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‘Big Milestone’ For India’s AMCA Stealth Fighter Jet Program As DRDO Announces Testing Of Fifth-Gen Technology

India is getting closer to realizing its dream of developing its own fifth-generation combat aircraft with its consistent push for self-reliance. The much-touted AMCA stealth fighter jet program, which has until now been on the drawing board, is now getting ready to enter the production stage.

In a landmark development, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) recently took to Twitter to announce the proverbial ‘metal cutting’ for the first prototype of India’s next-generation fighter jet, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

The official handle of DRDO tweeted: “Based on the design by ADA & DRDO, the fabrication of Leading edge of AMCA initiated at HAL with special material for 5th gen design. The unit will undergo structural & other testing before putting it on the first prototype. An imp milestone for AMCA.”

Earlier, the Director-General of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Girish S. Deodhare had revealed that the configuration of the prototype was frozen, the preliminary service quality requirements (PSQR) were finalized, and the preliminary design review was complete. The Critical Design Review (CDR) is due later this year.

The maiden flight of the AMCA is scheduled for 2024-25, with series production beginning in 2030, while the development agency believes that after four years of flight testing, the period can be shortened to 2028-29.

AMCA-INDIA-HAL
Artists’ Impression of AMCA

In February this year, R Madhavan, chairman of the state-owned HAL had said that the company was employing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) model with private partners to produce the next-generation AMCA and Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH).

While HAL and ADA will handle the design and development, commercial defense companies could be involved in the production of the combat jet. The advanced stealth fighter will be a multi-role fighter capable of air dominance, ground strike, enemy air defense suppression, and electronic warfare tasks.

AMCA – India’s Futuristic Fighter Jet

The AMCA is envisioned as a twin-engine stealth aircraft with an internal weapons bay and Diverter-less Supersonic Intake, which has been produced for the first time and for which the design is now complete.

It will be a 25-tonne aircraft with an internal payload of 1,500 kg and an exterior payload of 5,500 kg in addition to 6,500 kg of internal fuel.

The Indian Air Force is said to have committed 40 AMCA Mk-1 fighters and at least 100 Mk-2 derivatives, as well as some unmanned variants. The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) would be stealthy and have ‘super cruise’ capabilities.

File:AMCA model displayed during Aero India 2021.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
An AMCA model displayed during Aero India 2021 (Wikimedia Commons)

AMCA will assure India’s entry into the elite club of countries with fifth-generation stealth planes. Only the F-35 and F-22 Raptors from the United States, the Su-57 Felon from Russia, and the J-20 from China are operational fifth-generation aircraft as of now.

With AMCA, India looks set to become only the fourth country to launch an indigenously produced stealth fighter aircraft. However, Turkey is also aggressively pursuing its own fifth-generation aircraft, known as the TF-X, that shares almost the same timeline of launch as Indian AMCA. Then South Korea (KF-21) and the European nations (Tempest and FCAS) are also developing fifth-gen fighter jets.

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The TF-X mock-up at Singapore Air Show (via Twitter)

For the IAF, which has only 30-32 fighter squadrons as of now, the AMCA program is crucial. The service will not be able to attain the sanctioned size of 42 squadrons in the next 10-15 years, despite the 36 Rafale planes built in France as previously stated by then Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari.

Besides the AMCA, India is also evaluating its options to procure 112 combat aircraft under the MRFA project to boost its fleet. The EurAsian Times carried out an elaborate survey on the MRFA project that could be accessed here.

The Heart Of The AMCA

The AMCA will be available in stealth and non-stealth variants and, will be produced in two stages: an AMCA MK1 with an existing GE414 afterburning turbofan engine that powers LCA Tejas, and AMCA Mk2 with a new, more powerful engine that will be collaboratively developed with a foreign player, according to ADA chief Girish Deodhare.

Further, India and France are nearing a deal to collaborate on the development of a 125kN engine for the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Safran, a French engine manufacturer are expected to jointly produce the advanced AMCA engine.

HAL AMCA
A model of HAL AMCA. (via Twitter)

Safran and HAL already collaborate on the Shakti engine, which powers the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv and its variants, thus a future deal for AMCA engine between the two could be expected to be smooth.

Officials claimed that once the agreement with France is completed, the aircraft and engine development will run concurrently in order to satisfy the timeframes.

The progress in the AMCA program would mark a major shift for India which stares as a shortage of combat aircraft against the requisite strength along with an aggressive neighbor at its doorstep.