,000 crores (roughly $1.8 billion), the AMCA program boasts one of the lowest funding levels for such an undertaking globally.

For comparison, South Korea’s KF-21 program, launched in 2015, carries an estimated price tag of $6.59 billion. The initial variant of the KF-21 lacks features like an internal weapons bay and stealth coating, making it more of a 4.5-generation aircraft for now. While a true stealth variant (Block-III) is planned for 2030, its unit cost is expected to exceed $100 million, pushing the overall program cost past the $7 billion mark.

Similarly, Turkey’s TF-X (KAAN) program, with an initial government investment of $1.18 billion in 2016, is projected to require an additional $2-3 billion to complete. Unit cost estimates for the KAAN fighter range from $100 million to over $125 million in its final configuration.

India’s AMCA program aims for a more cost-effective approach. Initial AMCA variants (AMCA MKI) are expected to be priced around ?900 crore ($108 million) per unit, dropping to ?450-500 crore ($60 million) for later production models. This affordability is attributed to the use of the F-414 engine, which already could be produced locally in India from 2027 onwards. The AMCA MKII, featuring a new indigenous 110kN engine, might see a price increase initially, but costs are expected to stabilize as production scales up.

Even with these cost-saving measures, the AMCA is unlikely to surpass the F-35A’s estimated flyaway unit cost of under $78 million even in 2035. However, the AMCA program prioritizes high levels of indigenization, targeting over 70% for the MKI variant and exceeding 90% for the MKII. This approach aims to reduce reliance on foreign technology and build a robust domestic aerospace industry in India.

In conclusion, India’s AMCA program represents a unique strategy in the world of 5th-generation fighter development. While its budget is lower compared to other programs, the focus on affordability and high indigenization levels could pave the way for a more self-sufficient Indian Air Force in the future.

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