Friday, October 3, 2008

The FGFA Conundrum Explained

The limited soundbytes coming from Dr Ashok K Baweja, Chairman of the Ministry of Defence-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), notwithstanding (when he walked into the ‘ambush alley’ laid out by scribes waiting to be briefed on the outcome of the 8th India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, or IRIGC-MTC), the past seven days have produced considerable clarity as well as raised several queries on the Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project, which was originally known within India as the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) and will now be co-developed Indian and Russian military-industrial enterprises. However, before proceeding further, one stark reality needs to be recognised: The delayed delivery of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (estimated by 2012), and the joint India-Russia R & D slippages of two futuristic programmes—the FGFA and the multi-role transport aircraft (MTA)—all have one thing in common: the delays are being caused by an acute shortage of trained technical manpower that currently prevails throughout the Russian Federation. For Moscow has since mid-2007 decided to focus the majority of its scarce human resources firstly towards the creation of new-generation strategic weapon systems, and secondly towards the creation of new military-industrial facilities within Russia that will enable Russia to forever eliminate its current dependence on existing manufacturing facilities located in Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Russia believes that such dependency has, since the early 1990s, robbed it of tens of billions of dollars in terms of revenues earned from exports of weapon systems whose intellectual property rights are those of Russia. The implications for India of such measures adopted by Moscow are obvious: the United Aerospace Corp (UAC)—which now includes Sukhoi Aircraft Corp and RAC-MiG—along with the Tsentralniy Aerogidrodinamicheskiy Institut (Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, or TsAGI), has now decided to co-develop with India’s state-owned Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) the twin-engined 17.2-tonne FGFA (which in Russia is known as the Mnogofunktsyonalniy Frontovoy Samolyot, or MFS project) for the export market ONLY, for the time-being, meaning for already identified customers such as India and Brazil (which are being offered the aircraft by 2012), while retaining the option to induct the MFS by 2018. It is, however, according top priority to develop the heavier, 24-tonne T-50 Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsyi (PAK-FA) that will be optimised for air dominance, much like the Lockheed Martin-built F/A-22 Raptor. Consequently, the FGFA’s Russian R & D effort will henceforth be funded by private institutions, will be co-developed only for export and all Russian R & D contributions will henceforth be reduced by 85% and the void will be filled up by HAL and reportedly Embraer of Brazil, which inked a collaborative agreement to this effect with Rosoboronexport State Corp on April 15 this year. It also means that in terms of service induction schedule, the T-50 PAK-FA (photo 4) will be the first to become operational in Russia by 2012, followed by the MFS/FGFA by 2015. The T-50 PAK-FA’s prototypes will initially be powered by twin 117S turbofans developed and built by MMPP Salyut Moscow Salyut Machine Building Production Enterprise. The 117S, which is a highly upgraded Lyulka AL-31F, now has a total thrust with afterburning of 14.5 tonnes, or 2 tonnes more than the AL-31F, and is also qualified for a 1,500-hour time between overhauls (TBO). Production variants of the T-50 PAK-FA, however, will be powered by the AL-41F, which will be produced by MMPP Salyut, and the aircraft’s final assembly will be undertaken by UAC’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Organisation (KnAAPO) facility.
