New Delhi, Jan. 24: India has agreed to participate in jointly developing a futuristic fighter aircraft — known in the jargon of aviators as a “fifth generation plane” — with Russia, the Russian deputy Prime Minister and defence minister, Sergei Borisovich Ivanov, said here today.
The Russian defence minister’s announcement came with a renewal of lobbying by Moscow to sell MiG-35 fighters to India. The MiG-35 is in stiff competition with American and European aviation companies for the Indian Air Force’s multi-role combat aircraft deal that could be worth as much as $9 billion.
The global tender for the multi-role combat aircraft is expected to be issued by March, after a year’s delay.
The contenders — Lockheed Martin with its F-16 Fighting Falcon, Boeing’s F/A 18 Superhornet, Saab’s JAS 39 Grpen, the French Rafael and the Eurofighter Typhoon — will display the aircraft at next month’s air show in Bangalore.
The Russians are aware that the competition is intense and are lobbying as hard as the others, apart from banking on a history of steady and large military supplies to India.
Ivanov and his delegation are understood to have emphasised the relationship during talks at the sixth India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation here today. The delegations were led by Ivanov and Indian defence minister A.K. Antony.
Antony said later that India was taking a keen look at the fifth generation fighter aircraft project. An estimate within the defence establishment puts possible Indian investment in the project at around Rs 5,000 crore.
The aircraft is slated to roll out in 2009. India has been taking a look at two options from the Russians — one based on a MiG platform and another on a Sukhoi platform. Indications are that the latter is favoured. India and Russia have a model for co-development of military equipment in the Brahmos missile.
“We started work (on the project) three years back. Some time back, India showed interest in joining this project. It took them some time to study various options. We have now been told that India has made a final choice. We may now be able to open contractual work for Indian accession to the project,” Ivanov said.
India and Russia signed an agreement and a contract for licensed production of RD-33 engines for MiG-29 aircraft. The IAF has MiG-29 “air-superiority” fighters in its inventory. India and Russia also signed a protocol of intent to co-produce a multi-role transport aircraft.
Defence sources said India has also decided to buy 80 Mi-17 multi-utility helicopters from Russia and 347 T-90 tanks. The helicopters and the tanks are currently in use in the IAF and the Indian Army.
The acquisitions will be in addition to the platforms already in the services. The IAF is also expected to contract 40 additional Sukhoi 30 Mki multi-role fighters.