by Shiv Aroor

India’s fifth generation fighter program, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) will be a corporate public-private program, a massive break from the traditional ‘government-only’ shape of all military aviation projects thus far. Livefist can confirm that India’s HAL and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) are in the process of laying the contours for a joint venture company to execute the AMCA program. The joint venture company will be a three-way partnership between HAL, DRDO (via ADA) and an Indian private sector firm.

Speaking to Livefist’s Shiv Aroor as part of an exclusive interview, HAL chairman and managing director R. Madhavan said, “HAL and ADA are together in the design of AMCA. We are also looking at productionisation already — we want to create a special vehicle, a joint venture company between HAL, DRDO and a private partner.”

It is not yet clear how the private partner in the AMCA project will be chosen, though it is clear that HAL and DRDO are keen to progress the proposed structure and create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) as quickly as possible. The decision to include a private partner as an equal stakeholder in a joint venture is ground breaking in Indian aerospace projects, with private firms so far confined to being tier-level suppliers of systems and subsystems. If the proposal goes through, it will be the first time a private firm will be on equal financial and work terms with HAL and DRDO on a military armament project.

Adding detail to timelines on the AMCA, Madhavan said, “It’s on the drawing board. Preliminary design is completed. First prototype will be out (flying) by 2026-27. Secondly, as far as 4th Generation and 5th generation fighters, the latter loses out in terms of aerodynamics owing to stealth requirements, so not a good idea to put everything in one aircraft. With TEJAS Mk.2 and AMCA, we will be having both varieties — 4+ generation and 5th generation. One doesn’t replace the other. If you look at the US, they too are buying fourth generation jets in addition to the F-35.”

India pulled out of the Su-57 fifth generation fighter program with Russia in 2018 after a committee warned that the IAF and HAL were headed the ‘Su-30’ way with the crucial FGFA, and would likely end up as bankrollers to the program in the short term, and nothing more than license-builders in the long term. A concerted view was taken with the IAF to walk away from the Indo-Russian project, despite moneys already sunk.

In related remarks that make for the most ambitious promise in Indian military aviation, Madhavan also said that the first prototypes of three separate new Indian fighter concepts, including the AMCA, will be rolled out in four years. He said that HAL and its partner, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) are working to unveil prototypes of the Light Combat Aircraft Mk.2, a new twin-engine TEJAS derived deck based fighter and the AMCA, in the next 3-4 years.

Answering a question on the twin-engine deck based fighter that HAL & DRDO have embarked on with government clearance earlier this month, Madhavan said, “So first the LCA Mk.2 will come out, and then the TEDBF and then AMCA. Prototypes of all three within 3-4 years. So 7-8 years is what we’re looking at for each of these aircraft getting airborne, which is a very short time in terms of aeronautical design.”

Speaking specifically about the TEJAS-derived twin engine fighter concept, which Livefist has previously detailed here, Madhavan said, “The single engine TEJAS is not the aircraft for the navy, it cannot meet the requirements. The prototypes were actually technology demonstrators for carrier landings. What the navy needs is a twin-engine aircraft, because then only it can carry armaments, because the landing gear itself is quite heavy. So a Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter is what we’re looking at for the navy. ADA has started the project, and this month they have got the clearance, and they are expecting it to be in service 6-7 years from now. There won’t be time and cost overruns, because the first steps in aircraft design is always the longest period. That’s why the LCA took a long time, nearly 30 years. Second iteration, you’ve learnt all the nitty-gritties of the design process. For instance the first ALH also took a long time to put together, we were new to it. After that, all iterations like LCH, LUH have come out in very short periods of time.“

On the TEJAS Mk-1 & Mk-1A, Madhavan sought to clarify on issues of production rate, telling Livefist, “Production rate was an issue two years back. FOC clearance came last year. We have delivered the first aircraft within 12 months. As far as numbers are concerned, we’ve completed deliveries of the IOC aircraft. We have to deliver the 16 FOC aircraft and awaiting clearance for the 8 trainers. For current order we are going at 8-10 aircraft per year. Our target rate is 16 per year, for which a second line has already been set up now. We can easily ramp up to 16-20 per year as and when we receive the 83 LCA order. We were expecting it around August when the Covid19 pandemic landed. Expecting a 2-3 month delay. Hopefully by December we should have the order.”