Stealth fighter will meet IAF needs: ADA DG Girish Deodhare

Q/ How does the AMCA compare to its competitors?

A/ The AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) is not a copy of any aircraft. It was designed to meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force. It is a fifth generation hunter and one of the few in this class. It won’t be fair to compare it to any other aircraft. For example, the F-35 is much bigger and heavier. But the AMCA’s technology and capabilities will be on par with any other fifth-generation fighter in the world.

Q/ What lessons have you learned from the Tejas project?

A/ Tejas is not just a program, but the development of a complete ecosystem. This was a learning exercise as this was our first venture into Gen 4.5 fighter jets. In Tejas, all core technologies have been developed locally. We realized that we needed to involve all stakeholders from the start. When developing Tejas, we focused on demonstrating technologies and flight capabilities, and ignored the maintenance part. Flyers and ground staff are equally important. Ground support equipment such as carts and weapon loading platforms should be considered during the design phase. It can’t happen in the end. In the AMCA, even before the plane is ready, all of these areas have been addressed and are on track.

It is designed for future upgrades because its architecture allows it to easily integrate new systems. Its base cell is stealthy and forward-looking.

Designing our own stealth aircraft was the biggest challenge. We learned everything ourselves because no one was willing to share their knowledge.

Q/ The AMCA is projected as a combatant for the next 30 years of war. Why?

A/ It is designed for future evolutions because its architecture allows it to easily integrate new systems. Its base cell is stealthy and forward-looking. Avionics, sensors and radars can be upgraded if needed. Normally, the life of an aircraft is 30 years and the AMCA is designed to support upgrades during that time.

Q/ How do you justify the AMCA when the rest of the world is interested in unmanned platforms?

A/ I think unmanned alone is not the future. It will be a combination of pilot and unmanned. Human beings must be there. You cannot fight a war with only unmanned vehicles. It requires a mix of human and unmanned elements. The AMCA can be associated with unmanned resources. So there will be more unmanned assets with manned fighters controlling them, and that’s the concept of the future. The man will always be there, a decision can only be made by the pilot, not by a computer.

Q/ The maintenance cost of fifth generation fighters is high. How do you approach this problem?

A/ Stealth and fifth generation fighters are niche technologies and unique assets. The issue of maintenance was addressed from the design phase. Various new techniques have been adopted to support the maintenance aspect, and the IAF has also been informed. In addition, to control the maintenance [cost], the fleet size of fifth-generation fighters has always been relatively smaller. Since it is a niche capability and has a high cost, no country manufactures it in large numbers. The IAF conceptualized its need for only seven AMCA squadrons (including the Mark-2 version). Maintaining stealth characteristics makes the aircraft more expensive.

Q/ What are the challenges you faced during the development of the AMCA?

A/ Designing our own stealth aircraft was the biggest challenge. We learned everything ourselves because no one was willing to share their knowledge. The Aeronautical Development Agency and other academic institutions jointly developed the stealth technology. Getting stealth hardware was another challenge. After years of dedicated work, our team has successfully overcome these challenges and finally we can confidently manufacture the stealth fighter aircraft.

Q/ How do you manage the skepticism of services vis-à-vis made in India platforms?

A/ It’s a matter of trust. And, in the case of the AMCA, the user (IAF) works with us. They know exactly how to make this platform acceptable. In Tejas the fighter was [similar in features to] Western and Russian planes, because the IAF wanted it that way. Since they are involved in aircraft design, they adapt it to their needs. I think the skepticism is fading.

Q/ The joint venture with Russia to develop a fifth generation fighter failed. Why?

A/ Although I’m not the right person to comment on it, if I understood correctly, the type of technology transfer from Russia was not satisfactory. The Russians were unwilling to share. And I believe that no one will share such niche technologies.

Q/ How will you ensure the delivery of the aircraft on time?

A/ During Tejas, we participated in the development of technologies alongside the program. This is why the timelines became longer, because it was difficult to predict the timeline for the development of certain technologies. We started developing the AMCA in 2009 and have now matured. I am confident that the deadline will be respected. The government has set up a special purpose vehicle to manufacture the AMCA.

Q/ Do you partner with private actors for manufacturing?

A/ Yes, of course. We strive to share the burden. Several entities, including private and academic, are already working on the development of AMCA. Once the ad hoc vehicle has been set up, private actors will certainly have a much more important role to play. The level of task sharing will ultimately be defined by senior management, but lately the focus has been on giving private actors a majority share in manufacturing.

Q/ Will the exhaustion of the IAF combat force and the two-front scenario put you under pressure to develop the AMCA more quickly?

A/ Yes, the pressure is still there. The IAF is following her closely. We know exactly the situation and the requirements of the IAF. To integrate the weapons, we are constantly in contact with the IAF. This ensures that we are all on the same page.

Q/ At what stage is the development of the engine?

A/ In the AMCA Mark-1, we go ahead with the American made engine. For the AMCA Mark-2, many countries have approached us [for a collaboration] saying they can. We expect to have an engine in seven to eight years.

Q/ Will the AMCA be profitable?

A/ We have estimated the cost of production. Buying is always expensive. And, the manufacturing of the AMCA will be in-country. So definitely, it will be much cheaper and profitable.

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