The genesis of India’s participation in Russia’s MFS project goes back to November 2002 when both Moscow and New Delhi inked a Memorandum of Understanding that, broadly speaking, called for India to begin evaluating its options for a risk-sharing R & D participation in the programme. By then, however, Russia had already decided to go it alone with the T-50 PAK-FA first, but lacked the necessary funding for completing the MFS/FGFA’s R & D effort. Moscow had, in 1998, already selected Sukhoi OKB’s T-50 PAK-FA proposal over the competing I-2000 LFI twin-engined design from RAC-MiG, Mikoyan OKB and Yakovlev OKB. The powerplant selected for the T-50 PAK-FA was NPO Saturn’s AL-41F, rated at 155kN (35,000lb) thrust and under development since 1985. Between 2002 and 2004 the P-50 PAK-FA’s all-digital mock-up was completed. On May 18, 2003 the P-50 PAK-FA’s engineering development-cum-production effort officially took off after an agreement to this effect was inked by the Russian Aerospace Agency Rosaviakosmos, Sukhoi OKB, the Sukhoi Military Production Complex, NPO Saturn, Vympel, Zvezda-Strela, TsAGI, Aerospace Equipment Corp, Ramenskoye RPKB, Polet, Tekhnocomplex, Tikhomirov NIIP, Urals Optics Mechanical plant, KNIIRTI, UMPO of Ufa, Gromov Flight Test and Research Institute in Zhukovsky, and MMPP Salyut of Moscow. The Russian R & D masterplan then had called for the T-50 PAK-FA to make its maiden flight in 2009, construction of seven flying prototypes, commencement of series production by 2011 and service entry a year later.
In early 2005, when Sukhoi OKB gave its first generic presentation on the T-50 PAK-FA FGFA to Indian Air Force (IAF) HQ, it was quite surprised to hear that the IAF wanted a twin-engined, tandem-seat 17.2-tonne aircraft that was at least 5 tonnes lighter than the T-50 PAK-FA. Going back to the drawing boards, Sukhoi OKB returned in mid-2005 to give Air HQ a limited technical proposal for a single-engined variant of the T-50 PAK-FA, which was rejected outright by the IAF as being over-ambitious and unrealistic in terms of both the R & D costs to be incurred and the project implementation timetable. This was followed in December the same year by a separate, detailed presentation being given by Sukhoi OKB on its twin-engined MFS/FGFA design (Sukhoi’s proposal featured forward-swept wings at that time). The proposal also offered a 50% workshare for the Indian R & D/aerospace industrial entities, as stipulated earlier by IAF HQ. It was following these presentations that India selected committed itself to furnishing Russia with an initial sum of US$300 million that was urgently required by Sukhoi OKB to complete the MFS/FGFA’s detailed design phase and begin metal-cutting. In addition, NPO Saturn and UMPO committed themselves to set a parallel engine production facility at HAL’s Koraput-based facility to licence-produce an uprated variant of the AL-31FP turbofan with the help of raw materials supplied in Russia, with all moulding and machining work being done in India. For both Moscow and New Delhi this was seen as a very big concession, as Russia had never before transferred its engine production technologies abroad, with even the 1,500+ AL-31FPs for the Su-30MKIs now being supplied off-the-shelf to HAL as fully assembled engines.
Under the new scheme of things now, India and possibly Brazil will ultimately contribute 90% of the $2 billion required for completing the MFS/FGFA’s R & D phase. The single-seat airframe for the Russian Air Force (photos 1, 2 & 3), which was re-conceptualised late last year by doing away with the forward-swept wings, will be rolled out by late 2009, with its tandem-seat variant (which the IAF wants to induct into service) following two years later. Russia will fund the development of the uprated AL-31FP turbofan (which will be uprated by 20%, according to Dr Baweja), which will provide non-afterburning supersonic cruise speeds, will have a 6,000-hour technical