First flight slated for 2024, series production scheduled to begin by 2030
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India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has announced the proverbial ‘metal cutting’ for the first prototype of India’s futuristic fighter jet, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
“Based on the design by ADA & DRDO, the fabrication of Leading Edge of AMCA initiated at HAL with special material for 5th gen design. The unit will undergo structural & other testing before putting it on the first prototype. An important milestone for AMCA,” DRDO declared in a late-night Tweet on March 9.
This is a big foundational landmark in India’s most ambitious indigenous weapons programme, that for the development of a 5.5 Generation fighter aircraft which will be the mainstay of the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s combat power in the decades ahead
DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has planned to build five AMCA prototypes for the development process and flight testing. The first flight is planned for 2024-25 and series production is slated to begin in 2030, although the development agency is confident about compressing the timeframe to 2028-29 after four years of flight testing.
AMCA is being developed as a 20-ton stealth fighter with supercruise, the ability to fly supersonic without engaging jet engine afterburners which suppresses detection by radar and makes the aircraft difficult to target.
Notwithstanding the initial landmark, the Critical Design Review (CDR) of the AMCA is still pending. That is targeted for later this year. The rollout of the first prototype is scheduled for 2023-24. The configuration for the jet was frozen after the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in December 2020.
Director ADA Dr Girish Deodhare has been quoted confirming the Government’s approval for the setting up of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the manufacture of the prototypes and the subsequent serial production of the aircraft. This SPV will include entities from both the public and the private sector.
The IAF is reported to have committed to 40 AMCA Mk-1 fighters and at least 100 Mk-2 variants, besides some units of the unmanned variant.
While the Mk-1 will be fitted with 98 Kn GE-414 engines, the Mk-2 version will be powered 110 Kn engines which will be developed by India in cooperation with a foreign manufacturer. The timeline for the delivery of the Mk-1 variant is 2030 while it is 2035 for the Mk-2.
The 20-ton fighter will carry one-and-a-half tonnes of weaponry concealed in internal weapon bays. But in its non-stealth mode, the aircraft will be able to carry six-and-a-half tonnes of weapons, targeting and surveillance pods as well as fuel tanks on external pylons under the wings and fuselage.