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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

India To Induct The Twin-Seat T-50 PAK-FA Fighter Variant After All, It Appears

Director of the JSC Sukhoi Design Bureau, Mikhail Pogosyan's statement to reporters, while attending the Aero India 2013 air show, seemed to imply this.

In midst of the deluge of reports that were being filed during the 5-day aerial spectacle, I seemed to have missed this development. In fact, this also helps makes sense of an earlier report. Paraphrasing his statement, he confirmed plans for developing a 2-seater & said the actual numbers of the two-seat & single seat aircraft would be announced only after the contracts were signed. He also added that, with the advanced avionics it would be fitted with & automation [on-board mission computers] it would be akin to flying alongside an electronic co-pilot. Reading this news, one now views an earlier report in an altogether different light. If one recollects, as cited here earlier, India's present Air Chief had stated that it would be acquiring 144 of these fifth generation fighters, starting 2020, in a single-seat configuration. This statement was read & reported by the media here as India having reduced its requirements1. Given Mr. Pogosyan's statement, what the Air Chief was referring to wasn't any likely cut-backs in Indian Air Force's [IAF] requirements but simply stating the tentative number of single-seat variants of the PAK-FA in its fleet in the future, with the remaining being of the two-seat configuration. His reference to the twin-seater as "for export" also reinforces the argument that the IAF continues to maintain plans for its induction - one can't make a convincing sales pitch for a product if it isn't already being used by at least one of the developer nations, or he could just be referring to India as an "export client". With the single seat being in flight tests since 2010, natural sequence of events would also ensure that it would be ready for induction before the twin-seat. Thus IAF plans to start by inducting these, that it had already committed to doing, followed by the configuration of its choice, once it is subsequently ready.


credits: mentioned in the illustration

A common refrain, while going through comparative analyses of Russian aircrafts, has been that while the aircraft's flight handling characteristics & aerodynamic aspects are normally top-notch, its avionics & sensor packages were deemed behind the curve, as compared to their contemporary western counterparts. Truth be told, it struck me as somewhat discordant that the Russians chose a single-seat configuration as the initiating airframe. Considering that a 5th gen platform is characterised by, among other things, the immense amount of mission-specific data generated, both, from the numerous on-board sensors, as well as off-board ones, the ability to process them into a coherent, actionable form that wouldn't overwhelm a pilot, with information overload, would remain a great challenge. Given Russia's case, one would have assumed, a dual-seat platform, with segregated responsibilities, requiring less demanding data fusion, piped into two parallel channels, as the task of assimilating information would rest on 2 human operators, instead of 1, would've been the way to go. IAF's demand for a twin-seat configuration too makes great sense. In addition to the reasons stated above, one has also to consider that this aircraft would most likely also serve as India's aircraft-based delivery platform for nuclear payloads. All things considered, a system requiring 2-man authorisation at the weapon's drop point would introduce additional safeguards into the system.

This statement from the Director, IMO, goes some distance in clarifying the issue of IAF's acquisition plans, with regards to that aircraft. What remains to be known are the possible timelines for its occurrence, as well as some information regarding India's share of work in the programme. Given that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL], the lead organisation from India, had widely touted unveiling the model of the Indian variant of the aircraft at Aero India, one hopes that military bloggers/journalists on the defence beat have managed to obtain sufficient information about this from the officials in attendance. With the dust now settled, I visualise at least a couple one of them drafting articles and columns to satiate this appetite for information. Someone [you know who], please say Tathastu!


Related: Ukrainian hardware on India's Sukhoi Su-30 MKI aircrafts

1 = Admission: Upon reading numerous articles, so did I.