service life, and will come equipped with three-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzles (moving +/-15 degrees vertically and +/-8 degrees horizontally) as well as full authority digital electronic controls. The single-crystal turbine blades of the turbofan will be treated with a new-generation corrosion-protection coating developed by Urals-based PRAD, which will dramatically extend the service life of those AL-31FPs that are exposed to severe sand erosion. As for the distributed avionics suite of the MFS/FGFA, Russia has given the DRDO and HAL a free hand to define and design the open-architecture cockpit and mission avionics suites and an integrated self-defence suite. The quadruplex fly-by-light flight control system (yes, the IAF has insisted on it, while the Russian version of the MFS/FGFA will use fly-by-wire flight controls) will be jointly developed by the DRDO and Embraer, while potential suppliers of active phased-array radars include THALES of France, Israel Aerospace Industries, Phazotron JSC, Ericsson Microwave Systems, and EADS. Unit price of each tandem-seat variant of MFS/FGFA (another design configuration that the IAF has specified) is currently estimated at $65 million.
Based on the above, several questions have now arisen that are begging for convincing answers. These include:
1) Will it be possible for HAL to have the cake and eat it as well in terms of monopolising the MFS/FGFA’s detailed re-design requirements (to modify the original single-seat design to a tandem-seat aircraft), especially since its ARDC facility already has its hands full with similar work on the MRTA, LCH, LOH and medium-lift utility helicopter?
2) In order to lessen its work burden when it comes to detailed airframe re-design, will it adopt a consortium approach in terms of enrolling the services of the private sector while it acts as the nodal R & D authority answerable to IAF HQ?
3) Who will be responsible for conducting high-speed and high-altitude wind tunnel tests of the HAL-redesigned MFS/FGFA? Will it done in India or in Russia?
4) Will HAL will be the sole intellectual property custodian for all military airworthiness certification data pertaining to the tandem-seat MFS/FGFA? Or will it be a joint HAL-UAC affair?
5) Who will lead the effort to define and perfect the flight control logic for the redesigned MFS/FGFA?
6) Who will conduct the peer review of the flight control algorithms for the fly-by-light flight control system? In the absence of Russia’s ability to conduct such peer reviews, which other non-Russian aerospace entity is likely to be approached to conduct such peer reviews?
7) Will the selection of the uprated AL-31F powerplant for the MFS/FGFA also result in HAL eventually forcing the MoD and IAF HQ to select the same turbofan (on financial grounds) for powering the Tejas LCA, thereby trying the MoD to override the technical recommendations of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and IAF HQ? Or will HAL team up with NPO Saturn to successfully bid for developing an uprated variant of the Kaveri turbofan and adopt this very engine as the definitive powerplant for the MFS/FGFA?
8) Will HAL, and not the DRDO’s ADA and DARE facilities, be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the redesigned MFS/FGFA’s systems integration efforts? Or will it outsource such activities to ADA and DARE?
9) Why has the IAF specified a tandem-seat configuration for the MFS/FGFA? If it wants even a fifth-generation combat aircraft to be a two-seater, does this also mean that it will be pre-disposed toward a tandem-seat fourth-generation M-MRCA which is now in the process of being evaluated prior to final selection?
10) Will IAF HQ draw the correct lessons from its experiences regarding the Tejas LCA’s R & D effort and this time, right from the outset create an over-arching Systems Programme Office that will monitor and guide the multi-disciplinary industrial R & D efforts?—
Prasun K. Sengupta


