India-China standoff: How Indian Air Force's 5th generation fighter jet will change air equation in South Asia

According to reports,  DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organization), the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) will be involved in making the 5th-generation fighter jet for India.

IAF'S fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft

According to reports, India has decided to manufacture fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft on its own under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. The move is a quantum leap in India's bid for high technology as it seeks to catch up with other nations over the next decade.

The Rafale fighter jets currently being sold to India by France is in the 4.5 generation stage. China on the other hand claims its J-20 stealth aircraft is a 5th generation fighter.

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First prototype

According to reports,  DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organization), the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) will be involved in making the  5th-generation fighter jet for India. The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programme is likely to be a public-private program, reports say.

The first prototype is set to be unveiled by 2026-27.

India had earlier pulled out of Su-57 fifth-generation fighter program with Russia two years ago.

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UK's Tempest

Reports say India's state of the art fifth-generation fighter aircraft could be included into the Indian Air Force by 2029, that is in just nine years which is will be an extraordinary feat for India's defence technology.

In 2007, India and Russia had agreed to jointly develop the fifth-generation fighter jet under the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) programme but India pulled out in 2018.

In fact, there were reports of the Indian Air Force ready to align with the UK sixth-generation fighter aircraft "Tempest" which is more advanced than  F-22, F-35, J-20 and J-31.

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Eurofighter Typhoon

Reports said India had shortlisted the Eurofighter Typhoon which is set to be operational post-2035.

However, there is no clarity that Indian authorities will take the deal forward, especially now with the decision to manufacture fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft at home.

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supersonic, long-range, highly maneuverable fighter

In the race for the supreme fighter, the biggest question remains what exactly is a fifth-generation fighter?

According to Lockheed Martin, the fighter should have a "combination of very low observable stealth, advanced sensors, information fusion and network connectivity – all packaged within in a supersonic, long-range, highly manoeuvrable fighter."

Lockheed defines the F-35 being flown by the US Air Force as the perfect example of a 5th generation fighter.

"With its advanced technology, the F-35A is a multi-role fighter capable of successfully executing any and all mission, including new missions not traditionally fulfilled by legacy fighters," it says.

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'Specifically configured for the Indian Air Force'

There were reports earlier that the US government wanted to offer F-35 combat jet to India. The Indian Air Force is in dire need to replace its ageing fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons which is set to retire before 2025 creating a big hole in its arsenal.

Reports say the Indian Air Force needs at least 100 fighter jets to replenish its fleet.

According to Lockheed Martin, the F-21 fighter is specifically configured for the Indian Air Force as it provides "unmatched" ‘Make in India’ opportunities and strengthens India’s path to an advanced airpower future.

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Lockheed Martin and Tata to produce F-21 in India

The F-21 addresses the Indian Air Force’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem with the world’s pre-eminent defence company. Lockheed Martin and Tata would produce the F-21 in India, for India, it says.

"F-21 production in India supports thousands of US supplier jobs, including hundreds of US-based Lockheed Martin engineering, program management, sustainment and customer support positions," the company says.

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Rafale: India's 4.5 generation aircraft

India's Rafale is generally recognised as the 4.5 generation aircraft which can take on the Chinese on its own strength as it combines both air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities and can carry a range of potent weapons.

European missile maker MBDA's Meteor air-to-air missile and Scalp cruise missile is the mainstay of their weapons package.

Meteor is a next-generation beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat. The weapon has been developed by MBDA to combat common threats facing the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.

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Beyond Visual Range interception

It has been cleared to operate weapons like the MICA air-to-air 'Beyond Visual Range' (BVR) interception, combat and self-defence missiles, the METEOR very long-range air-to-air missile, the HAMMER -- Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range -- modular, rocket-boosted air-to-ground precision-guided weapon series, laser-guided bombs with different warheads, and "specifics armaments" selected by some clients.

The Rafale is also fitted with 14 hardpoints, out of which five are capable of drop tanks and heavy ordnance.

The jet's total external load capacity is more than nine tonnes.

"Hence, Rafale can lift the equivalent of its own empty weight in payloads," according to Dassault. As per the manufacturers, the pilot interface is very easy to use and relies on a highly integrated suite of equipment which has capabilities for short-term, medium and long-term actions.

The design of the cockpit gives a wide field of view at the front, on both sides, and at the rear.

(Photograph:AFP)