OneIndia Exclusive: India’s stealth fighter dream moves towards reality

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M
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Bengaluru, Feb 14: India's valiant attempt in developing a gen-next stealth fighter seems to be gathering some momentum with the scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) claiming that the Project Definition Phase (PDP) will be over within a year.

While some of the stealth features remain as a ‘beyond-visual-technology' for India, even as this report is being put together, the DRDO officials are convinced that embedding global players and increasing the private participation could well be the breakthrough in realizing their dreams. Super-cruise, stealth and thrust vectoring are critical features DRDO would need to thrash out in the process.

India’s stealth fighter dream a reality

While Aero India is normally seen as a ‘carnival of claims,' the DRDO top brass have put up a confident argument that the lessons learnt from developing a four-and-a-half-generation fighter (Tejas) will act as a their guiding force while entering into the hitherto unknown 5th generation terrain.

AMCA Directorate takes confident shape

The AMCA Directorate at Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is being headed by Dr A K Ghosh. As the Project Director, he has stayed away from the media glare all these years. Access to this Directorate is absolutely restricted and any information sought on AMCA travels many channels of approvals before flying out of the ADA HQ. Even not many details are officially known about the size of the AMCA team.

However, military sources confirm to OneIndia that a core team of 200 designers, with an additional outsourced manpower of 2000 more, is likely to work for the project during the Detailed Design Phase. Once the key players in the project get picked up, 500 more scientists will be added to the tally, working at various partner site(s).

Feasibility projects have been completed

The AMCA dream has crossed the first milestone with all feasibility projects getting completed. Confirmatory tests like Low Speed Wind Tunnel test, High Speed Wind Tunnel Test and RCS Test have been carried out. "The AMCA configuration has been frozen," says Dr K Tamilmani, Director General (Aero), DRDO.

Currently, systems and inboards finalization activities are being carried out towards system definition. Simultaneously, many advance technology projects -- mostly critical in nature -- are being pursued by the team.

India’s stealth fighter dream a reality

Sources say that AMCA will have to cross five key phases before becoming a reality. They include: PDP, Detail Design Phase (DDP), Development Phase, Flight Test and Certification Test. "We are targeting the first flight towards the end of 2020," claims Dr Tamilmani.

The DRDO hopes to move the all-important ‘Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) Paper on AMCA' seeking more funds next year. Currently the programme is being initiated with the seed money of Rs 100 crore. In the PDP, 18 systems need to be identified. Metal cutting is expected to take place after DDP and Critical Design Review (CDR).

Nine prototypes planned

ADA Director P S Subramnaiam confirms to OneIndia that a total of nine prototypes would roll out of the AMCA hangar, starting 2020. "Extensive private participation is envisaged throughout the project, right from DDP to production," says Subramaniam. He says that a large number of DRDO and CSIR labs, IITs, IISc and private industries are already involved in the AMCA project.

India’s stealth fighter dream a reality

Dr Ghosh refuses to divulge many details, but says that a static model to be displayed at Aero India 2015 would roughly give an idea of the possible AMCA look. "We also have a video showing the likely features and capabilities of AMCA," he adds.

Talks on the project during Aero India

With India riding on an absolute dismal record in developing power plants for planes, the DRDO is hoping to make some moves and find a solution during Aero India. "We are looking at both the US and Russia who have immense expertise in engine and stealth technology.

Considering the high-end, critical technologies involved in a stealth programme, a government-to-government project would be the best for the AMCA engine. Make in India is our flag-bearer theme for projects now and hence AMCA will strictly travel through the same philosophy," says Dr Tamilmani.

India’s stealth fighter dream a reality

AMCA to be loaded with gen-next features

* Serpentine air intake
* Internal weapon release at high speed
* Integrated flight propulsion controls
* Shared apertures
* Gen-next display systems with touch panels
* Advanced sensors like AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and IRST (Infra Red Search and Track)
* MAWS (Missile Approach Warning System)
* Stealth materials
* Advanced aluminum and titanium alloys
* Supercruise technology
* Advanced avionics based on IMA (Integrated Modular Architecture)
* Pilot associate to reduce pilot workload

Crucial capabilities

* SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense)
* DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defense)
* Precision strike

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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