Vishal Nalkur said...

Hey, thanks for that article Prasun. Did manage to clear some of my doubts.

Max said...


Does it mean this confirms that there's no seperate MCA program that HAL is developing solely? I read in some news before that HAL will codevelop a 5th gen [plane with Russia, at the same time use experiences from there to design an indegenous MCA

Anonymous said...

prasun, there is a fundamental mistake in your article. that the MiG MFS project is still alive and it is not the T-50 which India has sgned up for. the basic things are such: India has signed up for the T-50 two seater version which will be a virtual remake of the Su-30 concept of a two seater, whereas the Sukhoi corp is developing the T-50 as a single seater Su-35 analogue. you will get more information on this over time. india also is likely to choose its own avionics fit versus what is being developed at NIIP and Russkaya for the T-50. the MiG project is dead. and India's fighters will be T-50 variants as well. and BTW, Brazil is just a tentative joinee. the T-50 pitch was an attempt by Russia to clear the way for its Su-35 which clearly failed.

Prasun K Sengupta said...

To Anon@4:56AM: As far back as 2006 the then IAF CAS ACM S P Tyagi in an interview given to FORCE had clearly explained the differences between the T-50 PAK-FA and the Sukhoi (not MiG) MFS/FGFA and what the IAF's operational QRs regarding the MFS/FGFA were. Despite this, there exists considerable confusion especially among Western aerospace journalists when it comes to writing on the T-50 PAK-FA and the MFS/FGFA. They can't tell the difference between the two. In fact, the majority of Russia's financial and skilled human resources have since 2000 been committed to the T-50 PAK-FA and it is for this reason that it had no alternative but to seek foreign risk-sharing industrial partners (like Brazil & India) to chip in so that the MFS/FGFA'sd R & D effort could take off in time. Even the computer-aided illustrations of the two respective airfrmae designs clearly bring out the differences.

Prasun K Sengupta said...

To Max@2:49AM: The MCA was conceptually being toyed with by the ADA, not HAL. There were feasibility studies carried out by ADA but the Govt of India never did sanction any funds for even the MCA's project definition phase.

Anonymous said...


"Even the computer-aided illustrations of the two respective airfrmae designs clearly bring out the differences."

Where are these illustrations? AFAIK, no such illustrations have ever been made public by Sukhoi and the actual shape of T-50 is a close secret. Also, Sukhoi simply does not have the manpower to run 3 parallel prjcts, T-50, MFS, and Su-35. There is just one T-50 (with MKI variant) and one Su-35 program.

Also, MCA is now being cleared as a replacement for the MRCA. Hope they work with Sweden to make a new MCA double quick.

Prasun K Sengupta said...

To Anon@6:09AM: ALL the illustrations I've attached with my story were officially released and have been in the public domain since mid-2007. Regarding the MCA as a replacement for the MRCA, are to refering to the on-going M-MRCA competitive bidding process? In that case, how can the MCA replace something that hasn't even been chosen yet, leave alone being inducted into service? And what's the Swedish link to the MCA?

To Max: Should you want to read more on the ATV Project, then I got three links for you which I'm enclosing below:

Anonymous said...

if the above pics r the real pics of PAK FA prototye then it has better aerodynamic shape than any other fighter

Anonymous said...


ALL the illustrations I've attached with my story were officially released and have been in the public domain since mid-2007.

dude, NONE of these pics are officially released by Sukhoi. the first three you have attached are internet fan art based on speculation, and are available at

you should have known this.

the last is a famous picture, again an imaginary illustration by Josef Gatial. he is a world famous digital artist with many such pics.

at least be aware of whose pics you are putting up, with respective copyrights.

regarding the MCA as a replacement for the MRCA, are to refering to the on-going M-MRCA competitive bidding process? In that case, how can the MCA replace something that hasn't even been chosen yet, leave alone being inducted into service?

check the previous statements by ADA. he says the IAF is looking towards the MCA to complement/ replace the mrca (which is being tendered today) so there is at least a 15 year window before the mca needs to arrive giving sufficient time for the iaf to decide on technologies.

And what's the Swedish link to the MCA?

gripen amanufacturers saab were part of a group that pitched a new stealth proposal to korea. i am thinking a similar approach (saab + ada) would do well for the mca and make things go faster.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anon@9:05 am here. Those are fan pics and not official pics of the PAK-FA. The 2nd and 3rd pics were shown on another russian forum by the artist who said he tried to make the PAK-FA an "evolution" of the Su-27 so that is why it has similar intakes. Its not in anyway real.

This is Jozef on keypubs. Its "Jozef".

This is another Jozef pic:

And the one on this website:


Anonymous said...

@prasun can u change the layout of this blog, white on blck text is hard to read.


joker said...

yes prasun pls chg d layour thx

joker said...

yes prasun pls chg d layout thx

Prasun K Sengupta said...

Point well-taken. Am working on a new, more visual-friendly layout. Kindly try to bear with me for the time being. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

ok we look 4ward 2 da new design. something like ajai's would be quite good.
anyway also looking 4ward to your answer to Anonymous_Saturday, October 04, 2008 9:05:00 AM

Sasha-i3 said...


Oh, that's so funny

Вы ничего не знаете, бадда вы этакий ...

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha

so nice article you posted, especially pictures -

but they actually originate from -
direct link on article

and belong to author of site

direct links on pictures

maybe you should use some copyright signs...huh?