India and Russia are soon likely to sign a contract worth more than $11 billion for the research and development phase of the T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

The first prototype of the jet is scheduled to arrive in India by 2014, after which it will undergo extensive trials at the Ojhar air base in the western state of Maharashtra. The second prototype is expected to arrive in 2017 and a third in 2019.

“We are hopeful that the aircraft would be ready for induction by 2022,” says the Indian air force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, according to a PTI news agency report. He visited Russia in early August.

The aircraft, to be jointly developed by India’s state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and Sukhoi Design Bureau of Russia, is currently referred to as the Perspective Multi-Role Fighter (PMF), and will be based on Russia’s PAK FA program. India plans to buy more than 200 of the fighters at an estimated cost of $30 billion by 2030. They will replace MiG-29s and Su-30MKI Flanker-Hs being flown by the IAF.

“India, presently, has stated its intention for around 250 fighter jets. The order is scheduled to be complete by 2030. According to estimates, each aircraft could eventually cost over $100 million,” a defense ministry official says.

The aircraft’s design is expected to be finalized by India and Russia later this year.

“[A] Preliminary Design (PD) contract was signed between HAL and Russia’s Rosoboronexport on  December 21, 2010, for implementation of design and development of the PMF aircraft program by HAL jointly with SDB at a cost of $295 million,” the official says. “The duration of the preliminary design phase is 18 months. Full-scale design and development work will be taken up under a separate contract, which will be negotiated and signed toward the end of the PD phase.”

The proposed R&D phase contract is expected to be around $11 billion, with each country contributing half.

Three T-50 prototypes are being evaluated under the PAK FA test and development program, while a fourth aircraft is expected to join the program later this year, according to the Russian defense ministry.

SDB recently started tests of a new onboard radar system. The X-band active phased-array radar was installed on the third prototype of the T-50 and according to the company, it showed a stable and effective performance comparable with the existing advanced radar systems.

The first prototype conducted its first flight in January 2010. The IAF has specified more than 40 improvements to the design following its observation of flying trials.

Although the T-50’s specifications remain classified, reports indicate it features advanced stealth capability, supersonic cruising speed, and integrated control and avionics systems.

However, an IAF official says, “the jointly developed PMF draws upon the basic structural and system design of the Russian FGFA Technology Demonstrator with modifications to meet IAF specifications, which are much more stringent. The broad scope of bilateral cooperation during the joint project covers the design and  development of the PMF, its production and joint marketing to [third-party] countries.”

India is planning to develop both the single- and two-seat versions, with the latter to be used for training and special missions. “Program options include the design and development of a twin-seater variant and the integration of an advanced engine with higher thrust at a later stage,” the IAF official says.

“The contract is only the first in a series . . . that will cover different stages of the complex program,” the defense ministry official says. “The total cost, including options and the value of production aircraft, will make this the biggest defense program ever in the history of India involving production of over 200-250 aircraft.”

India will have scientists and test pilots based both in Russia and Ojhar during the R&D phase, and subsequently HAL will begin manufacturing the aircraft, he says.

T-50 photo: Lockheed Martin