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Importance of AMCA program: Why is it key for IAF's future?

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New Delhi, Oct 17: Indian Air Force (IAF)'s twin-engine Su-30MKI fighter is a formidable aircraft. Along with Mirage-2000, Sukhoi 30s have been one of the most potent fighters of India.

IAF is going through a challenging phase. With many old MiG series fighters set to retire in next 4-5 years, the IAF is staring at a depleting squadron size. IAF ideally needs 42 squadrons to be ale to fight a two-front war. The current strength is said to be around 30-32 squadrons and in next three years, 36 Rafale fighters will join the fleet. But, the requirement is far far higher than 36 fighter jets.

Importance of AMCA program: Why is it key for IAFs future?

Reports say that India is considering to procure an additional 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole air superiority fighter aircraft from Russia. Also, Indian Air Force (IAF) is planning to upgrade the avionics and weapons systems of its frontline fighter Sukhoi Su-30 MKI with Russian help to make the jets more lethal. India is also looking at buying upgraded MiG-29's from Russia.

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These are some of the plans being made to tackle fleet size problem. Another crucial issue that the IAF must address is developing fifth-generation jet fighters. Given India's hostile neighbourhood, the IAF must have a stealth fighter with multi-role capabilities in its inventory to cater for future threats

Plans for Fifth Generation Fighter and the AMCA program:

Almost all the leading countries in the world are working on developing fifth-generation jet fighters which require high-end research and technological capabilities. There is no precise definition as such about the characteristics that a fifth-generation fighter should have, but it is agreed by and large that it must include stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, and highly integrated avionics as part of the criteria.

Newly acquired Rafale is a 4.5 generation aircraft. Most of the other aircraft in IAF's inventory - including the Mirage 2000 and the Su-30 MkI - are either third- or fourth-generation fighters.

Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is India's programme to develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The fighter is likely to be a multirole combat aircraft designed for the air superiority, ground attack, bombing, intercepting, Strike and other types of roles. It combines supercruise, stealth, AESA radar, maneuverability, and advanced avionics.

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The main hurdle in developing a Fifth Generation fighter is the engine which should be able to deliver the performance needed for an advanced aircraft. India has long been working on Kaveri engine project and it was actually this engine that was supposed to be fitted in LCA Tejas. However, the Kaveri programme failed to satisfy the necessary technical requirements or keep up with its envisaged timelines and was officially delinked from the Tejas programme in September 2008.

With the Indian Air Force (IAF)'s depleting squadron size, the pressure mounted on the HAL to deliver LCA Tejas early. So the Tejas' which have been inducted into the service so far has the US manufactured General Electric F404-GE-F2J3 after burning turbofan engine.

AMCA should not be confused be with a separate FGFA programme which is a co-venture between the Russians and HAL.

AMCA is totally different since it will completely be made by India. But for it to become a reality, the development of Kaveri engine is crucial. DRDO will look to develop many of its 5th generation systems ingenuously, so tentatively it should be ready around 2025. Some say that project may also get delayed up to 2030.

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AMCA's engine:

In theory the AMCA will be powered by a domestically manufactured Kaveri K9 or K10 engine, currently undergoing development by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE). But making powerful and reliable jet engines from scratch is hard.

The GTRE is now running two separate successor engine programmes, the K9+ programme and the K10 programme. France has offered to help India revive the unsuccessful Kaveri engine project. An upgraded Kaveri engine with 90 kN thrust compared to the existing 72 kN can be developed but it is unclear how much time it would take.

Proposed upgraded Kaveri engine will be a 90kN thrust class engine which will be marginally more powerful than GE supplied F404-GE-IN20 engine, used in Tejas LCA, which is currently generating 84kN thrust. Ideally for Kaveri engine should be able to deliver 95 Kn thrust for fifth generation fighter.

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The feasibility study for the AMCA began in 2009. In 2018, the government sanctioned Rs 400 crore for the AMCA's detailed design phase. DRDO officials claimed they plan to fly the first prototype of the AMCA before 2025.

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