Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), an Indian aerospace company, has announced the start of construction of the first fifth-generation fighter prototype under the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program.
The creation of a multi-role fighter is carried out by the Aircraft Design and Development Agency (ADA), created under the Defense Research and Development Organization of India (DRDO). The fighter will be assembled by a public-private joint venture, which will include DRDO, HAL and a certain private company, its name has not yet been disclosed.
The design of the fifth-generation aircraft, which began in 2010, has cost 150 billion rupees. In terms of dollars, this is a little less than two billion. In 2015, 700 Agency employees worked on the project, 2,000 from DRDO, 1,000 from the HAL aircraft manufacturer, as well as more than 500 specialists from subcontractors, both Indian and foreign companies.
The result of their work will be a single-seat aircraft with two engines. Its length is 17.6 meters, the wingspan is just over 11 meters, the maximum takeoff weight is 25 tons, and the payload is 6.5 tons. The aircraft will be able to reach speeds of more than 2,600 kilometers per hour. The combat range will be more than 1.6 thousand kilometers. It will rise to a height of 20 kilometers.
The fighter will be armed with a 23 mm airborne automatic cannon and various air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, precision bombs. The Indian AMCA will have to perform many different tasks: to gain air superiority, deliver precision strikes against targets on land and at sea, suppress enemy air defenses and conduct electronic warfare.
Judging by some reports, it is planned to install American fourth-generation F414 engines from General Electric on this fighter. In the US Air Force, it stands, in particular, on the F / A-18 Super Hornet. Engine proven over years of operation in an older, 404th version. Among its shortcomings, Western experts include, in particular, the fact that it develops less thrust than the engines of the Russian Su-30 MKI, which is in service with India. Therefore, the Indian fighter will not be able to fully match the flight characteristics of fifth-generation aircraft created in other countries.
This circumstance, apparently, explains the fact that it is planned to start production from the first version (Mark-1), which will have technologies inherent in fifth-generation aircraft: stealth, placement of weapons inside the fuselage, cruising at supersonic speed without afterburner, multifunctionality, the ability to fire at targets while moving at supersonic speeds, high maneuverability. The aircraft of the fifth generation must also "forgive" the gross errors of the pilot, have a high level of automation, and so on. But the power limitations of the American engine, if the decision to put it in place, will leave the AMCA in the fourth generation, albeit with many pluses.
Following Mark-1, Mark-2 should appear. This version will feature a more powerful engine, as well as the use of some technologies related to the sixth generation. Indian aircraft manufacturers do not specify what exactly they are talking about. In general, in the global aircraft industry, it is generally accepted that the sixth generation will differ from the fifth in greater invisibility to radars, the ability to change shape, smart coating, which will change its properties depending on the circumstances; many very sensitive sensors, the ability to fly in manned and unmanned modes.
The sixth generation will be equipped, in addition to missiles, with directed energy weapons. And this is not a complete list of distinctive innovations. The Russian United Aircraft Corporation, for example, believes that this generation will be able to fly at hypersonic speeds.
The first flight of the new Indian universal fighter is expected in 2024-25, and mass production will begin until 2030. The Indian Air Force wants to replace the French Mirage-2000 multirole fighters and the Franco-British Jaguar fighter-bomber that are currently in operation with AMCA aircraft. So far, there are plans to purchase AMCA for seven squadrons. The first two will fly in Mark-1 configuration with imported engines, and the remaining five will fly in Mark-2 configuration with more powerful Indian fifth-generation engines.