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India’s AMCA Fighter Aircraft Falls Short of 5th-Gen Status: Fails to Meet Key Criteria Shared by F-35 and J-20

After being delayed for 15 years, India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is now expected to take off for the first time in just four years! DRDO is expected to obtain authorization from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to build the 5th generation fighter according to a timeline that calls for the first flight in 2027 and squadron induction in 2035! Most military aviation enthusiasts would find the first flight timeline to be unrealistic.

Indeed, everyone involved in seeking CCS approval for the AMCA is likely aware that the timeline is far too ambitious. The timeline was first presented to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 2019. Despite their enthusiasm and complete support for a domestically produced stealth fighter, the IAF’s top leadership regarded the timeline as overly optimistic. In July 2020, the IAF referred to the timeline as “very tight.” Despite the IAF’s reservations, senior DRDO and HAL officials disregarded them.

In January 2021, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s Chairman and Managing Director R Madhavan stated, “The aircraft’s prototype is expected to be ready by 2026, and production may commence by 2030!” In September 2021, Girish S Deodhare, Programme Director (Combat Aircraft) & Director, ADA, raised the bar by predicting that the first flight will take place in 2025! He said, “We are progressing to a critical design review by the middle of next year, with the roll-out scheduled for 2024 and the first flight planned for 2025.” Dr. AK Ghosh, the project director of AMCA, stated during DefExpo-2022, “Once the project is sanctioned, the first prototype can be produced in three years, and the first flight can be conducted in one to one and a half years.” The IAF, which has a long history of collaboration with DRDO & HAL, remained skeptical.

In November 2022, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), urged “prudence.” He suggested foreign partnerships as a fallback option for developing “alternative systems & sensors” in the event that indigenous development falls behind schedule. DRDO Chairman Samir Kamat stated on February 14, 2023, that the first flight of the AMCA “may take seven years, and the induction may take ten years from now.” While Kamat acknowledges a delay in the first flight timeline from 2027 to 2030, he remains committed to the 2035 induction target. The AMCA projected to be inducted by 2035 is more significant than the challenging DRDO/HAL predicted timeline because it will not be a 5th generation fighter. It will be a 4.5 gen fighter. AMCA is expected to be developed in two phases. The first phase’s development will result in AMCA Mk-1, powered by the US GE-414 engine.

The second phase’s development will result in AMCA Mk2, which will feature an advanced, more powerful engine to be developed in collaboration with an unidentified foreign partner. AMCA Mk-1 will lack at least three defining features of a 5th-generation fighter engine. Supercruise Supermaneuverability Sensor fusion Furthermore, AMCA Mk-1 will have limited stealth. AMCA is based on the F-35, which lacks rear aspect radio frequency and stealth but has a suppressed IR signature. The AMCA will have no rear aspect stealth – neither RF nor IR. The 98 kN GE F414 engine, rather than the planned 110 kN engine when designing AMCA, eliminates supercruise; the absence of thrust vectoring eliminates supermaneuverability

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